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Microsoft Office on the iPhone: Has it arrived too late?

As we reported at the end of last week, a Microsoft Office app finally arrived on the iPhone over in the US (rolling out to other markets soon) – but the fact that Redmond is so late to the game on this one means that many people simply won't use this app. Sure, many workers and students absolutely rely on Office, but they've learned to live without it for so long on the iPhone that getting users to adopt it now may be an uphill battle.

Okay, admittedly Microsoft Office is one suite of products I just can't shake the need to use. I tried living without Office on my home computer for a year or two, opting to use free alternatives such as Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) and Evernote (for writing) for my various word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation needs. I considered using the relatively inexpensive Apple iWork, which comes with the added benefit of having tailor-made iPhone apps, but I was actually doing just fine with my free alternatives.

However, eventually projects that absolutely required Office invariably fell into my lap, such as an editing gig that used Word-exclusive templates and the track changes feature, and I wound up installing Office on my home computer in the end anyhow. I just couldn't disentangle myself from Office.

On my iPhone, though, I've learned to deal with the lack of Office. Office wasn't even an option, so there was never any question that I'd have to hack around with various solutions until I found a system that worked for writing, editing, viewing documents, and whatever else I might need to do on my iPhone.

Quite frankly, it's been long enough that I now can't imagine feeling the need for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint on my iPhone. I've lived without them thus far. Why would I need them now?

Old habits die hard

Had the Office suite come out two or three years ago, Microsoft might have caught me (and a lot of other iPhone owners, presumably) during a desperate moment, at a time before my iPhone habits had gelled, when I would have happily rolled Office into my productivity app set. I was still tinkering two or three years ago. I was still looking for solutions. But I find that the new iPhone app adoption bar is getting higher by the day. There are so many great apps available, and over the years I've narrowed down my set to the very best and developed habits around them. It's rare that I find an app that's remarkably better than ones I already use.

In other words, I'm highly satisfied with almost every one of the apps I'd consider essential to me. And the longer I live with my apps and develop habits around using them, the less likely I am to switch to something else.

Do you want to know what stunned me most about the announcement that Microsoft was releasing an iOS app for Office, though? There's no iPad version!

There's no question in my mind that iPad users have a much higher demand for productivity apps and Microsoft Office than those on the iPhone. iPad users are still actively seeking Office capabilities on their iPads. They want Office, and they're still waiting for it. Many of the alternatives fall short. They are hungry for this product, not yet set in their ways, and ready to adopt it. Microsoft absolutely should have released the iPad version of Office first. They got the demand equation all wrong. If iPad owners got on board with Office first, they'd develop habits around using Office and, within a few weeks, see the need for it on their iPhones, too.

I don't think the app, known as Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers , will be a total flop, but I do think Microsoft has completely missed the boat on retaining some of its customers and perhaps even capturing a new market: People whose primary personal computing device is a smartphone or tablet. The numbers are growing. (And, incidentally, those numbers seem to be growing even faster for Android than iOS, but Microsoft doesn't have an Office app for Android yet, either).

Given the state of Office, I just can't be talked into feeling like I need it on my phone. I'll keep using my own solution of cobbled-together apps and services on the iPhone and iPad, thanks.

For more on Office related matters, check out our review of Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium.