What is Microsoft Conjuring Up With an iPad Team?

The latest rumor coming out of Redmond, Washington is that Apple rival Microsoft may be heading an iPad team at one of the company’s California offices. iOS app agency iPhoneDevCamp founder Raven Zachery overheard a Microsoft conversation at a Seattle, Washington based Starbucks cafe, and tweeted, “Two Microsoft employees sitting next to me in a Seattle Starbucks talking about things they should not be” and that among those things is that “Microsoft has an iPad group at their CA offices.” Zachery states that he “wasn’t clear if it was competitive intelligence or app dev.” Read on for our take of what Microsoft could possibly be doing with an iPad team.

In a few of my conversations with various different members of Microsoft’s different groups, it is clear, and very sad, that Microsoft’s different divisions operate independent of each other. Additionally, even groups within the same division were operating blind to what others were doing. After Microsoft had launched the Microsoft KIN, marketed as a “Windows Phone,” I had ran into a friend from the Windows Phone 7 team, and he was shocked to see the KIN and told me that he’s never seen the phone. Given this little bit of background, an iPad team from Microsoft could mean a number of different things, and we’ll cover the scenarios in this article.

First option: Windows Phone 7 Tablet: Microsoft had been clear that there may be different variations with Windows Phone 7 depending on which specs requirement(s) they meet. The first batch of Windows Phone 7 are classified under Chassis 1, so potentially there could be other chassises running the mobile OS platforms serving different screen sizes and resolutions and fulfilling different purposes. Right now, though, Microsoft seems a bit resource constrained; the company has decided to focus on GSM releases this year, with CDMA forthcoming next year. A potential Windows Phone 7 tablet probably, in our estimation, won’t hit until after the team has released a CDMA iteration. Given the time table, my best guess would be a slate hitting in about a year from now. The company has already generated a lot of hype behind the Courier concept, and a tablet may be both a natural evolution of the Courier and Microsoft’s efforts on Windows phone 7.

Second option: Market research: Zachery did mention competitive intelligence. For now, Microsoft is still pushing the desktop-class Windows 7 operating system for slates, such as the HP Slate 500. An iPad team can be a research group that dissects what Apple has done with the iOS and iPad user experience to help bring some of those elements in a Windows 7 slate, to make those devices more consumer- and finger-friendly. I don’t think this option is very likely as Microsoft wouldn’t need to dedicate an entire team to this duty; this function could be bundled with other Microsoft or Windows teams and more than likely OEM PC vendors will come up with some sort of proprietary UI anyways to tackle the user experience challenges.

Third Option: Apps Creation: An iPad team could be tasked for creating apps for the iPad based on various Microsoft platforms and programs. For instance, the company already has a Bing app for the iPhone–it would be a natural progression to port such an app to the iPad. Additionally, Microsoft may want to gain greater adoption of its Microsoft Office program to users on the go. The company has to recognize that despite the iPad being a content consumption device geared at consumers, enterprises are also looking at the iPad tablet. Moreover, Apple already has proven that a decent word processor, spreadsheet application, and presentation software can be created for a touchscreen user interface with the company’s Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps–all of which are rivals to Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint software on the desktop. On the other hand, Microsoft has demonstrated that the company can create mobile versions of their Office staples as well; the press has been very receptive to Microsoft’s development of those very apps on Windows Phone 7.

With early positive media reviews behind Office on Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 7, an Office suite for iOS could potentially be a halo product for Microsoft–demonstrating that the company is still agile and relevant in the consumer market against Apple and Google. If Microsoft can pull it off, a successful implementation of Office for iOS may give enterprise users and consumers a taste for what Microsoft is capable of and may help to sway them to Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 7 tablets in the future.

Fourth Option: Could Zune be in the works? Given Microsoft’s push for better Mac compatibility with its products, the company may be exploring ways to monetize its media prowess beyond Zune and Windows Phone 7. The company is already working on a Mac Zune client, so why not a Zune streaming client for iOS?

For me, the options that seem most likely remain the tablet options as well as some basic apps for iOS on the iPad. Microsoft probably doesn’t want to give its bread and butter–Office–up to a dominant rival platform in an emerging market space yet, but it could mean that the company is exploring other options such as an online version of Office that’s iPad compatible or a client for Bing where the company can monetize search ads. What are your thoughts? If Microsoft Office on an iPad may not be in the cards, what’s an iPad really doing in a Microsoft office?

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