MIT Technology Review

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An iPad MS Office?

It may or may not exist. But it'd be big.

First The Daily said they had a hands-on with a prototype, and gave us a picture. Then Microsoft (via the Times) said it wasn’t so. Then ZDNet parsed Microsoft’s denial. Then The Daily defended its story. Then Microsoft went mum, but then piped up. Then The Verge called the whole thing World War III.

What is everyone talking about? An alleged version of Microsoft Office for Apple’s iPad (to be priced, per the first report, around ten bucks). The Daily’s Matt Hickey is clearly chummy with someone at Microsoft, as he’s been getting a number of MS-related scoops of late. As he told ZDNet: “Right now, someone with a mid-level job at Microsoft is being yelled at. To that person: I’m sorry, I owe you a beer. But say it however you want to, we both know that Office for iPad is on its way. And if it’s as cool as the version I’ve seen, you’ve got a winner.”

Let’s assume for the moment that an MS Office app is on its way to the iPad, which is what most of the tech reporters following this believe. More important than the timing or the exact nature of the app’s launch screen is this: that an MS Office app will inch the iPad closer to becoming a true productivity device.

I’ve maintained, in a few posts, that the iPad and its ilk are not productivity devices, but rather media consumption devices. The iPad lacks a physical keyboard, and traditional workplace applications like MS Word haven’t been available. And yet in the cafes I frequent, the spectacle of an iPad user with an external physical keyboard is increasingly common. People are increasingly willing to make do with tablets as productivity devices, one of the more startling instances, I'd say, of what Wired has told the “good enough revolution.” With the addition of MS Office to the iPad’s app portfolio, the device’s “good-enoughness” will receive a boost, and I expect to see many more ad hoc iPad workstations sprouting up in Prospect Heights’s Sit and Wonder or Park Slope’s Tea Lounge.

Meanwhile, in the unfolding Third World War, Microsoft seems to have had the last word. It tweeted, “Much respect for The Daily but regrettably someone is giving them bad info, and that’ll be clear in the ‘coming weeks.’”

“The ‘coming weeks’”? It initially seemed like a confession that news would soon emerge, together with an egregious use of scare quotes. But then I recalled the deck of the original Daily story, which promised MS Office for iPad--“in the coming weeks.” If Microsoft wants to win this war with the speculative tech blogosphere, all it has to do is...nothing.