Microsoft, iPhone and Digging New Wells

Water droplet

This week Microsoft released an Office companion app for iPhone. It’s free, which is good, but without a $99 subscription to Office 365, it’s a virtual paper weight. Not good.

By requiring a paid subscription up front, Microsoft missed a great opportunity to attract new users to their flagship Office product and to reintroduce it to those who long ago left them behind for Mac, Google Apps, iWork and a host of other alternatives.

Much of the popular tech press, meanwhile, is practicing the art of lowered expectations, lauding Microsoft for dipping its toe in water, and justifying an approach that protects Office revenues. They should expect more.

The enterprise customers Microsoft has served for so long and – generally speaking – so well are changing faster than Microsoft has kept up. Consumerization, BYOD, and the adoption of rafts of cloud-based software have all taken a bite out of Microsoft’s mainstream business. It’s time to try something different.

What could they do?

  • Good: Include a 30-day trial of Office 365 for everyone who downloads the iPhone app. Give them a great first experience, and win them over with an admirable, if incomplete, feature set on iPhone.

  • Better: Provide a limited, but functional set of features on iPhone and web that is good enough to compete with Google Docs and is free. Indefinitely. Then provide a path to pay for those who want more functionality.

PC + Windows + Office = Success is an equation that won’t hold true for much longer, and Microsoft knows it. When the well is running dry, you don’t just keep lowering the bucket. You dig a new well.

It’s time for Microsoft to dig.

Updated on June 17: The last fifty plus reviews on the App Store heavily underscore these points.