Microsoft’s key competitive edge is at risk. Rather than wait for the company’s powerful Office suite of applications to be optimised for smartphones and tablets, many businesses are adopting cheaper, simpler productivity software. Microsoft’s failure to win over the growing mobile market could be one of the company’s biggest missed opportunities.

New York Finance startup Artivest Holdings is just one example of a tech-savvy business looking outside Office for software solutions. Instead of Word the company uses Quip—a word processing app specially designed for smartphones and tablets, which uses cloud storage for easy sharing and collaboration.

Apps such as Quip are, according to Quip’s own website “built for the way people work today — across a variety of devices and distributed around the world”. This sounds remarkably similar to what former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer in July of 2013 that Microsoft would need to offer “integrated experiences across the many screens in our lives”. While Microsoft has taken action to create smartphone and tablet Office versions, it has failed to provide the best-value, most-relevant product to many companies.

Microsoft has also put up a significant barrier to the adoption of its services by failing to release a full version of Office for the iPad. Artivest’s Chief Investment Officer David Levine told Reuters that Office alternatives such as Quip are extremely convenient for iPad users:
“I can review or edit on my iPad. Not being tied to my desk, that's a big pro."

Microsoft is now scrambling to catch up, reportedly having a full version of Office for the iPhone and iPad ready for release. The company has so far been hesitant to separate Office from the Windows operating system with which it integrates, fearing Windows will lose one of its unique selling points. Investors have criticised this approach, urging Microsoft to offer Office to potentially-lucrative new markets. One analyst estimated that Microsoft loses $2.5 billion in potential revenues every year Office remains unavailable on the iPad.

In the time that Microsoft has been holding back from releasing Office to the iPad, several alternatives have entered the scene. Google Docs, Evernote, Quip, and Prezi—among others—will give Microsoft tough competition when the Redmond company finally releases Office for the iPad. Where businesses once used just Office for word processing, data management, finance, and presentations, these businesses now use a host of specialised free or low-cost apps for these different functions.

"We use Google for email, Google Docs tied to that, Expensify for expense reports, Lucidchart for doing flow charts, and Smartsheet for organizing projects," Ian Ray of Cypress Grove Chevre told Reuters.

Time is running out for Microsoft to capture a sizeable chunk of the iPad and smartphone productivity market. When an Office version for iPad is finally released it will be competing with more agile, smartphone-optimised apps, built for a new way of doing business.