No sooner did Microsoft announce Office for iPad yesterday than the complaints began rolling in, from within some corners of the company and from some suddenly beleaguered Windows users who feel like they've been ripped off. While I do understand the complaints, I have a plausible theory about the coming Office "Touch" for Windows which may make you feel a bit better about things.
There's no reason to rehash the debate on Office for iPad. If you're still gnashing your teeth over this release and wondering why Microsoft had to release it before the Windows "Touch" version was ready, you're ignoring one salient point: Office for iPad should have shipped two years ago, it's late to market, and many iPad users have simply found workable alternatives already.
But let's talk about what I think of as Office "Touch" for Windows. That is, the coming Metro/Modern/Immersive version of Office that Microsoft first discussed last year and will deliver sometime this year. There's a lot that might be discussed around this topic. But I think the most important consideration is whether Office "Touch" for Windows will be better than Office for iPad. That is, will it offer more functionality and provide a rationale for people to stick with, or choose, touch-based Windows tablets over the iPad?
And the answer, almost certainly, is yes.
When Microsoft first discussed Office for iPad with me, they did not say "we created a version of Office for touch-based tablets from the ground up." Instead, they told me, "this is not a blown-up version of Office Mobile, nor is it a shrunk-down version of Office for Windows or Mac; it was designed just for iPad."
Just for iPad.
That statement—backed up by specific examples—says a lot. It says that Microsoft really looked at the iPad and they created a set of mobile apps that those users would really want. Apps that would look and feel familiar. Apps that would work like other apps on the iPad.
When I asked them how they determined the feature set, Microsoft's Michael Atalla told me the following.
"We built these apps from the ground up. We looked at the core scenarios for the iPad, the ones that would make the most sense for the device. We also did a lot of user testing, and feel like we're really nailed the feature set. That said, we will continue to iterate and add features over time, as we do with. There is no artificial boundary with Windows, and we will do whatever makes sense on iPad."
But here's the most important bit.
"That's true across all devices."
See, I think Office "Touch" for Windows is going to be better than Office for iPad, and I think the reason that's true is that Windows devices are oriented for productivity tasks out of the box. Most (if not all, except for mini-tablets) come with a keyboard or have an explicit keyboard option from the manufacturer. Not to mention mouse and trackpad support. This means the user interface for these coming apps can accommodate different ways of working that simply aren't possible—or easy—on iPad.
At the very least, we will see functional parity. But come on. You know they're going to be better.
And if helps, consider this.
You can't even print from Office for iPad. :)