The conventional wisdom has it that PC sales flagged over the past quarter, with more and more customers looking at sexier gadgets, or just buying smartphones and tablets. HP suffered more than most, with a case of corporate musical chairs and the lack of a sensible strategy about their PC division. According to a Gartner survey of preliminary PC sales for the fourth quarter, HP’s U.S. sales were down a whopping 26.1%.
For a while, in fact, it wasn’t at all certain whether HP would spin off PCs or sell off that division, simply because it wasn’t very profitable. That cloud over the business may have convinced lots of potential customers to look elsewhere. Besides, it’s not as if HP’s computers are really all that different from a Dell or other generic PC boxes. At least the newly-minted CEO, Meg Whitman, finally announced that PCs would remain in HP’s future, but that announcement may have come too late to restore confidence.
But as I said, what distinguishes the HP PC from competitors anyway? Because it’s HP?
In the meantime, all signs from industry analysts seem to indicate that Apple’s Mac division continued to score higher and higher sales. Apple has moved into the number three spot in the U.S., ahead of Toshiba, with a sales boost of some 20.7%. Understand that this happened without a major advertising campaign, at the same time that Microsoft has been spending lots of cash running utterly pathetic ads for Windows 7.
Now remember that Apple no longer uses those Mac versus PC ads, or much of anything else to promote Macs on radio and TV. Most of Apple’s advertising is focused on the iPhone or the iPad. You hardly know there is such a thing as a Mac nowadays, at least if you considered the number of ads you hear or see about them. It almost seems as if they sell themselves.
Indeed Apple is doing amazingly well with Mac sales. The iMac, for example, has about a third of the all-in-one desktop PC market. This is one of Apple’s huge strengths, since the very first Mac, in 1984, was an all-in-model. But nearly three quarters of the Macs sold these days are notebooks, and the MacBook Air also remains a great success story.
Certainly, the PC world is noticing. They continue to introduce all-in-one models, and Intel’s ultrabook program will allow them to build ultra thin notebooks designed to compete with the Air. So far, however, the PC makers haven’t found a way to beat Apple on price with their thin and light portables, except by cutting back on features or using cheaper parts.
But Microsoft’s biggest dilemma in helping fuel sales of PCs is that they really have nothing new to offer. Sure, Windows 7 is better than Windows Vista, but largely in areas that aren’t necessarily visible to the end user. It’s still just Windows for better or worse.
Later this year, Windows 8 will arrive, with a Metro graphic layer consisting of tiles rather than icons, but it didn’t do so well on the Zune or Windows Phone smartphones. When you set Metro aside, it’s still just Windows, at least on the developer beta I tried some months back. That there will be a Windows 8 running on tablets using ARM processors, but that doesn’t necessarily allow for application sharing between the two platforms.
While Microsoft is flailing, Apple is soaring into the stratosphere on all fronts; well, perhaps not the iPod, where people who want music players will use the iPhone or iPad instead. But the prestige of Apple’s gear across the board no doubt contributes significantly to the continued success of the Mac.
Despite reports that sales of tech gear simply failed to take off over the holiday season, every indication has it that Apple did great business, particularly with the iPhone 4s, which still remains somewhat backordered. Clearly customers are willing to buy if they perceive the product has value, and maybe they have begun to decide in far larger numbers that the perceived value of a PC is not terribly great. Maybe they have decided to just keep the old PC until it breaks, or consider other options, such as Macs.
This doesn’t mean that the PC business is finished, only that the current structure may be in need of life support. You can expect the various manufacturers to be hoping and dreaming that Windows 8 will somehow turn things around, or that their various and sundry attempts — so far unsuccessful — to make it in the tablet space will come to fruition.
As the economy improves, of course, lots of companies may be ready to upgrade their old PCs, though you wonder if Windows 7 will take over XP as the default OS of choice, even after Windows 8 arrives. While Microsoft’s pathetic attempts at visual eye candy might count for something in the consumer market, it’s not at all certain that this sort of window dressing will mean much in the corporate world. Beneath Metro, it’s still Windows 7 with a few refinements. How’s that going to change the game?
