If Microsoft press conferences are always a matter of intense speculation and conjecture, the conference that has been announced for next Thursday (March 27th) in San Francisco will be, by anyone’s standards, an exceptional event -- not least because it will be the first conference hosted by new CEO Satya Nadella.
Of course, excitement is also being driven by speculation that, finally, Microsoft will be announcing Microsoft Office for iPad.
Office for iPad
In light of the current level of competition in the productivity suite market -- consider Google's recent decision to drastically cut storage prices -- releasing Office for iPad would make sense.
However, this isn't about productivity suites anymore. In fact, it's not even about Office anymore. It's about Nadella. The expectation -- or hope -- is that, in his first press conference since taking over at Microsoft, the new CEO will finally give some concrete indication of where he is going to take Microsoft and how he is going to do it.
It's worth keeping in mind that the press conference is only a few days before Microsoft’s Build conference, also being held in San Francisco. It wouldn't be unusual for Nadella to make a significant product announcement at the press conference and then show it to the world the following week at Build.
However, even if he does unveil Office for iPad it will have lost some of its luster. Apple is already offering its iLife and iWork apps free with iPad, and Google has been offering Office access and editing since the end of 2012, when it used the acquisition of Quickoffice to provide users with access through Google accounts.
That said, this is an announcement that has been fighting to come out since Ballmer was in charge and has long been expected in to come in March 2014.
There are a number of clues as to what might be revealed at the press conference. The first is in the invitation to the event itself, which reportedly says that Nadella will discuss "news related to the intersection of cloud and mobile."
The other is the recent announcement of a new “personal” subscription to Office 365. When this was announced last week it was… well, less than exciting. Out of context, not a huge amount of interest here. But in light of the current rumors, a second look may be called for.
According to Chris Schneider on Office blogs, the new subscription service will be available in the spring -- as in now. The post continues:
Office 365 Personal is a new, great option for people interested in using Office 365. It’s designed for an individual, allows for one PC or Mac and one tablet to be connected to the service and will be available for $69.99 USD/year or $6.99 USD/ month."
So, Microsoft is offering a super cheap deal for one PC or Mac and one tablet. Given the market penetration that iPad has, Office for iPad would tie in perfectly here.
The obvious question is whether or not you would need an Office365 account to use Office for iPad. There is no indication anywhere that this is the case, but given that an increasing number of Microsoft products are being tied into Office 365, it is definitely a possibility. This would also tie-in with Microsoft’s strategy of turning Office 365 into a core business unit.
The release of Office for iPad could be the start of small, but significant, changes at Microsoft. For years, both investors and users alike have been urging Microsoft to release office for a wider range of devices instead of tying it exclusively to its PC market.
Microsoft, so far, has refused to do this, even though it is patently obvious that the PC market is heading for a fall as workers and work become increasingly mobile. To release Office for iPad now could indicate a more flexible style of management by Nadella, as well as one that pays more attention to users’ needs and wishes than the previous management.
There is nothing definite about this press conference except that it will be hosted by Nadella and that it will talk up Microsoft’s “Cloud First, Mobile First” strategy. However, it seems unlikely that he will use the conference just to make a product announcement.
He needs to impress both internal and external Microsoft investors and users who are still searching for signs that Microsoft is finally pulling out of the doldrums.