April 15, 2014, 11:16 AM — Microsoft's ubiquitous Office productivity suite's arrival on the iPad late last month means many things. It debunks the myth that the iPad is a consumer device used only for consumption. It catapults the iPad into the enterprise spotlight, threatening to displace the venerable laptop as the knowledge worker's preferred computer. It might even sound the death knell for Microsoft Surface tablets, whose only real value proposition from an end user's point of view was the potential for killer Office apps (which hasn't happened yet).
Most importantly, Office for iPad brings us back to the glory days of tech's most celebrated and, at times, despised two-horse race: Apple versus Microsoft.
In those days, Mac battled PC for computing dominance. In today's version, Apple's iWork and Microsoft's Office for iPad are the closed systems that leave little room for third-party productivity apps such as Google's Quickoffice and Citrix's Office2HD, third-party storage services such as Box and Dropbox, and third-party management software such as MobileIron and Airwatch.
Earth-Shaking iPad App
"Office for the iPad is an earthquake," says Yaacov Cohen, co-founder and CEO at Harmon.ie, which develops enterprise mobile collaboration software and recently won the Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2014 App Award for best international application.
There's no question that Office for iPad's arrival threatens to shake up mobility's enterprise landscape. At the epicenter lies Microsoft's throwback strategy of wielding ubiquitous software to capture related markets: Office for the iPad is tied exclusively to Microsoft's Office 365 cloud software services, Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage, and, possibly, Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite for mobile device management (MDM).
"It's actually really smart, really well-done," Cohen says. Harmon.ie's collaboration app sits somewhat on the sidelines having strong partnerships with MobileIron, Good Technology, Microsoft and others.
Microsoft's Office for iPad app suite, which echoes the integrated-suite-vs-best-of-breed debate, is a compelling one for CIOs, given the pervasiveness of Office, the rapid rise of the iPad and the fairly commoditized third-party cloud storage and MDM services.
Released in late March, the long-awaited Office for iPad instantly became a hit in the tablet world where work and play often blend on a single device in a sweeping computing trend known as BYOD.
Despite Office on the iPad's shortcomings -- Infoworld offers a listing them -- the roar of the vast Office installed base has been deafening. More than 12 million people downloaded Office for iPad in the first week, even though Office for iPad requires a $100 per year subscription compared to iWork, which is free on newer Apple devices and costs $10 per app on older devices.
All signs point to an explosion of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations on the iPad.
Sun Setting on Third-Party Apps, Cloud Storage and MDM Vendors?
Pity the third-party apps that resembled Office on the iPad. They had their day in the sun as Microsoft hemmed and hawed about delivering Office for iPad. With Satya Nadella's ascension to the Microsoft CEO post, though, a dramatic shift in strategy from mobile devices to cloud got underway, culminating in the arrival of Office for iPad, which will be devastating to third-party productivity apps.
The second group likely to get rattled will be popular third-party cloud storage apps such as Dropbox and Box. Where will all the Office on iPad documents be stored? There's only one answer: on Microsoft OneDrive. Office for iPad doesn't support Open-in for Dropbox and other storage services. You can't share documents with iWork and other productivity apps, either.
While third-party productivity apps and storage services stand squarely on the firing line, the next group to feel the heat might be MDM vendors. In one of the fastest-growing enterprise market segments, MDM enables BYOD by letting companies manage and secure mobile devices, apps and data.
Here's just a sampling of MDM functions: prevent cut and paste, remotely wipe data, control what certified apps can open documents, support for tunneling and managing per app VPN.
With Office for iPad tied to Enterprise Mobility Suite, Microsoft has grabbed the pole position in MDM.
"One of the big issues for enterprises about these Office for iPad apps, which are instantly becoming the most popular apps on the iPad, is that you cannot get a version which is secured by any of these (third-party) MDM vendors," Cohen says. "I think it's going to be interesting to see how the ecosystem on BYOD is going to evolve."
Right now, Office for iPad needs to flow through Enterprise Mobility Suite, Cohen says. Microsoft's MDM suite is a reduced-price package of existing software: Azure Active Directory for identity management, Windows Intune for MDM (across Android, iOS and Windows devices) and PC management, and Azure Rights Management for data protection.
MDM Players: We're Not Dead Yet'
Some third-party MDM vendors disagree and counter that they can work with Office for iPad and secure the apps and data.
AirWatch, for instance, claims that customers wanting to leverage Office for iPad can open documents from AirWatch's Secure Content Locker, which allows customers to secure, manage, edit and annotate documents within the app across file types.
MobileIron Vice President of Strategy Ojas Rege says MobileIron can secure Office for iPad in several ways: It can distribute it securely through MobileIron's Apps@Work enterprise App Store as a managed app, it can enable the IT admin to delete the app and prevent authorized apps from accessing corporate data in Office, and it can connect Office securely to corporate SharePoint servers. (Here's a MobileIron video showing how to do the latter.)
But does it really matter?
Microsoft's suite strategy covering cloud storage and cross-platform management for both mobile devices and PCs, now driven by prolific Office productivity tools on the wildly popular iPad tablet, makes Microsoft the MDM provider of choice.
"MDM providers cannot today provide a secure solution for on-premises documents when accessed via the new Office apps, and in the cloud, the third-party MDM products are superfluous," says David Lavenda, vice president of strategy at Harmon.ie. "Seeing that the MDM players have tried to differentiate themselves by offering office apps and a large third-party ecosystem, Lavenda says the new Microsoft announcements may affect them drastically in the near future."
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at email@example.com
Read more about office applications in CIO's Office Applications Drilldown.