With Microsoft getting serious about supporting rival mobile platforms, Apple's magical tablet is a suddenly perfectly acceptable mobile device for the Microsoft-focused information worker. And thanks to some coming management functionality, it's going to get even better in the near future. My, how things have changed.
When iOS, the underlying mobile OS used by iPad first debuted as part of the first iPhone—it was originally called iPhone OS, go figure—I spent a bunch of time and effort documenting how poorly it supported key Microsoft technologies. That summer, in fact, I got a lot of complaints from people who snidely remarked that perhaps I should rename my site to "SuperSite for iPhone." But I could tell that iPhone was a big deal, and of course in the years since, Apple has done a likewise credible job of turning the iPhone-based iPad tablet into a big deal as well. (Though I didn't see that coming with equal acuity.)
Apple has done an excellent job in these intervening seven years of propping up iOS's support for both Microsoft technologies—which I'd call de facto industry standards—as well as actual industry standards that matter to IT, such as mobile device management (MDM). But it wasn't until this year and the release of Office for iPad that the iPad turned the corner. Sure, many people have wanted an iPad, and would love to use one for work. But with Office for iPad, it's just possible, it's reasonable.
I do use an iPad regularly, but like most people I use it primarily for entertainment/leisure time activities such as reading, game playing (the "Walking Dead" games are a particular favorite), browsing the web, checking up on Facebook and the like. However, the appearance of Office, again, changes things.
That could change. As I've noted recently in Apple in the Enterprise—which I originally titled as "Will an Apple a Day Keep the IT Admin Away?—Microsoft supplies an unusually robust set of apps for iOS-based iPhones and iPads.
Here is a partial list again, slightly updated:
Lync 2010 and Lync 2013. These are the full-featured mobile clients for Lync and Lync Online.
Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection. This useful app lets you remote desktop into your servers and PCs.
Microsoft Rights Management Sharing. This app lets you manage RMS document protection in Office 365 for businesses.
Microsoft Tech Companion for iPads. This newsfeed-type app helps you keep up to date on the Microsoft solutions that interest in most.
Office 365 Admin. Currently limited a bit in scope, this app lets you know at a glance whether your subscribed Office 365 services are up and running. (In other words, you can't actually use this app to administer Office 365).
Office for iPad. Microsoft has delivered full featured versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad. For more information, please read my Microsoft Office for iPad Review.
Office Mobile (for iPhone only). Microsoft provides a mobile version of its Office suite—with mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint—for the iPhone only. Check out my Office Mobile for iPhone Review for more info.
OneDrive and OneDrive for Business. Microsoft's cloud storage services for individuals and businesses are amply served on iOS. (Oddly, there is no OneDrive for Business client on Android.)
OneNote. Microsoft makes nice OneNote versions for both iPhone and iPad, and the iPad version was recently updated with the new Office look and feel and other improvements.
OWA for iPhone, OWA for iPad. This app lets you access your (business versions of) Office 365-based email, calendars and contacts using a Windows Phone-like UI and Microsoft features such as Conversation View] and messaging flagging. While most individuals will probably stick to the built-in Mail and Calendar and Contacts apps, which are excellent, Microsoft will be adding policy improvements to OWA that will put it over the top for many businesses. (See below.)
SharePoint Newsfeed. With this app, you can stay up to up to date with your SharePoint 2013-based connections, make new posts, upload photos, and more. Using Yammer? There's a dedicated Yammer app too.
Skype. Microsoft's consumer-oriented communications solution will almost certainly be of interest as well.
Windows Intune Company Portal. This mobile app version of the Intune portal lets end users browse apps you've made available via Microsoft's MDM solution and install them on their devices.
That's a lot of stuff, but it doesn't end there. Later this year, Microsoft will update its cloud-based mobile device management (MDM) solution, called Windows Intune, adding the ability to manage not just the iPad, but also the Office for iPad apps.
"This will allow corporate data to remain within IT managed environments, while giving users that Office productivity experience they love," Microsoft general manager Julia White said during the TechEd 2014 keynote address today. She explained how IT will be able to apply policies and controls to the Office apps—which will include at least OWA as well—and define, among other things, which iPad apps the user can use for business purposes and where the data can reside.
In one example, White showed how IT policies could prevent information copied to the clipboard from Excel from being pasted into the iPad's built-in Mail app. But that information could be pasted into OWA, because that app is approved (and is used for business use.)
These are exciting capabilities. And the iPad, ostensibly a toy, is now quite a bit more interesting than it was without Microsoft.