Handheld Devices

Snapshot: Microsoft Nerves Jangling Over Apple B2B Move

Ever since Apple staged the most astonishing comeback since the eponymous pugilist in the Rocky movies, one question must have haunted its PC competition: could it do the same in business-to-business computing? Now the other shoe might be dropping.

Apple’s decision to put free versions of its iWork productivity software on the iPad is a warning shot in what is likely to become a long battle for the business client device and platform market, pitting the old rivals and sometime partners against each other. The stakes are very high indeed. Microsoft has built the bulk of its business on the back of the complementary franchises of Windows and Office.

If not quite tangible, the fear is certainly legible. Microsoft’s chief attack dog Frank X. Shaw has penned a nervy riposte on the company’s blog, outlining why Microsoft is definitely not scared. Not at all. Oh no. Not even a teeny bit.

The iPad is a consumer device, he argues whereas at Microsoft “we literally wrote the book on getting things done.” (Really? Literally? Where can I buy a copy? What’s the ISBN?)

The iWork switcheroo is “hardly that surprising or significant a move”. And yet it’s deemed worthy of almost 1000 words of Shaw’s jousting.

The Surface is better, a combination of business and leisure capabilities, and anyway consumer tablets are “easy”.

He’s right to suggest that the iPad is consumer-orientated, of course, but go to any café in London and you’ll see people doing their business email on them, often with keyboards attached. Lots of those people would like to do even more on their iPads and the missing link is a suite of productivity applications.

Surface is an interesting project but it has sold poorly and Microsoft’s strategy is confusing. Shaw suggests that the new Nokia Lumia devices are “hotter than the [Abu Dhabi] weather”. One of those devices is effectively competition for Surface and Microsoft is in the process of buying that product’s maker, Nokia, after an attempt at creating an axis power failed. Confused? You will be.

I think Apple will try to come and get Microsoft in business and the iWork move is probably only the start. Microsoft retains the “gold standard” in productivity software in the shape of Office, as Shaw states, but is that enough? Previously with partners and now going it alone, Microsoft has been trying to build a decent tablet device for more than two decades. Quite literally, it has been an epic fail. Also, the company is clearly conflicted about releasing a version of Office (not Office 365) for iPad.

Google is already chipping away at the edges of the old Microsoft empire. Apple could do the same, and worse.  


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect



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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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