Meantime it appears Apple is in no rush to overhaul the industry any more than they already have with the MacBook Air and the iMac.
- Apple and Microsoft — About Philosophy So in recent days, more and more tech pundits have published comparisons between OS X El Capitan, still a ways from release, and Windows 10, which arrived this week for download and bundled with some new PCs. Looking over these two, which actually derive an idea or two from one another, you can see where Apple and Microsoft have seriously diverged in how they approach platforms. For years, Microsoft has touted Windows Everywhere, meaning that, whatever device you use, you'd have access to a version of Windows. This would extend to point-of-sale devices and other gear that doesn't necessarily strike you as related to a PC, though they are, in fact, computers. Windows 10 takes that integration attempt a step further by building an operating system meant to work on a host of devices. But there will be touch-centric and mouse-centric interface changes as needed. So when you use a convertible PC notebook, one that can act as a tablet with a removable or rotating display, and one that works as a regular PC, there's a Continuum mode. It can be made automatic or require manual switching, but it will deliver the right input scheme for your setup. In passing, I wonder how some people might react if they don't get the memo, or OK everything and have Windows 10 switch modes when they didn't expect it. I also gather hardware makers will also have to adjust their drivers to allow for the smoothest switch. The other problem is the so-called Universal app, which means a developer creates one version that works on any Windows 10 device. The problem is that a Universal app is also "fat," meaning it has the binaries for both mouse and touch versions and is thus potentially much larger. This could become a serious problem for a notebook with a small SSD, quite common, or a smartphone without lots of storage. Contrast that to Apple's approach in iOS 9, where the OS downloads will be smaller, and you'll download apps stripped of the code you don't need on your device. Apple also does not believe that you can integrate a toaster oven with a refrigerator, to use Tim Cook's famously exaggerated example. Thus Mac notebooks do not have touchscreens, and the iPad, although keyboards are available, is primarily touch-centric. The operating systems may share some code and features, but they are optimized for the different user conditions. Integrating, to Apple, would remain a poor compromise, and it's an open question whether putting Windows 10 everywhere is actually going to work. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether those convertible PCs will succeed in a declining market where Apple is one of the few companies to grow sales and market share. Right now you pay a premium to have a notebook that can double as a touch-based tablet, and the sales case has yet to be proven. This fall, prices are expected to decline for such gear, but, again, that doesn't mean people want all-in-one devices of this sort, as opposed to a computer with an integrated display, such as the iMac. So the features touted by PC fans as superior to OS X are partly related to philosophy. You don't need Continuum, but Apple has Continuity, providing for some level of integration among your Apple devices. The operating systems and the way you interact are different but you can still switch rom one to the other more smoothly. Well, mostly, because Continuity, and the Handoff feature can be buggy. One hopes things will be better when El Capitan is finalized. The other difference is Cortana. Apple's virtual assistant, Siri, remains on mobile gear, because Apple believes these are more personal devices that are a better fit for such a feature. Microsoft, wanting to have the same things everywhere, more or less, brought Cortana to the Windows 10 PC, bugs and all. While it may be suitable to some — and I expect home users will benefit most from Cortana — early reviews indicate "she" is buggy, and voice recognition is apt to cut off with a response before you're finished. A famous example is asking the name of the President of the United States. Cortana may cut off before "States," and thus identify the President of United Airlines instead. Surely that and other recognition glitches will be fixed before long, but Cortana is something Microsoft has had for a while, starting with the Xbox gaming console. So it's hard to excuse problems of this sort. Apple could have released a version of Siri for OS X, but hasn't done so. The use case is questionable, whereas Microsoft has no compunctions about throwing something out there for those who might want to use it. Or maybe just for bragging rights. That said, it's troubling that Windows 10 appears to have shipped with loads of bugs, not just in Cortana, but in Mail and other apps. While you expect glitches early on, and OS X Yosemite wasn't immune by a long shot, there appears to be too much going on that's not so pleasant. It may be that Microsoft ran headlong into getting Windows 10 out for back-to-school PC sales, hoping the worst glitches would be fixed by fall. OS X El Capitan will probably appear no later than late October, and one hopes the worst bugs will be eradicated. But doing any comparison is a little unfair right now, particularly for features not fully baked. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the next OS X is not just a bug fix update. There are lots of under-the-hood changes that promise better performance and security. The feature enhancements promise to improve productivity. So far most of what Microsoft is offering with Windows 10, aside from a couple of controversial features, is the removal of the Windows 8/8.1 excesses, and a few features "borrowed" from the Mac to improve multitasking. But Windows 10, absent the bugs, performs well enough, and the Microsoft Edge browser is good enough that the company ought to consider a Mac version. That's saying a lot, but the enterprise won't switch until they know everything's all right, and that may take a year or two to happen. Meantime, PC sales will continue to decline.
