Best kept Office 365 secret: The apps
Microsoft hasn’t kept the Office apps a secret, but there has been little buzz about them. In fact, during the demo day, Microsoft invited three consumers to present about their experiences over the past few months using Office 365. None mentioned the apps and when asked, one said he thought they weren't available -- when in fact they were.
However, the company has a few good strategies for helping the apps go viral and attracting developers, who may figure out new ways to market the apps.
When one person uses an app and sends the file to another person, the recipient gets the app too. It's then up to the developer how to handle the new user. If it’s a paid app, the developer can opt to give the new user a 30 day trial or display a screen where the user can buy it immediately.
“It’s a really viral model,” Riley said.
“Now we can talk to developers we’ve never talked to before. Web devs,” said Riley.
He’s promoting Office apps as a massive opportunity for developers who will have the opportunity to reach the millions of people likely to use Office in the future.
Also, it's a consistent development platform across Office and Sharepoint so individual developers can build apps for any of the Office apps as well as Sharepoint. “You no longer have to say you’re a Word dev or an Excel dev,” Riley said.
The revenue share on paid apps is 80 percent for developers with the rest going to Microsoft.
Also, the development platform works such that the third party apps run separately from the Office app. So Office can be upgraded without requiring an update from the third party app, and vice versa. That should relieve big headaches in IT departments used to spending a lot of time managing upgrades.
In addition, since the apps don’t run in the context of Office, if an app fails or has bad code, “Word happily chugs away,” Riley said.
For IT admins, Microsoft has included some controls and used an architecture for the apps designed to avoid potential problems. Administrators can turn off the public store so employees can’t download apps from it. They can also create a company store, populating it with suggested apps for workers. IT admins can then run reports to see which workers are using which apps and if certain apps are crashing often.
Riley said he expects that companies will let workers access the store because doing so could boost worker productivity. Also, he said he was surprised at the results of research Microsoft did into how much end users are willing to pay for to improve their own productivity. “People said they would pay hundreds out of pocket and not expense it” if it meant they could get their jobs done quicker, he said.
It's true that the apps could improve productivity for users -- but only if they know the apps are available in the first place.
In an effort to create a somewhat consistent user experience across the phone, tablet, and desktop, Microsoft has forced the tile metaphor on the desktop and not done a terribly good job of implementing it. They're going to have to do a lot more than make cosmetic changes before Windows 8 is usable on a non-touch device.
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