Can Microsoft afford to launch Windows 8 tablets without a new Office?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| January 31, 2012

Earlier today, I asked you whether or not Windows 8 tablets really have a chance in the tablet market due to the hypothesized pricing. It's all a hypothetical situation, of course, because the tablets aren't out yet and we have no idea what they will cost. But, we can guess, and that's one of the best ways to have a conversation. So let's keep on the hypothesizing train, shall we? And let's keep our focus on Windows 8 tablets for a bit longer.

Yesterday, I saw a piece of news from Business Insider that suggested Windows 8 tablets would launch without a pretty important part of the whole Microsoft ecosystem: Office. Right now, Microsoft is busy releasing Office 15 in its technical preview to important customers. BI is basing their estimation that the next version of Office, which would be tablet-optimized, will be missing from Windows 8 tablets on previous track records. Specifically, the technical preview that Microsoft released of Office 2010 was released in July of 2009. Microsoft wouldn't end up releasing Office 2010 to the masses for another 11 months.

So, with Windows 8 tablets expected to land this holiday season, it would be assumed that Microsoft would try to get the next version of Office, ready to go for their tablet devices, but that may not be enough time for the Redmond-based company. Of course, anything is possible, and if Microsoft is willing to crunch the months ahead, it would seem unlikely it would be impossible for the company to have the next version of Office ready.

But, I can't help but think that Microsoft is walking right into a Research In Motion situation with their Windows 8 tablets. What do I mean? I mean that when RIM launched the BlackBerry PlayBook, their very first tablet device, it was missing some key elements. In fact, the device is still missing some key elements. And while I don't imagine that a Microsoft-branded tablet is going to be missing a Contacts or Calendar app when it finally launches later this year, missing an integral application like Office could potentially be so much worse than what RIM did with their PlayBook.

And that's why I think that Matt Rosoff of Business Insider is right on point when he says that potential customers could very well take a "wait and see" position with Windows 8 tablets later this year. Because, while an older version of Office that is optimized for tablets could be in the picture, that's only covering your bases and not actually innovating. With whatever new version that Microsoft has up their sleeve, specifically for their Windows 8 tablets, the company has a chance at creating a real contender for their tablet market.

The Apple iPad lineage has their Pages application, which is undoubtedly a very, very powerful word processing application. They've also got Numbers, which is a great option when Microsoft's Excel isn't available. (Some would say it's better, but I'll leave that up to you to debate.) Microsoft not only has to make a competing tablet, but they've got to make sure that the applications they have available standout amidst the competition. Against Pages and Numbers, Microsoft needs to have a truly tablet-optimized Word and Excel ready to go at launch. And I mean that: at launch.

Waiting could be a fatal blow to Microsoft's tablet plans, but then again, they've got their own view on any and all markets that they find themselves in, so anything is possible. While it would seem to make sense that Microsoft would want to make sure their new version of Office is ready to go for their new tablets. But, things can only make sense for so long before we just have to close our eyes and hope for the best.