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice So iTunes hasn't exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it's bloated, although technically that's not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call. Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse. Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple. In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it's notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I've known him for years, and he's a real talented guy and deserving of his success. But something's gone real wrong with iTunes, and it's in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don't assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it's high time that iTunes go under the knife. The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It's otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it's more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams. A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There's no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features. All right, that's part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There's more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don't work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don't deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste. To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled "I Don't Like This Suggestion." Why isn't that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin! I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it'll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined. For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it'll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple's marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It's more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn't even succeed on that level. If they hope you'll buy a track you're enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy. Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you've previously purchased. Anything you've downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you've spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking. The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn't keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way. It's not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?
- 2014 — The Year the Sky Didn’t Fall for Apple At the start of 2014, even the most diehard Apple fanatic might have wondered about the future prospects of their favorite fruit company. Sales didn't always meet Wall Street projections, and profits were flattening. The stock price was way down from historic highs. To no surprise, some members of the mainstream media were calling for CEO Tim Cook to take a hike. Could it be that Steve Jobs' handpicked successor was a monumental screw up, or was there a long-term plan in place that would set things right before long? Questions, questions. Many of the particulars are ably recorded in a no-holds barred editorial from Daniel Eran Dilger, a frequent guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, over at AppleInsider. So I will be brief about some of the details. Now understand that the perception that Apple was on the rocks was largely manufactured. When Steve Jobs introduced iterative upgrades to Apple gear, that was part of the standard upgrade cycle. When Tim Cook did the same, there must be something terribly wrong with Apple's mojo, and the company clearly lost its power to innovate. After all, Cook was the supply chain expert. What right did he have to operate a company known for its amazing innovation? You'd think that Apple was supposed to upend a market every year. The critics forget the years that passed between the first iPod, the first iPhone and the first iPad. Miracles don't come every day, but where were the trendsetting products from Tim Cook's Apple? This didn't stop iPhone sales from climbing, at a time when Samsung's sales began to falter. The claim that Samsung had it all over Apple when it came to high sales and meeting the needs of a variety of customers was shown to be shaky. Yes, Samsung still sold loads of mobile handsets, but far too many were cheap, with little profit. While Apple continued to make huge profits from iPhones, Samsung's margins continued to shrink. Tepid response to the latest Galaxy series didn't help. Apple moved far more iPhones. Amid rising sales, Apple's first maneuvers for 2014 were financial. Stock buybacks and the seven-to-one stock split pleased Wall Street. But was Apple just stalling, avoiding the question of what innovative products were in the pipeline? Yes, Apple made promises, but when were they going to deliver? WWDC came, as usual, in June. The critics said it was all about the software, but Apple added an amazing number of new features to iOS and OS X. The bill of particulars was far larger than what Google and Microsoft were promising. True, some suggested Apple bit off a little too much this time, but the bugs are being vanquished, and the end result presents many new opportunities for developers to make a profit and to benefit customers. For regular people, the real significant event came in September, with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, a phablet with