Posey's Tips & Tricks

Why Apple Is Offering Office 365 for the iPad Pro

While supporting a competing device may be puzzling, Microsoft may have a good reason for doing so.

If you have tried to buy an iPad Pro lately, then you might have noticed something a little odd during the checkout process. After customers select an iPad Pro, Apple's Web site tries to upsell them on various accessories. Some of these accessories are completely predictable. For instance, there is the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. What might be more surprising however, is that this page offers Apple's customers the option of purchasing an Office 365 subscription.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 1. Apple is now selling Office 365 subscriptions to iPad Pro customers.

When I first saw this, my first reaction was to wonder if I had just been somehow teleported to a parallel universe where weird things happen. In reality, however, Apple is probably offering Office 365 subscriptions in an effort to convince customers that the iPad Pro is a real business computer. I obviously can't speak for anyone else, but to me the iPad always seemed more like an entertainment device than a work device. That isn't to say that the iPad is incapable of being used in a productive manner. It's just that most of the people I talk to who use iPads do so primarily for games, movies, etc. I use an iPad Mini as a video screen for my drone, but use a Surface Pro for mobile computing.

Apple's motivation behind offering Office 365 to customers seems to be relatively straightforward. People are in the habit of using Microsoft Office for productivity, and Apple doesn't want to see its customers use a different platform just because they can't get Office 365 on the iOS operating system. But what about Microsoft? What are they thinking?

I'm not exactly privy to the details of the business decisions that get made in Redmond, but I can speculate as to Microsoft's reasoning. In recent years, Microsoft has been adopting a much friendlier stance toward competing platforms. The phrase, "we love Linux" comes to mind. Microsoft no doubt realizes that there will always be a certain number of people who choose an iOS device over a Windows device, and probably assumes that it is better to make a little bit of money from Apple's customers than to make nothing at all. Besides, doing so will help to strengthen Office 365 and ensure its longevity.

OK, so that's great and all, but isn't Microsoft creating its own competition? The iPad Pro seems as though it were specifically designed to compete with the Surface Pro. The similarities between the two devices are uncanny, right down to the pen and even the device name (both use the word Pro). Being able to run Office 365 was one of the Surface Pro's major advantages. So what gives?

As I said before, I don't have any direct information about Microsoft's approach to making business decisions. However, some of the comments that were made at last year's Microsoft Ignite conference may yield some clues. During one of the conference (unfortunately, I can't remember who I spoke to), someone made a comment that back in the 1980s there was pride associated with device ownership. The IBM PC for example, was expensive and owning one was something of a status symbol. Similarly, there was a notion among many gamers of the time that you just weren't a real gamer unless you owned a Commodore Amiga. At the time, I was fiercely loyal to the Radio Shack Color Computer, so I guess I was part of that crowd. The point that was made at Ignite was that things are different today. Sure, there are Apple fanboys and Microsoft fanboys, but devices have largely become utilitarian. Pretty much any mobile device that you buy today will do basically the same thing. There will always be platform specific differences in devices, but every vendor has the basics covered.

Given that mindset, and Microsoft's abysmal marketing efforts for other hardware devices such as the Band 2, perhaps hardware is becoming less important to Microsoft. Microsoft briefly rebranded itself as a devices and services company, but that idea seems to have fallen by the wayside. These days, Microsoft's primary focus seems to be its software.

I will be the first to admit that I could be wrong about Microsoft's priorities. For all I know, Microsoft could launch a new Surface marketing campaign tomorrow. Even so, I am betting that Microsoft sees its software business as being more important than its hardware business, and wants to lure new customers, even if they use competing devices.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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