Rumors and reports are circulating that sometime in November the Microsoft Office application suite software will be available on the Apple iOS-powered iPad and the multiple tablet brands running Google Android. If it happens, it could be both good news and bad news for Microsoft.
The latest report about versions of Office for tablets was posted by the blog Boy Genius Report. However, we’ve seen this movie before; eWEEK followed reports of Office coming to the iPad back in February. So far, however, Microsoft, as well as Apple and Google have failed to respond to requests for comment.
Releasing Office for the iPad and Android platforms could be a good move for Microsoft because it needs to make sure that its bread and butter productivity application gets a piece of the action from the heavy sales of those popular tablet platforms.
The Apple iOS enjoys a 63 percent share of the smartphones and tablets operating system market. The next closest is Android with 19 percent. The figures are global and from the tracking firm Netmarketshare.
Windows didn’t even register with Netmarketshare as currently only Windows 7 runs on relatively few tablets. Microsoft’s smartphone OS, Windows Phone 7, runs only on smartphones and has just a 2.2 percent share of the global market for smartphones, according to a report released May 24 by IDC. IDC’s numbers, for the first quarter of 2012, give the lion’s share of the smartphone market to Android, at 59 percent, and Apple iOS, at 23 percent.
The point is that with Apple and Google so far ahead in the tablets category, Microsoft’s best chance is to hitch a ride on their rockets by running Office on their devices. Consider, too, that even if Apple and Google tablets are the most popular among the BYOD crowd, their enterprise network is probably still Windows based. So that could provide some continuity in the workplace for Microsoft if popular Office apps such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint are accessible on both mobile end points and the corporate network.
The bad news about running Office on iPads and Android tablets is the implication that would have for Windows 8. The successor to Windows 7 is designed to run on tablets as well as desktop PCs. Microsoft is counting on Windows 8 gaining traction in the tablet space. If a mobile worker already has Office on his or her iPad or Android tablet, why would they trade that in for a Windows 8 tablet?
One theory on that comes from Digital Trends, which suggests that Microsoft could offer a slimmed down version of Office for iPads and Android tablets running just four apps—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote—rather than the full Office Suite, which also includes Outlook e-mail and calendar.
Notably, OneNote is already available on iOS and Android. Digital Trends says Microsoft could use the smaller version of Office on those rival tablets to entice an iPad or Android owner to upgrade to a full version of Office on a Windows 8 tablet.
The software is expected to be ready for a release in November, sources tell Boy Genius Report. This would match up with a previous report from The Daily, which claimed to have seen a working prototype of Office on an iPad.
Microsoft was quick to deny, calling the report “inaccurate rumors and speculation.” So much for that: BGR’s source claims that the Office they saw looked “almost identical” to a picture shown by The Daily, so maybe the folks in Redmond weren’t entirely truthful.
In any case, releasing a mobile version of Office for both Android and iOS makes a lot of sense. Windows Phone is behind its larger competitors in terms of market share and, although Windows 8 is supposed to be tablet-friendly, there’s no guarantee that those tablets will be able to compete with the market-leading iPad.
If you need more evidence of the public’s desire for mobile Office, look at the top paid apps in the iTunes App Store. In the Productivity category, Apple’s Pages, Keynote, and Numbers apps are consistently in the list of top ten bestsellers, and have been since iWork for iPad’s launch in January 2010. As of Wednesday evening, Pages was third, Keynote ninth, and Numbers is 11th in that category.
These apps serve their purpose, but are far from perfect. iWork does not natively save documents to Office formats, and its export function trips up sometimes when it comes to formatting. Microsoft can obviously build better support for Office in its own productivity suite than Apple could.
Microsoft is silent this time when asked about the rumors. While it was quick in February to deny, this time it declined to comment. That silence speaks volumes about Redmond’s future plans.