Google releases mobile apps for Docs, Sheets, and soon, Slides

Obviously trying to stay in the pack with Apple and Microsoft — both of which have mobile versions of their office applications — I learned this morning that Google has released free mobile apps for iOS and Android for Docs and Sheets, and Slides will quickly follow.

Brian Levee, Docs Google product manager, Official Google Blog: New mobile apps for Docs, Sheets and Slides—work offline and on the go

When you open the new apps, you’ll see your most recently edited files, which means less time searching and scrolling.

The apps also come with offline support built in, so you can easily view, edit and create files without an Internet connection. Now, if you have a brilliant idea for a best-selling novel while traipsing through the Amazonian rainforest (or you know, something more probable, like during flight takeoff)…no problem. You can jot down your idea in the Docs app on your phone, even when you’re offline.

Now that I am lugging around an iPad Mini and Logitech bluetooth keyboard, editing Google Docs on that is possible, and probably better than using a browser interface, especially considering the offline capability.

I tested the integration of Drive and Docs on the iPad, mostly because the native display in the mobile Google Docs lacks the folders I’ve created in the cloud, and just provides a gazillion files, as a long, long list. But the Google Drive approach is best, as shown below:



I have been using Google Docs a great deal — writing the first few drafts of reports, for example — and I am waiting with great anticipation for an extension of the activity stream concept in Google Drive. I am expecting to see a chat stream integrated there before too long, with user posts on top of the current system information about file creation and so on.

It appears that Google Drive uses the local Docs app when you opt to edit a document, and it all works as you’d imagine: very smooth and seamless. I wish there was a Mac version of Google Drive/Docs so I could have the same capabilities — like offline editing — that they now support on the mobile clients. And the integrated activity stream that I have been pining for.

Nadella is pulling Microsoft into the 21st century

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, is pushing hard to change the way that the tech behemoth thinks about the world and Microsoft’s place in it. He is actively moving the company away from a packaged products mindset and skillfully crafting a new lens, a new set of metaphors to help guide a major transformation of the company.
He’s been using the phrase ‘mobile first, cloud first’ (along with Gini Rometty at IBM) to suggest one part of this shifting view. And in a talk yesterday in San Francisco, he’s added some new insights, as reported by Reuters:

“Every aspect of Microsoft’s business is being fundamentally transformed because of data,” said Nadella at a presentation in San Francisco on Tuesday. “You have to build deeply into the fabric of the company a culture that thrives on data.”

We’ve seen recent moves by Microsoft to transition Microsoft Windows and Office products to foundations for the use of other services. For example, the release of Office for the iPad came with a zero price tag for viewing and displaying documents, but requires users to sign up for Office 365 — and a monthly subscription fee — to create or edit documents (see Office comes to the iPad, at last). And similar shifts in the thinking about licensing have led to free Windows on small display devices, and soon, I bet, on everything (see Microsoft accepts the inevitable, takes first steps toward making Windows and Office free).
Even Office is being recast as a set of tools for manipulating and visualizing data, in Nadella’s data first world:

“Think of Office as the canvas, or the surface area, or the scaffolding from which you can access the data,” said Nadella.

So, the new mantra is mobile first, cloud first, data first, it seems.
Of course, Nadella was speaking at an event related to SQL Server 2014 and Microsoft’s Analytics Platform System, as well as Microsoft’s Hadoop offering, HDInsight, a cloud-based data management solution to help companies analyze big data in the cloud.
Nadella makes the case that companies — including Microsoft, I suspect — have to first change their thinking, and adopt a ‘data culture’ mindset, before taking full advantage of technologies of the sort Microsoft is bringing to market. I bet we’ll be returning to ‘data culture’ a great deal in the years to come.

Dropbox Project Harmony is breaking the rules

Dropbox announced that Dropbox for Business is now available for all, with features that IT staff have demanded:

Remote wipe helps protect confidential information, account transfer helps you maintain business continuity, and sharing audit logs let you track how your Dropbox for Business information is being accessed.

