I know the world is focused on the new iPhones (5C and 5S) with their cool colors, souped up power, and fingerprint scanner, but I think one of the early (and smaller) announcements during today’s event has more far reaching implications than the devices. Implications that should scare the crap out of the folks in Redmond. Starting with iOS 7 (or sooner?) iWork (and iMovie and iPhoto) will be free on iOS. Free. Get an iPad or iPhone and have an office suite ready to be downloaded. For free. Paired with the free (sure it’s beta now) iWork.com online suite, if I were Microsoft…well their Office 365 cash cow might be heading for the slaughterhouse.
None of the tech pubs I follow made much of the iWork announcement—The Verge, Mac|Life, The Next Web, TUAW—beyond that it will save people money. TNW did mention that it would boost users for its premium apps, but that’s only part of the story. Microsoft is at a crossroads, a new CEO is coming and the business of software—even at the enterprise level—is pretty challenging. I’ve made my pitch that that there should be free versions of MS Office (since it seemed then we really have little other choice) now [pullquote]I think Microsoft has no choice by to offer a free version of Office or we’ll look back at the fall of 2013 as the moment when Microsoft started to become obsolete[/pullquote].
iWork for iOS the cure for MS Office addiction
I see iOS devices as Apple’s gateway drug to attract people to buy a Mac. Lots of people love iPhones and iPads and after a while it starts to make sense to just replace an aging PC with a Mac instead. So, if you have an iPad and start using Pages and Keynote (“Hey look I can open, edit, and email this Word document…Wow these Keynote presentations look cooler than PowerPoint…”), wouldn’t you be interested or even primed to use iWork online (or if you have a Mac switch to iWork on the desktop)? Once you start using iWork, it’s not going to be long before you wonder why you bother with MS Office at all (except, of course on the PC, where I doubt there will ever be iWork as a desktop app). This makes iWork for iOS the thin edge of the wedge for getting people away from MS Office on the desktop.
iWork for OS X the nail in MS Office’s coffin
Now, what if and—I don’t think this is a stretch—in a month or two when Apple announces that OS 10.9 Mavericks we learn that it will also come with iWork for free? We know from WWDC that iWork is getting more attention now, so a new iWork for free when you buy Mavericks would make smart sense. Buy a Mac, start it up and you have everything you need right off the bat to work. Nothing extra needed. Now where’s MS Office? [pullquote]Where’s the incentive to pay for another year of Office 365 or upgrade from an older version of Office (if you have a Mac)? None. Zip. Zilch.[/pullquote]
Yes, the world is dominated by Windows. Yes, iWork is only available on iOS and OS X, and that will be a selling point down the line, but here’s the thing, a few nudges like iWork for free that are all it takes for people to start to look at OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and Google Docs as serious alternatives to MS Offfice. Serious and free alternatives to MS Office. Microsoft dominated the OS world because they got a quick foothold in the business world and from there MS Office (which was really born on the Mac) just took over. Now, the OS you use means less and less. Web-based tools don’t really care if you’re using a Mac, PC, or Linux. The trend towards simpler writing tools is making us less dependent on tools like Word.
I’m betting that iWork for iOS going free is going to start a lot of people wondering why they pay for office apps on their devices and machines. Then if iWork for OS X becomes free as well, then people aren’t just going to wonder why they are paying for office apps—they might just stop paying for them altogether. Then Microsoft as little choice by to match Apple and set MS Office free as well. Checkmate Apple.