Microsoft's announcement that it's bringing Office to the iPad is a game changer. Naysayers have belittled the tablet as a toy or a content consumption gadget since it launched. The argument has always been shaky, but with the world's most popular productivity suite now available for the iPad, you can no longer deny that the tablet is, in fact, just an evolution of the personal computer.
The debate is partially semantic. Diehards will tell you "PC" refers only to a traditional Wintel computer. But most of us extend the term to encompass Mac OS X, Linux, and Chrome OS, as well, and the defining characteristics have more to do with how we use them.
For the vast majority of businesses and consumers, the primary activities on a PC boil down to email, social networking, Web surfing, and producing content — like Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. There are still certain industries and specific applications that require a given platform or operating system, but for 80-plus percent of users a tablet like the iPad can do the job.
Even without Microsoft Office, both iPads and Android tablets have apps and services available to meet basic computing needs. Now that Microsoft has developed touch-enabled native versions of the core Office applications for the iPad, it's more than capable of going head-to-head with a desktop or laptop PC for productivity power.
I'm a long-time proponent of this idea. Just over two years ago I said, "When laptops became notebooks, then netbooks, then ultrabooks there was no panic about the end of the PC. They're all just variations on a theme — different sizes and shapes of personal computers. The same is true for tablets."
I also pointed out that Apple and Microsoft were both strong illustrations of the point. Both companies — the developers of the two leading desktop operating systems — were aggressively pursuing paths intent on melding desktop and mobile, and evolving the traditional desktop experience for the tablet.
Microsoft continues to steer down that path with its own desktop and mobile platforms, but it also recognizes the world has changed. Sales continue to decline for traditional PCs, while tablets and smartphones have usurped the role of primary computing device for many users.
Microsoft developed the Office for iPad apps because it understands that the Wintel platform no longer enjoys the virtual monopoly it once did, and it never will again. The PC has evolved to include tablets, and Microsoft has adapted by providing the tools users need to get things done no matter what form their "personal computer" may take.
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