a 5.5-inch display. The critics had been long clamoring for Apple to enter the larger smartphone space, but Apple, as usual, took its sweet time about developing the right product. Certainly the public embraced the new gear, with record sales the very first weekend and chronic shortages through most of the holiday season. But some people realized that the romantic ideal of the larger smartphone wasn't quite so compelling after you spent a little time with one. One-handed operation meant something, and the larger handsets could be difficult to fit in a smaller pocket or purse. And don't forget Apple Watch. An early production model was demonstrated, and delivery was promised in early 2015. October brought new iPads, but the flagship model, the iPad Air 2, thinner than its predecessor, was the lone compelling upgrade. The iPad mini 3 was little different from its predecessor aside from Touch ID, and it still cost $100 more. It wasn't such a great deal, and the jury is out how well tablets sold this holiday season. But the iPad Air 2 is, as my friends across the Atlantic are apt to say, a marvelous piece of kit. It will be hard for my wife to give up the one she is using when the Apple editorial loan expires in February. The other product intro in October, the iMac 5K, was simply stunning, particularly the picture and the technology that makes it happen for a price that even Dell couldn't match. Last I checked, Dell's 5K display is just about the same price as the 5K iMac, but Apple gives you the computer as part of the package. None of this means everything went perfect for Apple. Don't forget the missteps — or alleged missteps — depending on your point of view. So those celebrities whose nude photos, stored in iCloud, were hacked and circulated online have only themselves to blame for poor password choices. Why did they have those pictures there in the first place? But the iOS 8.0.1 update was the worst sort of failure, fixing most iPhones, but causing some to lose their cellular connections and Touch ID capability. Apple pulled the update in little over an hour, and released a fixed version the very next day, but the publicity fallout continues. Yes, Microsoft has done worse, far worse, but this is Apple. Please don't get me started about iTunes 12. The complaints haven't been stilled, and I wonder whether Apple needs to get back to the drawing board to sort things out. Some alleged scandals were just nonsense. An iPhone 6 Plus was no more prone to bending than other large mobile handsets. No, Apple didn't suddenly out of the blue sneak a security update onto Macs with OS X Mountain Lion, Mavericks and Yosemite. That particular update came using the App Store update mechanism, the successor to Software Update. Where there's an automatic install option, as there is in Yosemite, you can switch it off. Besides, the NTP security flaw, impacting the time syncing feature of OS X, Unix and even Linux distributions, could allow a remote attacker to gain control of your computer. Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security got in the act to report the danger, so was it wrong for Apple to protect you in a way that did no harm? For 2015, we know the Apple Watch is coming, but there is no consistency on how well it'll do. And what about the fate of Apple TV? Is there an Apple TV set on the horizon? An iPad Pro, a version with a display that's 12 inches or more? Is there something out of the blue in store? And what will Apple do to flesh out the features for iOS 9 and OS X 10.11? And I will not speculate on the code name for the next Mac OS.
- Office for iPad: Free — Sort of! As most of you know, Microsoft is not nearly as flexible or successful as Apple in keeping secrets. Sure, news about an upcoming Apple gadget will usually leak from the supply chain, but software releases tend to get a higher level of protection from the teeming masses of tech journalists and financial analysts. Of course, secrets encourage the media to just make things up, using their perceptions about Apple as a basis for guessing what they're working on. With Microsoft, rumors about a forthcoming Office for iPad release have come and gone and come again. Some of the stories suggest the software has been ready for several years, awaiting approval from the executive team for release. But former CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly opposed the move. In addition, there was a huge detour: With the arrival of the Surface tablet, Microsoft touted the presence of Office on both the ARM-based RT and Intel based Pro versions as an advantage over other tablets. This supposed advance, such as it was, wasn't quite what it seemed to be. You see, there is still no version of Office that's compliant with the Modern or Metro UI. It's basically just the same old Office 2013 release for desktop PCs that's running from the desktop layer. Regardless, people aren't buying. The Surface tablet has been one huge failure for Microsoft, and the Office advantage was no advantage at all. Some estimates claim that Microsoft is losing out on billions of dollars in potential revenue by not delivering an iPad version. Well, it appears Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, has provided a dose of sanity. In a special media event in San Francisco, Microsoft