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A Bing App for iPad; How About Office?

There were a lot of significant aspects to Microsoft's release this month of a Bing app for the Apple iPad tablet.

It's clearly a shot across Google's bow as an attempt to move the search paradigm forward. Media industry observers are atwitter about the Bing app's possibilities as a next-generation newspaper.

What makes it most significant for Microsoft partners, however, is that at least one business group inside Microsoft was able to overcome the company's internal resistance to supporting any platform other than Windows with a popular Microsoft application.

The idea that projects get killed at Microsoft if they don't have Windows at their core has been known for more than a decade as the "strategy tax." A recent article in Fortune magazine on Steve Ballmer introduced some new terms for similar concepts: "licking the cookie" by the Windows group and rejection by the "Made Men" inside Microsoft. Recent public casualties of this kind of thinking in Redmond are the Sidekick phone and the Courier tablet.

The search team was able to get the Bing app made (and even heavily promoted) despite the way the app's existence tacitly acknowledges Apple's dominance of the consumer tablet space, a market that Microsoft both downplays now and obviously wants to take over in the Windows 8 timeframe.

There were special circumstances pushing Microsoft's Made Men toward approving an app for Bing. Strategically, Microsoft needs Bing to compete everywhere with Google on search. A critically applauded app on the iPad helps get attention for the underdog search engine.

But if one business group can overpower internal resistance to creating an iPad app, maybe others with more partner potential can follow the path Bing blazed.

Microsoft's most popular application by any measure is Microsoft Office, and it's critically important to most partners' businesses. Being able to extend their Office-based solutions easily to the iPad platform would be a win for Microsoft's partner community as the tablet's market reach expands. A lot of conversion apps exist for viewing, creating and editing Office applications on iPad, but all (even Apple's own productivity apps) have problems with various Office features and formats.

In a way, Microsoft could already be making Office available for iPad with the Office 365 cloud computing suite scheduled for release this summer. Nonetheless, an iPad-specific client app tuned for multi-touch and different device orientations, as well as integrated and intuitive digital keypad options, would be a big deal.

Microsoft develops Office for the Mac already, further greasing the skids for an iPad version, and a product manager in that group said publicly last year that an iPad version was under consideration. Microsoft would be able to command a premium for an iPad Office client -- a $40 to $60 price range probably wouldn't be out of the question, although a lower price tag would be embraced.

It's far from an easy decision for Ballmer and company. No matter how popular the iPad gets, putting Office on any platform remains Microsoft's ultimate kingmaking move. Could Microsoft bear to put the crown on Steve Jobs' tablet, even if Redmond believes it'll only be a steward until Windows 8 arrives? Tell me what you think by commenting below or e-mailing me at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 15, 2011 at 11:58 AM


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