In decades of covering Microsoft, I don’t recall the company enjoying so much positive press at one time. They are literally transforming before our eyes – at least from the outside looking in. The first salvo has to be Office for iPad which I must admit is better than I expected. I have used Microsoft Word for many hours since its launch and although it is missing a bunch of features and has at least one bug which I discovered relating to the “paste as” icon not disappearing, it has a solid spell-check engine and works adequately.
Expanding their mobile pesence: Office is universally used by hundreds of millions and finally making it available on iOS/iPad is a smart move which came many years late. Perhaps the most important takeaway from this evolution is that Microsoft finally gets it – it has lost in the mobile OS war. Sure it was very early in the smartphone market with Windows Phone – I was at the 3GSM event in France (now MWC) when the platform was launched. At first the it was amazing as it allowed a phone to do much of what a laptop did – but soon, it became bloated and difficult to use. The point is, it lost this war and had to buy Nokia as a last-stitch effort to not totally lose out on this space. In-short, they are making the moves they need to in order to be relevant in a mobile world.
Expand your software offerings to win: Microsoft through its Office on iPad success has learned that software is the key to getting into new markets and expanding its reach. Certainly Google knows this and has a wealth of apps and services which are fantastic – allowing it to entrench itself in a user’s life like no other entity. If Microsoft is reading the world correctly it understands it has to do the same thing.
Finally, Windows is free sort-of: This is why in-part the company has decided to give Windows away for free on devices smaller than nine-inches. It really is hard to compete in this space which is quite commoditized – especially when you are competing with Android which is essentially free. It is worth noting they recently cut the price of Windows 8.1 to better compete with Chromebooks and Apple has stopped charging for their OS as well. In short, the charging for OS market seems to have a limited shelf-life.
Finally the world learns Microsoft is a major speech player: Microsoft is a major player in the speech recognition space – they have been in the market since before 2000 – if you count their TellMe acquisition. They have some of the best tech in the world yet they haven’t really pushed it beyond Xbox. Finally Cortana has been released as the company’s Siri-killer. “Killer” is way too strong a word as I doubt people will give up the iOS ecosystem for better speech-rec but Redmond can hope.
They get ecosystem now? Microsoft has tried for a long tome to tout its ecosystem – it tied its Xbox platform to its mobile devices but this didn’t do it for the company. By bringing Office to iOS they seem to understand the importance of the ecosystem is greater than the platform. In other words after many millions of iPad Office downloads they are starting to build an ecosystem on iOS which will no doubt be expanded just the way Google has done.
The cloud is the ecosystem: Its true that Microsoft’s OneDrive (a name that changes too often) and Office 365 are wonderful central services to help drive the company’s entire strategy. In order to use Office on iPad you have to pay $69, $99, $10/month or more for Office 365. Personally I felt like I was being robbed having to pay this amount for software which I have already purchased on other devices but Office is so much better than the alternatives there was really no choice. And yes, if you use these apps often, it is worth the price.
Ease of use a continual issue: Microsoft still has a long way to go in terms of designing easy to use software like Apple. My experience changing document names and having the cloud files mirror the iPad files was far from perfect. Also, it is too confusing to work on cloud files when you use a browser – do you want to use the cloud or local version of Word for example… Who knows? I think the presentation of these choices can be cleaned up a great deal.
But still, they are on the right track. These recent moves show they finally understand cloud, mobile, ecosystems and how to leverage more of their key strengths. The good news for users is more software choices – some supported by advertising like Google and others supported by a cloud purchase like Office. The reality is these moves are more competitive to Android than iOS at the moment so Google really has to figure out how to leapfrog Redmond in the mobile space. It took many years for Microsoft to acknowledge that Google and Apple know what they are doing… Now they seem to have both companies in their sights. Your move, Apple and Google.