Office comes to the iPad, at last

Satya Nadella’s San Francisco press conference yesterday was indeed the unveiling of Office for iPad, as predicted. This is actually three separate apps — Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for iPad — and as I guessed, you will need an Office 365 account if you want to do anything more than look at existing documents. But otherwise, again as I suspected, the apps are free (see Microsoft stock is soaring on desire for Office on iPad, and Microsoft accepts the inevitable, takes first steps toward making Windows and Office free). An Android version is coming soon, as well.

Nadella wrote on the official Microsoft blog,

We’re bringing Office, the gold standard in getting things done, to the iPad. A billion people rely on Office every day, and we’ve worked diligently to create a version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that delivers the best productivity experience available on the iPad. It’s built from the ground up for touch, is unmistakably Office in its design, and is optimized for iPad. Office for iPad offers unmatched rendering of content and delivers unparalleled authoring, analysis and presentation experiences that Office customers expect on all of their devices. Download it today for free.

The oddest wrinkle is that there is no way to print documents on the iPad apps, which is annoying, and likely to be the number one complaint/request of new Office for iPad users. I expect a patch for than, stat.

So, Microsoft has finally filled the huge strategic hole for Office by rolling out Office on iOS. I will download and try the package of apps on my iPad and iPhone, and we’ll see how they feel. But the specifics of the feature set are a secondary consideration. The real question is this: did Microsoft wait too long? Did they allow too many business users the chance to try other applications — like Quip, Apple office apps, Goggle Docs, etc. — and now will be confronted with the prospect of having to convince them to return to the fold, like wayward sheep? Will they come back? Will they sign up for Office 365?

And the boogeyman for Microsoft isn’t really Apple, Google, and other existing alternatives. It’s the apps that Dropbox, Box, and other file sync-and-share companies are planning to bring to market. They have hundreds of millions of users and steadily growing, and Microsoft Drive is far behind. The right combination of apps from these competitors could cause a seismic shift in the world of business, where Microsoft becomes an also-ran.