Microsoft's weird plan for boosting tablet sales is born to fail

Microsoft's two-pronged plan to boost sales of Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets includes cutting costs and including free versions of Office. But it's an oddly conceived strategy. Here's why it's bound to fail.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the price cuts will cover RT tablets as well as full-blown Windows tablets. No details about the exact cuts were revealed.

That part of the plan makes sense. Cut prices and you'll likely gain some market share -- Economics 101. I'm not sure it's a big winner, though. iPads are anything but cheap, and they've sold quite well. The more important part of the equation is offering a product that people want.

That's where the just plain weird part of Microsoft's plan comes in: It's going to include a free version of Office Home & Student 2013 on small Windows 8 tablets.

It's hard to count how many ways this plan is wrong-headed. So let's start with the basic one: There's simply no need for Office on a small tablet. Few if any people are going to be creating sizable documents using a 7-incher. There are already free ways to read documents on small tablets, and that's really all that's needed for devices of that size.

And if Office is such an important way to spur sales of tablets, why hasn't Microsoft done any work touch-enabling it? Have you ever tried using Office on a touch-based device? I have, on a Surface Pro without the add-on keyboard, and even on a device of that size, using touch only, Office is just about useless. On a smaller tablet it will be that much more painful to use.

Here's yet one more problem with the plan: Office Home & Student 2013, as the name implies, can only be used for personal use or educational use. It's not allowed to be used for business. Presumably, Office on a tablet is targeted at the heaviest Office users -- those people who use it at work. But those people aren't allowed to use the version of Office being put on small tablets. If they use it for that purpose, they're essentially pirates.

Microsoft has included a version of Office Home & Student 2013 on the RT-based Surface. That's done approximately nothing for the struggling RT platform. IDC's most recent survey found that found that in the past quarter, Surface had a miniscule 0.4% of tablet sales, with only 200,000 shipped.

I'm not alone in thinking that Office won't spur sales of Windows 8 tablets. Analysts agree with me. Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft said to Computerworld about putting Office on small tablets:

"It's an incentive to those Office-heavy consumer users. But I'm not sure it's going to encourage the sale of smaller [Windows] tablets. Maybe it's not supposed to."

If it's not going to encourage sales of tablets, why put it on them? Miller doesn't know, I don't know, and I'm not sure Microsoft does, either.

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