office_ipad

Microsoft has finally brought Office to the iPad. The company announced yesterday that iPad users can now view documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with a suite of free apps that synchronize files between tablets, smartphones, and PCs with Microsoft’s Office 365 service.

The release was announced during Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s first public presentation since replacing Steve Ballmer earlier this year. It highlights Microsoft’s attempts to focus on services instead of siloed apps — an approach espoused by Ballmer before his departure — and support consumer devices that don’t sport the Windows or Microsoft logos on their casings. It also shows how Apple has created a win-win situation in the smartphone and tablet markets.

Microsoft’s apps are free to use if you only wish to view a file, but editing or creating new ones requires an Office 365 subscription. This creates a system where users can either sign up for the service or, if they want free apps without handicaps, download the iWork suite from Apple. Only the first option benefits Microsoft, but both could help Apple win market share and cash.

If people sign up for an Office 365 subscription through the Office for iPad suite, Apple gets its usual 30 percent cut of every sale. If they decide to use the company’s iWork suite, Apple gets to prove once again that Office is no longer a requirement for success in the computer market. Hell, if they don’t do anything Apple still wins, because it sold an iPad while Microsoft wasted years developing an application suite that should have been released almost half a decade ago.

And that’s assuming that there are many iPad owners who have waited for Office instead of using any of the alternative products released in the last few years. Apps like Editorial and iA Writer are more elegant than Word, while Flowboard and Roambi offer alternatives to PowerPoint. (Excel, however, seems to be the undisputed king of spreadsheet-makers.) Microsoft didn’t release the standard apps for many of these functions, so smaller companies stepped in and offered software that matches or even bests the incumbent productivity suite.

Microsoft remains at the head of its category because so many people are accustomed to working with Office that it’s hard to switch to other solutions. But given the sheer amount of time that developers have had to offer products that allow iPad owners to do many of the same things they used to do with Office, it’s hard to imagine many of them signing up for Office 365 just because Microsoft has finally gotten around to releasing the suite on Apple’s tablet.

So while yesterday’s announcement might bode well for Microsoft’s future, it also shows just how much Apple’s decision to release the original iPad has paid off. The company has created a situation where the company with which it used to compete the most (that distinction now belongs to Google, at least when the latter company isn’t clearing decisions with Apple’s team) was damned when it didn’t support the iPad and will be damned now that it does support ‘em.