announced Office for the iPad. Indeed, Windows 8, considered a disaster for the company, wasn't even on the agenda, and that clearly sends a strong message about the company's future direction. The iPad app suite is available in a sort of freemium arrangement. You can download a copy the iPad versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint free from the App Store and open and view documents. If you want to actually create and edit documents, you need to subscribe to Office 365. Pricing depends on the package that best meets your needs, but the Home version is $9.99 a month, and includes support for up to five Macs and PCs and a single tablet. Of course, if you already have an Office 365 license, the unlocked iPad version is free. Whether Microsoft earns more revenue from this product largely depends on how many additional signups the iPad version generates. Unlike Adobe, you can still buy retail copies of Microsoft's traditional Mac and PC apps. You aren't forced to subscribe to the cloud-based account. Certainly the decision to release Office for the iPad couldn't come at a better time. PC sales are down and Microsoft's efforts to go mobile have been largely stillborn. Even the purchase of the failed handset division of Nokia isn't expected to change the situation. Consider what happened when Google bought another failing handset company, Motorola Mobility, and you'll see what I mean. Meantime, Office for the iPad is already garnering favorable reviews. The ZDNet division of CNET says the suite "sets the gold standard for tablet productivity." That's high praise, because there are already a number of office-style app suites on iOS and Android. The standard bearer is Apple's iWork, which offers essentially the same feature set on the Mac, iOS and cloud-based versions. What this means is that, if you have an iCloud account and use a Windows PC, you can still use iWork and share your documents with users on the other platforms. It's also free with a new Apple gadget, which may be the most compelling sales pitch of all. So why should anyone who isn't already an Office 365 subscriber take the plunge just to be able to take advantage of the full feature set of Office for the iPad? Is it really that good? Here Microsoft may have miscalculated by assuming that iPad users already have a Mac or a PC, and thus the iPad represents just another device. But more and more people rely on an iPad as their primary personal computer, and they are going to be decidedly reluctant to pay $100 a year forever to get a fully-enabled copy of Office. Remember, iWork is free. Does Office's enhanced feature set and superior compatibility with the Mac and Windows versions deserve a higher standalone price? Time will tell. As most of you know, Microsoft has had a mixed reputation with Mac apps. While paying lip service to Mac interface conventions, even such features as Auto Save and Versions have yet to be supported. When you work in an Office app, you sometimes think you're really using something actually meant for Windows, but clumsily ported to the Mac platform. The document windows may seem Mac-like, but the features carry the awkwardness of Windows. But when it comes to tablets, Microsoft is in a new world. There is no Windows equivalent, and thus Microsoft had to rely on Apple's development tools to build the product. For the most part, it seems successful at first blush. So Microsoft claims that Office for the iPad was built from the ground up. From the look and the feel, it does seem a clever adaptation of Office conventions slimmed down and styled for tablet use. Most of the reviews talk of a fast and fluid user experience, though some of the more obscure features found even in Office for the Mac won't be supported, though that probably doesn't matter. What's more, there appears to be decent cloud integration, meaning you can pick up where you left off on an Office document from another platform and continue your work on your iPad. Microsoft's target audience is no doubt the business world, which has embraced the iPad with a passion. This is where Microsoft is apt to gain a number of users, but if these companies already have Office 365 licenses, it won't matter. If they haven't embraced the cloud yet, there could be a sizable rate of customer conquests. I'm sure Microsoft's marketing people have been busy crunching the numbers and considering the possibilities. What's important for Microsoft is the user license. Surface has done nothing for them, and if Apple can deliver substantial new revenues to its sometimes rival, that works to the advantage of both. Meanwhile, the Office for iPad apps quickly rose to the top of the charts at the App Store. Let's see how it stands once the early adopters have their copies, and how that impacts the Office 365 signup rate. If Office for the iPad does well, will that speed up development of Office 2014 for the Mac? I suppose we'll know soon.
This article was posted on Friday, January 13th, 2012 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Apple Inc., ARM processors, Dell, Get a Mac, hp, iMac, Intel, Iphone, Ipod, MacBook Air, Macintosh, Meg Whitman, Metro, Microsoft, Microsoft Windows, PC., smartphones, Steve Jobs, Toshiba, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Phone, Windows Vista, XP, Zune.