Is Apple iWork on iPad Setting the Bar High for Office Mobile for Windows Mobile?

There are shortcomings–or rather, unanswered questions that were raised–with the announcement, unveiling, and demo of the Apple iPad, but one thing that stands out is iWork. As a Mac user, there is a lot of value in iWork being a more consumer product alternative of Office–yes, there are advanced features that are missing in iWork’s Numbers app, the Excel alternative that Apple had created–but all in all, the software package works nicely. Average consumers just need to be able to type and you can create beautiful graphs, spreadsheets, marketing flyers, forms, presentations, letterheads and more like a design professional. Again, Apple is making compromises to remove super geeky advance features into an easy, professional package that consumers would love, and the software is a nice selling point for desktop Mac purchases. This is one reason why I am excited about the iPad–the Apple-based tablet that runs the iPhone OS can handle the touch-enhanced version of iWork with similar–if not all–features that are found on the desktop Mac counterpart. With Apple setting the bar on mobile device productivity with desktop-like features, Microsoft will need to impress with Windows Mobile 7, which is rumored to receive a business edition with enhanced Office support.

Screen Size Matters

In order to bring iWork to the tablet, Apple had considered screen real estate. With a nearly 10-inch display, 9.7 inches to be exact, Apple has more room to add pop ups, palettes for when you need them, and more room for users to maneuver graphics and arrange layouts. With Windows Mobile, being a Windows phone, users are limited to a sub-5-inch display, meaning there’s less room to really worry about the exact placement of a graphic object inside a presentation and there aren’t nice little palettes that can come up and not really obscure the entire screen. It’d be interesting to see what Microsoft does with Office Mobile to make it powerful for business, yet easy enough to use from the user experience perspective in a smaller package than the iPad tablet. Users should be aware that when they purchase a Windows phone that there inherent hardware limitations–mainly screen size–that limit what Microsoft can do with Office Mobile. It is this very reason that iWork hasn’t appeared on the iPhone and it’s hard to say whether Apple will bring a stripped down version of iWork to the smaller-screened iPhone and iPod Touch.

Office Mobile is Open About Communications

The thing that Office Mobile has going for it is that Microsoft, thus far, has been pretty open with Windows Mobile. With plug-ins and third-party support, you can overcome some of the inherent limitations of the iPad on Windows Mobile, adding Bluetooth and WiFi printing for network connected printers. That’s a nice touch in making content that’s trapped inside your device available on paper to be shared. With the iPad, since Apple hasn’t mentioned wireless printing, we’re assuming you’d need to email it to yourself and open the files on a desktop–hopefully Apple will also release iWork readers for PCs to have printing access to iWork files, though you can export iWork files to Office-compatible formats and PDFs.

A Residence of the Cloud

There’s a lot of talk about Office Mobile’s cloud-based integration for Windows Mobile–and should those rumors be true, that’s another advantage for Office Mobile. You theoretically wouldn’t be limit to the 16, 32, or 64 GB device sizes of the iPad. Moreover, you won’t need to worry about synchronizing files or transferring files–you’ll have anywhere, anytime access as long as you’re connected to the internet and provided Microsoft doesn’t pull a Research in Motion with a server outage–BlackBerry users will be all too familiar with outages at this point. It’s interesting in that Apple had dabbled with iWork in the cloud too–offering sharing and viewing (not editing capabilities) for, but so far the company hasn’t announced any new progress, including how that may integrate with the iPhone or iPad for seamless access to files, which is a shame.

Touch-Based Focus

iWork’s advantage for the iPad is that it seems to be a full-fledged version of the desktop software that’s been designed from the ground up with a focus on touch-based computing with all the niceties that the desktop software offers. Again, readers should be cognizant that this isn’t an apples to “Apple” comparison as the iPad offers a larger netbook-like screen size with 960 X 640 resolution (it has twice the pixels of the iPhone) whereas at the current state, Windows Mobile comes with half the screen size making for a dramatically different user experience. There’s still time and Microsoft could surprise the world with an Office Mobile suite designed for touch and may be even more full-featured than what we have today at Mobile World Congress.


It’s hard to not want the power and finesse of dragging a picture into a page layout and have it appear on-screen as it would printed on paper, or perform advanced masking effects on a presentation. However, the iPad and Windows phone occupy two different markets, and not even Apple is denying that–they are labeling the iPad as a separate product group than the iPhone. Comparing the two vastly different product groups together would be a fallacy. Given the robust feature of iWork and Microsoft’s historic marketing of Office Mobile as the selling point for Windows Mobile, it’d be interesting to see how Office Mobile can and will improve with a smaller screen size to make a better, more full-featured user experience.

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Chuong Nguyen