Officially, the Microsoft press conference Thursday in San Francisco was intended to take the wraps off the long-awaited version of its Office for iPad.
While it’s a big deal, it was also the first public appearance of Satya Nadella since becoming Microsoft chief executive this year. And that, as much as a product launch, was what drew dozens of reporters to a Microsoft office in the city.
Nadella, dressed in a snug, black T-shirt and speaking comfortably in front of a series of big monitors, said the event was the first in a series of opportunities he would take to begin laying out his vision for where he wants to take Microsoft.
“Our customers want to know where we’re going and what is our innovation agenda,” he said.
Broadly speaking, that strategy is “mobile-first, cloud-first.” Within that, there’s a new spirit of being device agnostic.
“The world is not going to be driven by the form factors we know today, but by the form factors that are to come,” he said. “Everything we do will be digitized.”
Of course, over the last two years, it had seemed that Microsoft was focused on using its software to unsuccessfully push its own Surface tablet as it tried to regain lost ground against Apple’s iPad.
But former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had signaled that would change with an announcement last year that the company was developing Office for Apple’s iPad.
While that push was already underway before the changing of the guard, it was telling that Nadella chose the moment of its release to make his first public appearance.
“I was a little bit taken by the fact this is the first time we’ve seen Satya get up in a public setting and he’s choosing to talk about a product that runs on someone else’s device,” said Rob Koplowitz, an analyst at Forrester Research. “I hope it’s a symbolic change.”
Starting Thursday, users can download free versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint for the iPad. The apps are free and let you read documents in much richer formats than you could previously when just viewing them on the iPad.
But to use the fairly sophisticated editing and collaboration tools Microsoft designed specifically for the iPad, users will need a Microsoft 365 subscription.
The visual of Microsoft executives extolling the beauty of their software on the iPad was compelling in terms of the signal it seemed intended to send to consumers, IT managers and developers. Nadella talked about wanting to power a “cloud for everyone on every device” no matter who was making those devices.
Is this the start of a new, more open Microsoft?
How this impacts Microsoft’s business remains to be seen. But the offering certainly drew cheers from a person who probably doesn’t spend a ton of time praising Microsoft’s products:
Welcome to the #iPad and @AppStore! @satyanadella and Office for iPad— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 27, 2014