In the wake of Apple's recent iPad event it seems the company managed to ruffle a few people's feathers, including Microsoft's Frank Shaw. By now I'm sure most will have read his rant on iWork, Office, and why Microsoft is ahead of its competitors on productivity. His post has attracted quite a bit of ridicule and pushback on Twitter and various tech blogs but I don't think the majority of it is necessarily warranted.
There are parts of his post that have been picked apart to show his bias towards and/or naivety of Apple's iWork software. Case in point:
• … come with full versions of Office 2013, including Outlook, not non-standard, non-cross-platform, imitation apps that can’t share docs with the rest of the world.
John Gruber at Daring Fireball articulated one of my initial thoughts on this falsity:
But most interesting to me is the accusation that iWork is not “cross-platform” — what then, is the iWork for iCloud web app version of the suite?
I'm not going to speculate why Shaw decided to omit the existence of Apple's cross-platform iWork web apps, but I'm sure he wasn't lying to help prove his invalid point. I'm not here to slap down Frank Shaw's blog post though; after all, he does make some decent points about Microsoft's few strengths — I'm here to talk iWork.
As we have seen time and time again in the past, all is not what it seems with Apple. Why is it many fail to realise their announcements are just one step in a carefully managed plan? That's not to say Apple are unique in that way; in fact, I'd be stunned if every major tech company didn't have at least a semi-coherent road map. Yet, Frank Shaw and a myriad of tech writers alike have all assumed that iWork's new price-tag has blown Apple's strategy wide open and it must be a shot at Microsoft. Remember that Wayne Gretzky quote? Of course you do.
Sure, in the short term, iWork's free status may steal a few of Microsoft's chips; but, if we're to believe the hype, Microsoft is all-in and Apple has a pair of Aces. Frankly, that couldn't be further from the truth — Office is still the de facto productivity suite and Apple knows it. Think about it, do you really think Apple believe they can bring down Office just by making iWork free for consumers? They don't. When it comes to the enterprise and education markets, Microsoft has a hegemonic legacy that cannot be dislodged by monetary considerations alone. As I noted only last month:
"iWork [being free] hasn’t been levied to accelerate Office’s decline — Microsoft’s mobile strategy is making a grand job of that — it has merely been positioned as the natural successor..."
I'm not going to speculate as to exactly what Apple's plans are — a foolish game — but they certainly aren't using pricing to combat Microsoft in the present.
Keeping iWork at a free price point and building the suite to compete with Office on a functional basis would be a serious play, but, as Frank Shaw noted, Apple is playing catchup right now. Overhauling iWork across OS X, iOS, and on the web — whilst also adding collaboration features — infers a commitment to continued development on those fronts. More ominously, Apple has released 2 OS updates and refreshed the iPhone, iPad, and Mac rosters in the past 34 days and now has a year to play with — renewed focus on software and services, anyone? I see Apple's announcement as a warning shot, an indication of its intentions but not an outright proclamation of war. The game's afoot, and all the cards have yet to be laid out.
Remember, Mr Shaw, where the puck is going.