As a footnote, they mention Project Harmony, which looks to be a means to comment between coworkers working inside of files, while they are being edited in existing tools. In the image below, it’s Microsoft Powerpoint:
This is all they say at the moment:

We’re exploring new ways to make working together great. Our new initiative, Project Harmony, will let you see who’s editing a file, have a conversation with other editors, and keep copies in sync — all right inside the apps you already use. Check back here on Friday for a closer look.

The capability does not seem to include the comment-to-paragraph linking that usually accompanies inside-of-doc comments. One the other hand, if the comments are also available externally, at the Dropbox folder level, that would be a real step forward over Google Drive, for example.
This is a real departure from the typical model of document comments: either you use the built-in functionality of the editor associated with the file type — like Word with .docx — or you convert it to another format, like Google Docs document. Dropbox is suggesting a different way, through some clever integration into the native editors. It’s breaking the rules. I presume it will could with Apple’s iWork apps, but not with Google Docs, since Google’s aren’t native but cloud-based. According to some reports it only works with Microsoft Office at present.
I was expecting that Dropbox would be announcing their own office apps, but perhaps that’s in the works for Friday, too.
I will have to wait until Friday to have all revealed, it seems.

Dropbox continues raising money, and prepares for big announcement this week

Dropbox has lined up more than $500 million in debt financing, according to the Financial Times. Apparently, it is growing its own infrastructure, (now a hybrid of its own and Amazon’s), and even though the company raised $350 million in venture earlier this year (see Dropbox, now valued at $10B, raises $250M), there is a great deal of interest to make bets on the leaders in the exploding work tech sector.
Phe price pressures in the file sync-and-share market are rising as prices fall: Google has dropped it prices, for example, and I would personally save over $15/month if I switched from Dropbox (see Google Drive changes the economics of file sync-and-share). Dropbox has real pressure to match these price shifts, and data center efficiencies is one aspect of that.
Liz Gannes at Re/Code notes that Dropbox will be launching new product this week on Wednesday, and rumors suggest ‘productivity’ — office — tools are coming. I’ve written about this many times: see Dropbox for Business is only the start: next, work management and office apps and Dropbox acquires Zulip, readies two-headed client. This week we’ll see what they announce. My prediction:

  • Some reworking of the Zulip chat app — recently acquired — closely integrated with Dropbox, providing a Yammer-like (or Yammer-lite) experience for small workgroups.
  • Announcing or maybe releasing applications to edit and create Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents. These applications will likely run in the browser only at first, but on Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android in the near future.

This will be melded with the new Dropbox for Business, so that some functionality may require signing up for that premium service. For example, I currently use the Packrat Service on my Dropbox account, so that files I delete from my hard drive are not actually deleted in the cloud. I pay a large premium for that service, and business users would likely do so.

Office for iPad posts 12M downloads in first week

It’s been widely reported that Microsoft has twittered the impressive results of one week of Office for iPad, which has led to over 12 million downloads.
The other shoe hasn’t dropped though: how many people have signed up for Office 365, which is required to create or edit Office documents on the iPad. At $99 per year, it’s fairly certain that Microsoft hasn’t seen anything like 12 million subscriptions, even with free giveaways at Microsoft retail stores, or the discounted license of $79 on Amazon.
As some are saying on the Microsoft tweet, how many have deleted the app from sticker shock?
Screenshot 2014-04-04 09.55.59
The reality is that Satya Nadella, the new CEO, has accepted the new terms of the competition around office apps in general and Microsoft Office in specific. He’s started by dropping the price of the apps — for use in viewing and presenting Office documents on the iPad — to zero. He’s now running an experiment to figure out the following:

  1. How many will download the app? The answer so far is 12 million in the first week, and we could project some ongoing trail with tens of millions more downloads in the coming weeks and months so long as there isn’t some backlash.
  2. How many will convert to Office 365 subscribers at current rates? The Microsofties are looking closely at those numbers, that only they can know. I’m betting the number is low overall. Corporate buyers might step up in large numbers, but I bet they are running some experiments forst, too. I will suggest that as fewer than 5% have converted. Certainly if the numbers were huge, Microsoft would be crowing about it.
  3. What is the best price point for the capability to edit and create Office docs on the iPad? It’s definitely less than $79/year. The value of being able to keep to the Office app formats — instead of converting to Apple or Google docs — is high, but mostly for big businesses, and those folks will pay for integration with Yammer, Sharepoint and other Microsoft niceties, like collaboration inside of documents.

