Does Microsoft's Office for iPad mean the Surface is sinking?

Thanks to new MS CEO Satya Nadella, Office is finally available on the App Store. But what about the Surface, Satya?

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2014

Like politicians, new corporate bosses often cement their freshly-minted status with a crowd-pleasing giveaway.  Thus it was that Satya Nadella, the Microsoft lifer entrusted with the task of bringing the software giant belatedly in to the world of the cloud and mobile devices, announced the launch of  MS Office apps for the Apple iOS yesterday.

Yes, that’s right - all you spreadsheet-loving Apple fanboys and girls (there must be a few, surely?) can have your cake and eat it too. The sensory joy of conducting your iPad can now be combined with the right-brain dopamine fix that only a serious Excel session can deliver.  What’s not to like?

Well, Microsoft being Microsoft, it’s not quite the giveaway it seems. The free apps will only allow users to read Office documents, something that  iPad users can already do to an extent. To get full edit and create functionality, users will have to subscribe to MS’s cloud-based Office 365 service. At a cost of around £80 a year (although you do get a month's free trial to decide if its worh the outlay).

So on the face of it, the geeks from Redwood Shores have belatedly decided that the future lies in more cloud based Office users, and that the best way to sign them up quickly is to get on the Apple app store. Admission of defeat, or smart strategic move? We’re not sure, but is that Steve Jobs we can hear, cackling from beyond the grave?

What does this all mean for Microsoft’s own attempt to break in to the tablet market, the Surface. Well although Nadella was keen to stress that it’s not an either/or situation, you’d have to say that it doesn’t look good for the MS tablet, which has signally failed to make much impression on the market.

Add in the fact that the new Office app for iOS is more advanced and reportedly better to use than the version MS ships on the Surface (its own hardware, remember) and the future for the benighted gadget looks even less rosy.

Of course even if it does happen, it wouldn’t be the first time that a big tech business has had to dump an expensive and much-trailed product that just failed to catch on. It goes with the territory. But given that the entire touchscreen Windows 8 strategy was based on the Surface, it would be a pretty substantial volte-face.

Still, as first public announcements from new Microsoft CEOs go, this is pretty strong stuff. You can’t imagine Steve Ballmer caving in to Apple’s dominance quite so easily, even though all the textbooks say you should only compete where you have an advantage. Perhaps that’s one reason why he isn’t running the show anymore…

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