One thing has been consistent since Apple’s iPad launched in April: Apple’s iWork apps, its versions of Microsoft Office apps — Word (“Pages”), Excel (“Numbers”), and PowerPoint (“Keynote”) — are near the top of the best-selling paid apps list pretty much every day, no matter the competition.With Apple likely approaching the mark of 5 million iPads shipped, it’s possible that it has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of each of its iWork apps, generating millions in revenue.
So, the obvious takeaway: Even on the iPad — a device that isn’t all that great yet for getting serious work done — people want to buy office apps.
That’s one of the reasons that BlackBerry maker Research In Motion — which has a big enterprise customer base for the BlackBerry, and is in the process of producing its own tablet computer — just bought a company called DataViz, which makes Office-reading apps for a variety of mobile platforms.
But it has much bigger implications for Microsoft, which still gets almost half of its profits from selling Office apps. (And some for Google, which is trying to be disruptive with its Google Docs suite.)
Specifically, Microsoft should develop Office apps for the iPad, Android, Chrome OS, BlackBerry tablet, and any other computing platform that is likely to become popular over the next 5-10 years.
Microsoft has had a nice run relying on the Windows monopoly over the years on the PC, plus a half-assed effort to make Office for the Mac. But tablets are starting to get some real traction, and if Microsoft wants to keep people tied into its Office suite, it needs to go where the people are going.
This includes smartphones — which it’s doing with Windows Phone 7, but it should also do for the iPhone and BlackBerry — and especially tablets.
Microsoft might be able to accomplish this with a universal web app, but because the App Store — and not web search — is where people go directly to look for software for iOS devices, actual apps are probably a good idea.
Microsoft will probably never be able to capture the market share of Office customers on non-Windows platforms the way it has on Windows. But if it wants Office to continue to dominate the office-apps industry like it has for years, it doesn’t have much of a choice. Right now, it is losing that market in its infancy. People are increasingly going to move their time spent in front of the computer to other devices, and Microsoft needs to follow them, because the Office juggernaut is at risk. (Windows is, too, but that’s another story.)
Google, too, needs to make sure that Google Docs are optimised for touchscreens, especially the iPad and Android-based tablets. No commands that require a mouse.
It probably doesn’t need to make an actual Google Docs app — no one is used to using Google Docs apps on PCs — unless it thinks that’s the best way to do things. But it at least needs to make sure that Google Docs customers are satisfied with what they’re getting on tablets. Google Docs won’t be an effective Office replacement until it’s available everywhere people want to use it.
But this is much more important to Microsoft than Google, so it’s time to start showing a sense of urgency.
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