Office for iOS may be coming, but does it really matter?

Let's turn back the clock to Macworld Expo Boston, 1997.

Not literally: It wouldn't really serve any purpose and it would definitely take too long. Particularly if it's an analog clock.

But go back and watch the now-infamous Steve Jobs keynote (YouTube warning), and any number of things will jump out at you as ironic. For starters, you'll see Steve Jobs talk about how great it was that Apple and Microsoft had just committed to cross-licensing their patents. Why was this great, according to the man who would a little over ten years later pledge to wage "thermonuclear war" against Android?

"Relationships that are destructive don't help anybody in this industry," Jobs said. "I'm extremely proud of these companies that they have resolved these differences in a very, very professional way."

Through cross-licensing.

Uh-huh.

In fairness to Jobs (actually, in undue fairness to Jobs), a lot of the things he said carried expiration dates of his own determining. And it's also possible that he thought destroying Android would foster a more productive relationship with Google.

(Hey, I said I was being unduly fair.)

Jobs also made two other big Microsoft-related announcements. One revealed Microsoft's investment of $150 million in Apple, which received cheers, but only after Jobs noted that it would be nonvoting stock. The bigger deal for Mac users, however, was the news that Microsoft had committed to shipping Office for the Mac for five years.

Microsoft, as Pirates of Silicon Valley will tell you, helped save Apple by committing to Office. In 1997, Microsoft Office for Mac was that important. As a Mac user in 1997, I remember this distinctly. Lack of Office would have killed the Mac.

But that was then.

Tablet manners

Now let's fast-forward back to today. No, no, don't rush to your clocks or your DVD players--it's just a figure of speech, people. Rumor has it that Microsoft is pushing Apple to lower its 30% App Store cut in order to make Office for iOS a reality. If that's true, I can't imagine that Apple's exactly rushing to satisfy Microsoft's demands.

By most accounts, Apple still has more than half of the tablet market locked up. Most of the rest is taken by Android or Android derivatives, and Office isn't available on that platform, either. Yet people keep buying tablets like they're very much in style.

Microsoft still sells copies of Office hand over fist; but until the release of the Surface, the productivity suite was almost completely absent from a market that continues to increase in popularity every day. (The exception consisted of legacy Windows-based tablets, which don't even register on the sales charts.) It's not like the Surface has been a barn-burner, either. (Microsoft has not released figures on how many barns the Surface has burned down.)

In the last 15 years, Microsoft Office has gone from a must-have product to largely irrelevant to the success of the biggest product category in technology: mobile computing. Derek Kessler believes that, by shipping Office for iOS, Microsoft could have furthered the impression that the suite is essential, but I think the shift is more fundamental.

Office politics

A word-processing application was necessary back when printing was a daily activity. Heck, we'd print all kinds of ridiculous things in the '90s: résumés, term papers, holiday letters, dungeon master's character sheets ... uh, I mean, résumés. Résumés.

Ahem.

But eventually I, like many others, simply stopped needing to print. Everything I wrote I transmitted electronically or put on a webpage. And really, good riddance to printing. Printing is horrible. Printers are horrible. Printing software is what people in Dante's Ninth circle of Hell are condemned to use over and over. A pox on you if you ask me to print something these days; a plague on you and your house if you ask me to fax something. A good text editor--BBEdit, or any of the dozens of excellent Dropbox and iCloud-based iOS editors--is now my writing tool of choice. Memorize a few pieces of Markdown syntax and kiss a "word processor" goodbye.

Having exorcised the word processor, we're left with the Tito and Jermaine of traditional office suites: the spreadsheet and the presentation application. Personally, I only use a spreadsheet when I'm running low on money. I still need one, because I frequently run low on money, but for $20 Numbers offers more than I need. As for presentation software, do I look like I enjoy public speaking? With a chin like this?

It's not that Apple's iWork is much beloved, but at just $60 for all three applications--compared to $125 for a home and student license of Office--Mac users can put up with it. Apple clearly doesn't place a huge amount of importance on its productivity suite: The last major revision to the bundle was iWork '09--as in the year 2009. My handy $20 spreadsheet program informs me that that's four years ago. After updating the software fairly frequently early in its life, Apple has left the programs to languish. And I don't blame the company a bit.

I'm not claiming that office applications are going to die out--that would be a stupid argument to make. But I do find them to be an anachronism. Mobile platforms and the Web have taught us the flip side of that old saw: If you hate something, let it go. If it doesn't come back, good riddance.

This story, "Office for iOS may be coming, but does it really matter?" was originally published by Macworld.

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