Mobile Only: Week 36
Benjamin Robbins, an EMF member, is spending the next year working solely from a single mobile device. Each week he shares his thoughts and experience with us on what it means to be mobile-only.
The cat was unofficially let out of the bag this past week that Microsoft is finally going to make its juggernaut of a productivity app, Office, available on iOS and Android. While rumors have circulated for some time that mobile versions of Office exist, this the first time some actual details have emerged. Here is what The Verge has learned:
Office Mobile will debut in the form of free apps that allow Android and iOS users to view Microsoft Office documents on the move. Like the existing SkyDrive and OneNote apps, Office Mobile will require a Microsoft account. On first launch, a Microsoft account will provide access to the basic viewing functionality in the apps. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents will all be supported, and edit functionality can be enabled with an Office 365 subscription…The apps will allow for basic editing, but we’re told this won’t go very far in attempting to replace regular full use of a desktop Office version.
While it is great the Microsoft will (hopefully) be finally moving toward enabling the world’s primary productivity suite to the mobile sphere, the difficulty is that their approach to mobility is done from a position of the PC mindset and is not ready for mobile primetime.
Mobile devices are perfectly capable of performing as productivity tools. Taking the approach that the mobile experience is one of content consumption demonstrates shortsightedness. By delivering an app, which out of the box is essentially nothing more than a branded document viewer, Microsoft would be severely limiting the experience. The need to complete revisions on a Word document you are viewing is an extremely common use-case scenario. Why should it matter what device you are on?
Second, in mobility, if there is effort involved to move beyond the freemium model, through either outright purchase of the application or by signing up for a subscription, the user should expect to have a full-featured experience. Instead, Microsoft seems to be heading down the path of barricading the capabilities of Office behind the gates of the PC. This is not the maneuver of a company in the position of strength.
Also, a subscription model in mobility implies that a service provides an ongoing value to the user and it is, therefore, worth continuing to pay for the service. Spotify and Pandora are excellent examples of this. You continue to pay the monthly fee because you get access to a music library beyond your purchasing capabilities, as well as new content. Unfortunately, Microsoft is approaching licensing the functionality from an outdated enterprise concept of software assurance rather than just outright purchase, as users would expect from a mobile app. What is the ongoing service provided by a document editor?
I have nothing against Microsoft, or anyone else for that matter, making a profit off of an application. That is not the concern here. However, the fact that Microsoft continues to approach mobility with a PC mindset is both frustrating as a user and disappointing from a strategic perspective considering what they have to work with. They could be such a leader in mobility if they could figure out how to fit into the mobile ecosystem and experience.
Microsoft’s Office brand, while strong, will be quickly discarded like a modern MySpace or Friendster by the fickle crowd if the experience is subpar or difficult. It is just too easy for people to install and try other productivity options on their mobile devices. This eventually leads to people settling on the app that provides the best experience to get the job done. A limited experience that doesn’t allow you to even work with your documents is not going to succeed.
While we’ll just have to wait and see if the details that have emerged about Microsoft Office are accurate, what we know to be true is that vendors who view mobility as just an add-on to the “real” experience that happens in another realm get burned. Hopefully, during this intervening time Microsoft will pause to consider what mobile is, make some bold moves, and figure out how to get in the game.
Benjamin Robbins is co-founder and Principal at Palador, a firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobility, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter. Mr. Robbins resides in Seattle and blogs regularly at http://remotelymobileblog.com