OneNote, which has been part of the desktop Office family since 2003, is a natural fit for mobile touch-screen devices: it’s supported touch interface (with a stylus, true, but touch nonetheless) since its inception. Users often want to take quick notes on the go, and OneNote backs files up to the cloud via Windows Live SkyDrive, giving users access to all their notes from any location and device with an Internet connection.
It’s also a great move for Microsoft, which needs to maintain the relevance of Office — its number-two business, with revenue of about $13 billion a year — as smartphones and tablets grow at the expense of Windows PCs.
Microsoft’s mobile strategy so far has been to sell mobile platforms to phone makers, first Windows Mobile, and more recently Windows Phone 7. The trouble is, Windows Mobile wasn’t competitive with the iPhone when it came out in 2007, and while Microsoft took three-plus years to build a more modern phone platform, the iPhone and Google’s Android got a huge head start.
Windows Phone 7 has a mobile version of OneNote built into it, along with other Office apps: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. But with only 1.5 million handsets sold in its first two months, it’s got a long way to go before it can do the job of protecting Microsoft’s Office franchise as the world moves to mobile devices.
Microsoft has a deal with Nokia to ship mobile Office apps on some of its more advanced phones, but Nokia isn’t a market leader in smartphones like Apple is — its strength is really in lower-end feature phones, and it’s losing share in smartphones to Apple and Android every quarter.
Microsoft also licenses Exchange ActiveSync, a set of technologies that lets other phones connect to Exchange Server for email, to Apple, Nokia, Google, and others. But that only helps Exchange — not Office.
Microsoft’s tablet strategy, meanwhile, is not to have a tablet strategy: it’s simply taking the full version of Windows and relying on its PC partners to build it into tablets. The company recently announced that the next version of Windows will be optimised for battery-powered devices like tablets, and will run on the ARM processors used by many of today’s tablets. But that version won’t be out until 2012 at the earliest, and may not solve the real problem with Windows on tablets — the lack of a good touch user interface and lots of touch-enabled apps. By then, the iPad and Android tablets from Samsung, Motorola, and other players may have built an insurmountable lead — just as happened with smartphones.
Building OneNote for the iPhone is a great step toward an expanded mobile strategy in which Microsoft sells versions of apps for all devices, not just its own.
If Microsoft is really serious about going this route, it should make OneNote and other Office applications for other mobile platforms, particularly Android, and create customised versions for tablets such as the iPad and Android 3.0. Suddenly, Microsoft would have a spot on tens of millions of devices. It might not own the whole stack as it would with Windows Phone 7, but at least it wouldn’t be shut out.
OneNote for iPhone is available for free for a limited time in the iPhone App Store.