LITTLE has been heard from Satya Nadella since he succeeded Steve Ballmer as Microsoft’s chief executive last month. On March 27th he made up for it. In a shift long trailed—and, many would say, long overdue—Microsoft made its Office suite of software, which includes word-processor, spreadsheet and slide-presentation programs, available on Apple’s iPad. The company also announced cloud products to make life easier for beleaguered corporate information-technology departments trying to keep up with staff using their own mobile devices rather than being chained to desktop computers. Mr Nadella promised more announcements in the next few weeks.
Mr Nadella repeated the mantra of his first day in the job: that Microsoft must serve a “mobile-first, cloud-first” world. Office for iPad is in effect Office 365, the cloud-based version of the suite (existing subscribers with an iPad will get a free upgrade). The idea is to give people access to all their stuff, stored on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service, on any device. There is no Office for Android tablets yet, but Mr Nadella dropped a strong hint that this was on the way.
Why hasn’t this happened sooner? Sales of personal computers (PCs) have been dropping at double-digit rates: Gartner, a research firm, estimates that they will fall by another 6.6% this year. Microsoft’s sales of Office licences for consumers’ PCs were 24% lower in the three months to December than a year earlier. Two-thirds of that decline was offset by sales of Office 365, but that still leaves a deep dent.
So Microsoft is trying to make up for lost time, by putting Office onto Apple’s hugely successful platform. Until now, it has doubtless been held back by devotion to its Windows operating system, which dominated the PC age. It hoped that Windows tablets would sell well, allowing it to scoop the revenue from both the application and the operating system as it did in with desktops and laptops.
Some hope. Gartner reckons that about 4m Windows tablets in total were sold in the whole of 2013. Apple flogged 26m iPads in the last quarter alone. Microsoft’s own tablet, the Surface, has been little help. It appeared two years after the iPad, in the autumn of 2012, and has sold miserably, even though Microsoft boasts that sales doubled in the December quarter. But a small number doubled is still small. Microsoft didn’t say how many it had shifted—but was only too keen to brag of selling 7.4m Xbox entertainment consoles.
The bind is that Office for iPad, if it is as successful as Microsoft hopes, makes Apple’s devices more attractive too. Mr Nadella denied there was any “trade-off”—and he is right, in way: the time for being precious about Windows is long past. When Mr Ballmer declared in an opaque memo last year that Microsoft would henceforth be a “devices and services” company, his meaning wasn’t entirely clear. Mr Nadella has added some definition: if we can’t sell the devices, at least sell the services.
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