Mobile is a term that is very quickly taking on new meanings. Only five years ago, mobile just used to mean laptops. Then, the term expanded to include the ubiquitous BlackBerry devices that everyone carried. Now, it’s more of a general term that not only includes laptops and BlackBerry devices, but also the ever-increasing offerings of smartphones and tablets that have invaded the market in the last 18 months.
However, there is one clear difference between a Mac or Windows notebook and, for example, iOS-based devices such as the iPhone or iPad, and that is Microsoft Office with applications such as Word, Excel and Outlook. Today, Office runs on both Mac and Windows desktops and portables but does not (currently) run on any mobile OS device, such as an iPhone or Android device.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced plans to port Windows from x86-based machines to ARM, a decision that could have far-reaching implications for the future of mobile products. The first rendition of Windows ARM will be on Windows 8 coming out in 2012.
If Microsoft is successful in porting Windows to ARM, it’s a foregone conclusion that Microsoft will follow that up by making Office available for ARM-based products as well. This will change the landscape of how tablets are used. While Office could conceivably also be ported to handheld devices running on ARM processors, the port to ARM tablets is much easier due to the larger—7- to 10-inch—screen sizes.
One of the clear deficiencies in using a tablet today is the lack of support of applications that run on laptops. When you want to edit a Word document on an iPad, for example, various viewers and readers have been built into the process, such as DocumetsToGo, iWork (Apple), PDF Reader (Adobe), Office2 HD (iTunes link) and QuickOffice. These products open the Word file and allow basic editing and then save it back in the same file format. These are meant to replace Microsoft Word. But, wouldn’t it be cool if Microsoft Office, including Word, were available on the iPad and Android tablets?
Then, millions of tablet users could work on their Office documents on their desktop, laptop, iPad or Android tablet. Microsoft would have to provide support for thousands of printers, keyboard and mouse support, support for larger displays, touch-screen input as well as interfacing to iOS and Android.
Since there really isn’t a universal file system available to users outside individual applications on most mobile operation systems, particularly iOS and Android, users would manage files using a product like Dropbox.
Now, imagine taking a 10-inch iPad, marrying it with a wireless mouse and keyboard, and placing it in a dock to hold the iPad and attaching a large, 23-inch monitor through the docking unit. With Microsoft Office installed, this configuration would operate much like a laptop.
At this point, you might ask how different would a traditional laptop be from an iPad running Microsoft Office? You’d no longer have the traditional Windows interface, but once you loaded one of the basic Office applications, such as Word, the operation inside that application would behave very similar to the way Word runs today on an x86 laptop.