My bet is that they will go to a zero price version, one that involves an integration with OneDrive with a minimum storage, and then users would need to pay for additional storage, or for Office 365 integration. The collaborative editing of documents, and other functionality will be partitioned in increasingly higher per month or per year bundles.
But — bottom line — I bet the low conversion in all but large and super large companies will give Nadella the proof he needs to justify releasing a new free Office for iPad tier, one integrated only with OneDrive, and costing the starting prices of zero.
[An aside — I still am amazed that these vendors consider word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations the sum and span of ‘productivity’. None of these guys has a task management app?]

iWork for iCloud updated, but still doesn’t support folders

I know I am old-fashioned, but I really can’t conceive how Apple believes that iCloud will be really usable without a folder setup for documents. The premise that I want to share documents one-by-one with coworkers rather than project-related folders is just a non-starter, and keeping all my Pages docs in one folder and all my Numbers docs in another is simply annoying.
So when I read that Apple was going to add new design and sharing options for iCloud I had hopes. They are dashed: no folders.
The Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps are being updated:

  • new Retina display support
  • an updated editor expeience
  • and improved sharing — you can now share documents for viewing only, if you’d like.

Screenshot 2014-04-02 10.28.17
Keynote will (finally) support editing of charts from imported files, like from Numbers. Numbers has improved pop-up menus, and Pages has gained new templates, better text wrapping, and the same ability to edit imported charts.
The iCloud version have updated, and the iOS and  OS X updates will be coming later on today.
The Bottom Line
Not nearly enough to get me to stop using Google Drive, even though I can only edit in the cloud. And of course Microsoft has changed everything with the recent release of free Office for iPad, so long as an Office 365 account is set up (see Office comes to the iPad, at last) destablizes the advantages that APple had on the iPad.
Someday soon, I expect we will have an apples-to-apples comparison, when the following happens:

  • Apple develops a real folder model for iCloud, and the ability to sync-and-share files like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.
  • Google will finally release apps that support editing of Google documents natively on iOS, OS X, and Android (currently Quickoffice works on Microsoft Office docs, not Google doc formats, and only on Android and iOS).
  • Microsoft will relax the requirement for a paid introductory Office 365 account to be able to edit docs. Oh, and they’ll add the ability to print (d’uh!).

By that time — late 2014? — we will likely be seeing the competition heating up with doc editing capabilities from Dropbox, Box, and other file sync-and-share competitors.
At the present, I find the Google Drive solution most practical for my everyday work. I have yet to spend any time the the iPad apps from Microsoft, but I know that people with a real investment in Office on Windows, Office 365, or Sharepoint will likely find the new Office offerings very attractive. Although it’s hard to argue with free.

Office comes to the iPad, at last

Satya Nadella’s San Francisco press conference yesterday was indeed the unveiling of Office for iPad, as predicted. This is actually three separate apps — Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for iPad — and as I guessed, you will need an Office 365 account if you want to do anything more than look at existing documents. But otherwise, again as I suspected, the apps are free (see Microsoft stock is soaring on desire for Office on iPad, and Microsoft accepts the inevitable, takes first steps toward making Windows and Office free). An Android version is coming soon, as well.

Nadella wrote on the official Microsoft blog,

We’re bringing Office, the gold standard in getting things done, to the iPad. A billion people rely on Office every day, and we’ve worked diligently to create a version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that delivers the best productivity experience available on the iPad. It’s built from the ground up for touch, is unmistakably Office in its design, and is optimized for iPad. Office for iPad offers unmatched rendering of content and delivers unparalleled authoring, analysis and presentation experiences that Office customers expect on all of their devices. Download it today for free.

