Even if you aren’t an Apple fan, you have to admit the iPad is lust-worthy. Since its introduction in early 2010, consumer adoption of the device has exploded. Now, iPad use is growing in the enterprise. Apple’s iPad is lightweight, easy to use and snappy, making it almost the perfect enterprise mobility device -- almost.
The Case of the Missing Office
Microsoft’s Office Suite is one the most frequently used applications in modern businesses. You can argue that Open Office and Google Apps are making enterprise inroads, but the reality is Microsoft dominates the desktop productivity market and is indispensable for many organizations. Yet, it is visibly missing as a native application option for the iPad.
Sure there are third-party options such as QuickOffice, and Apple’s own iWork, which includes Pages (Word), Numbers (Excel) and Keynotes (PowerPoint), but using these tools is kind of like eating carob when you really want chocolate. Your cravings won’t be completely satisfied, and whomever you share it with will get a few surprises. iPad Office alternatives allow users to create content and some even support saving in an Office compatible format, but there is always fidelity loss. There is nothing quite like Office.
Microsoft support for non-Windows environments has always been a bit questionable. However, there is an Office version for the Mac. There have even been rumors that Microsoft is working on an Office application for the iPad, but Microsoft has not confirmed this. It appears to be in no hurry to share 30% of its Office revenue with Apple for the privilege of selling it in the App Store. There are new signs of hope for Office users.
Last month, the Seattle giant released its note-taking and sharing application, OneNote, for iPad; an iPhone version had been available for about a year. The application stores content on Microsoft’s SkyDrive and requires a free Windows Live Account. OneNote for iPad is free to use up to 500 notes. Users who reach the 500-note threshold and want to continue creating or editing content must pay a one-time fee of $14.99.
OneNote is definitely not a replacement for Word, but it is a sign Microsoft is at least willing to create iPad software. OneNote isn’t the only product Microsoft has prettied up for the iPad; the company also released Skydrive, Xbox Live and Xbox Kinectimals for the iPad in December.
After the release of OneNote by Microsoft, OnLive and CloudOn both released Office applications targeting the iPad and iPad2. Internet startup CloudOn released its free application Workspace for limited testing the first week of January. Workspace allows users to create and edit Office documents on their iPad. The application supports the latest version, Microsoft Office 2010, and saves content to DropBox, which is required to use the CloudOn Workspace.
The application is nice and offers an Office-like feel, but it is cloud-based, which excludes some functions such as inserting an image from an external source. CloudOn Workspace is also limited to U.S. users. Despite the limitations, the application has been wildly popular. CloudOn experienced a burst of traffic, which caused it to stop downloads the same day the tool was released; it scaled up and came back about a week later.
OnLive has also released an application this month that allows users to create and edit Office documents from their iPad. OnLive Desktop offers users a free virtualized instance of Windows 7 with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and few other applications such as Notepad and Paint pre-installed. The application also allows users to share documents, chat and collaborate with other users of OnLive.
Getting a full Windows desktop experience via iPad isn’t necessarily a good thing from a usability perspective. Some users may find that selecting the icons on the Office ribbon is a bit tedious since they were design for a mouse; OnLive also cannot open documents stored locally or in email. Like CloudOn, OnLive is cloud-based, however, the software stores documents in its own repository. OnLive does not integrate with popular personal cloud software such as DropBox or Box.net. Users can have access to the documents they create via a desktop version of the software.
There is currently only a free version of the software, but the company plans to release a pro version that will cost US$ 10 per month for 50GB of storage. Pro users will also get priority access to the server when it is under heavy load, a web browser and the ability to install additional programs.
The Future of iPad Productivity
The efforts by OnLive and CloudOn are commendable, but they fail to deliver a truly optimized iPad experience and one that works without being connected to the Internet. The only way users will get a real and complete Office experience is if Microsoft produces a real and complete version of Office for Apple’s iPad. Will it?
Microsoft has not announced its official position. From one perspective, 90% of Microsoft’s revenue is from software and Windows and Office are two of its most popular products. It makes sense to distribute the software to as many platforms as possible. However, Microsoft is releasing Windows 8 for tablets soon, and they might be better served by leaving Office to be a differentiator for their own tablets which could boost both Windows and Office sales. Microsoft and Apple both have major product releases planned for 2012. If (and that’s a big if) a new version of Office is coming for the iPad, 2012 will be the year.