Office for iPad marks end of the platform wars

March 27, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

Microsoft's purported plan to launch Office for iPad today is a watershed moment because it hints at a platform-agnostic technology future.

Office for iPad marks end of the platform wars

[Rumor has it Microsoft is about to do what we all thought it should.]

New world

In taking this decision Microsoft is wisely accepting a future in which customers like you and I will be free to use whatever platform we like, because most key apps will be available across all of them.

The decision may be late, but shows the company understands that future relevance means its technologies cannot be limited in reach.

It's like this: Mac or PC, iPhone, iOS or Android device, the type of system you use is quite important, but what you choose to do with that system is far more important. Microsoft is taking steps to embrace that future. What about Apple and Google?

Some say Apple tries to lock users into iOS by encouraging use of proprietary solutions such as iTunes. As Apple customers invest more in iTunes content they become more tied to its solutions.

Google has a similar agenda.

Fred Vogelstein believes both want to control the way we consume media, and perhaps they do.

Universal services

There are hints Apple and Google are coming round.

Google already has the notion of universal services across a plethora of platforms. Gmail, Google Now, and many of its other services run across different operating systems and devices. That's how it should be, and how it's going to be.

It was very recently reported that Apple is considering making a version of iTunes for Android devices.

Diehards say Apple would never do this, but there are advantages to that move. For a start it would enable Apple to maintain a relationship with customers who abandon its solutions; secondly, it lets it create fresh connection with potential customers new to its platforms.

Ubiquity

However, platforms will become less important. As existing platforms (PC, smartphone, tablet) become more commoditized, the big tech firms already recognize the need to find new ways to separate us from our money. All the fuss about wearable tech is just an industry hyping the next big thing because it wants your cash.

The big thing about wearables is that they create a series of inevitabilities, including even more use of platform-agnostic cloud services. That goes all the way, I think: I can even imagine a future in which your entire computing experience becomes virtual -- your wearable device will identify you to any platform or device, and you'll be able to do whatever you use your systems for today on any system you come across, limited only by the capabilities of the system you happen to be using.

This means the importance of platforms will inevitably shrink as the lock-in value of them declines. When you can do what you want on any system, then choosing which system to use will be wide open, while the importance of services -- and applications are services -- will grow.

It's way too early to say if Microsoft Office will thrive in this platform-agnostic future -- there are many more competitors in the productivity software market than before; but it's also way too early to say it will fail.

What you can say is that in embracing such a future, Microsoft is finally becoming involved in an evolving tech landscape in which the platforms you use matter far, far less than the work you need to do with them.

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