The oddest wrinkle is that there is no way to print documents on the iPad apps, which is annoying, and likely to be the number one complaint/request of new Office for iPad users. I expect a patch for than, stat.

So, Microsoft has finally filled the huge strategic hole for Office by rolling out Office on iOS. I will download and try the package of apps on my iPad and iPhone, and we’ll see how they feel. But the specifics of the feature set are a secondary consideration. The real question is this: did Microsoft wait too long? Did they allow too many business users the chance to try other applications — like Quip, Apple office apps, Goggle Docs, etc. — and now will be confronted with the prospect of having to convince them to return to the fold, like wayward sheep? Will they come back? Will they sign up for Office 365?

And the boogeyman for Microsoft isn’t really Apple, Google, and other existing alternatives. It’s the apps that Dropbox, Box, and other file sync-and-share companies are planning to bring to market. They have hundreds of millions of users and steadily growing, and Microsoft Drive is far behind. The right combination of apps from these competitors could cause a seismic shift in the world of business, where Microsoft becomes an also-ran.

Office 365 Personal is more proof Microsoft is trending toward free apps

I wrote the other other day that Microsoft’s Satya Nadella seems to have turned the corner on a new price strategy for Windows and Office: he’s heading towards free (see Microsoft accepts the inevitable, takes first steps toward making Windows and Office free). As I said, Nadella realizes he must trade the promise of continued revenue from Windows and Office with the reality of remaining relevant.

The strategic shift on Office will be to give away the applications for (functionally) zero, so long as the user has signed up for a monthly subscription at Office 365. In effect, Microsoft wants people to share through their infrastructure, and not through the infrastructure of competitors like Apple, Google, Dropbox, Box, and others.

The newest indication of this policy is yesterday’s announcement by Microsoft for Office 365 Personal:

Coming this Spring, Office 365 Personal is a new, great option for people interested in using Office 365.  It’s designed for an individual, allows for one PC or Mac and one tablet to be connected to the service and will be available for $69.99 USD/year or $6.99 USD/ month (ERP)1. We recognize that there are households of all shapes and sizes and we’re committed to delivering the right Office for everyone – whether that be one person or an entire household.

Office Home Premium will now be called, simply, Office Home. And we can expect that Home and Enterprise versions will trend toward this model: the apps are free so long as you sign up for the monthly service, and as your move up from Personal to Home, and Home to Enterprise there will be more connection and integration options — like Sharepoint, Yammer, and business intelligence capabilities — that will justify enterprises paying over $150/year/seat before discounts.

But the apps will become free, and the war becomes what’s in the infrastructure.


Will Microsoft move fast enough to hold onto its Office point position?

A number of news items from last week that converge toward a major scene of contention for how works gets done in the near future:

  • Editorially, the markdown coediting tool, has announced that it will be shutting down on May 30 2014. Apparently the company just wasn’t seeing the growth that they had hoped for. I reviewed the product in Editorially is the co-editing solution of my dreams, and my experience in using it with others was not great. Writing new documents from scratch seemed to work fine, but otherwise, real problems. Or one single problem. As one participant said, ‘If I can’t import and export Word documents, it’s impossible.’
  • Microsoft and DocuSign announced that DocuSign will be rolling out an integration that will allow Office 365 users to send, sign, track, and store DocuSign documents without leaving the application, and keeping all the documents within OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive).
  • I wrote about Google’s new partnership with VMWare (The Office Wars intensify as Google brings Windows apps to Chromebook), which is an attempt to make an end run on Microsoft’s apparent unwillingness to roll out full-featured Office apps on anything by Windows.
  • This last week, Dropbox made another strategic hire (see Dropbox makes Dennis Woodside its first COO), gearing up its attempt to take the high ground in the Office wars.

Microsoft Office applications — particularly Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — have become central to the work graph in most established businesses, and are extremely common even in younger and less Microsoft Windows-dominated businesses.
It’s essential, however, to think about Office docs in two ways:

  1. Office as a protocol, specifying the layout and semantics of the elements that make up these documents, such as tables, text styling, document layout,and so on.
  2. Office applications, which are apps capable of creating, editing, and saving documents that accord with the Office protocols.

In this perspective, Google and Apple both have tools that can act as Office applications, since they can — to some degree of fidelity — input and output Office documents. (Although what Google does with my Apple Pages-created invoice files are a travesty.)
The situation today is this: Microsoft has not released Office applications that play in full fidelity across all mainstream platforms, in particular iPad and Android tablets. Their solution for Mac OS involves buying (or renting as a part of Office 365) a full install of Office for Mac, which is a fairly heavyweight solution considering I already have Pages, Numbers, and Keynote installed, and they are now free for anyone buying new Apple hardware.
Dropbox has said it is investing in a broad spectrum of applications to better compete for top-of-the-hill in business. And Google and Apple are investing serious bank, as well. And all three are going to make the economics of Office very difficult for Microsoft: it’s trending towards free.
Microsoft faces the Innovator’s Dilemma: if it doesn’t disrupt its own dominance in Office apps, then one or more of these three competitors is likely to upset the marketplace with a nextgen suite of Office apps that provides a better value proposition at a lower (zero?) price point. For example, imagine this Office Killer from Dropbox:

  1. Very high fidelity interoperability with Microsoft documents, like tables with calculations within ‘Dropdocs’ Word-like word processor.
  2. Tight seamless integration with Dropbox file-sync-and-share capabilities.
  3. Close integration with a Dropbox work management capability, which I am dubbing ‘Droppr’. This would provide both inside and outside the document discussions, annotation, and review tools (compare versions, show who wrote what, etc.), as well as more general work management, like discussions, following, projects, and activity streams.

Note also that Box is likely doing similar things.
I rest my case by asking the question a slightly different way. If Microsoft fails to rise to this challenge, every month more people are drifting away and adopting alternative tools that eat documents based on its protocols, and if something like the Dropbox Office suite comes out before Microsoft moves to offer something similar, then they could lose a major battle, and maybe, in the long run, the enterprise battle.

Dropbox makes Dennis Woodside its first COO

Dropbox has brought Dennis Woodside on board to serve as COO, a new position at the company, and becoming the No. 2 at the file sync-and-share leader, reporting to founder and CEO Drew Houston. Woodside was chief executive of Motorola, at Google, and prior to that was head of sales and marketing at Google.
Looks like Dropbox is continuing in its push to invade the enterprise through acquiring senior people, like Ross Piper from Salesforce and Matt Eccleston from VMware (see Dropbox hires Ross Piper from Salesforce to speed enterprise adoption, and Dropbox hires VMware chief architect Matt Eccleston).
The company has over 200 million customers, and recently raised $350 million on a $10 billion valuation (see Dropbox, now valued at $10B, raises $250M).
As I said after that raise, Dropbox is going to be setting its sights on what’s immediately adjacent to the files it helps users sync and share: office applications.

Stowe Boyd, Dropbox for Business is only the start: next, work management and office apps
But the big news is revealed in a discussion between Dropbox execs and Liz Gannes at AllThingsD:

Liz Gannes, Dropbox Adds Enterprise Tools
Dropbox had to spend a year rebuilding its products to add the new enterprise-class controls the company unveiled today. “We’d been nervous,” Houston said. “If we clear off your computer, we might remote wipe all your baby photos.”
Yet, there’s more work to be done. The new version of Dropbox doesn’t include employee collaboration tools. And that feature will be essential for fully taking on Google and Microsoft in the productivity space. “We understand exactly what we have to build next,” said business product head Ilya Fushman.

Well, well, well. This is going to be interesting. Productivity doesn’t necessarily stop with editing Word docs, but also tools to support working socially, task management, curation, and potentially more in-depth solutions. My bet is that they are planning a work management toolset — or planning to buy one — as well as office-replacement apps.

I am betting that this will be heating up, and adding continued pressure on Microsoft. This week Google announced a partnership with VMware to bring Windows apps to Chromebook (see The Office Wars intensify as Google brings Windows apps to Chromebook), and Dropbox will likely be bringing out competitors to Office apps later this year.