On the eve of Microsoft's mobile plans finally coming together and beginning to take off, and with the potentially powerful combination of the Surface RT tablet coupled with the Windows 8 version of Office - not to mention Windows Phone 8 smartphones, is Microsoft's best strategy to keep Office out of the iOS and Android loop, or to allow those folks to finally have some form of Office access? Office has never been made available for either platform, so why start now, at a moment in time when Office can prove to be a key mobile differentiator for Microsoft?
It is an interesting scenario to contemplate, but why are we even doing so? Surely Microsoft can't really be considering such a thing? It all started with a perhaps unintended (or not approved by the powers that be back home) press release from Microsoft's Czech Republic subsidiary, of all places. The release noted in no uncertain terms that Office apps for both Android and iOS would go up on Apple's and Google's stores, most likely in March 2013.
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The Verge first reported details of the rumored software, along with screenshots. But we should note that we've been aware that Microsoft has had working Office apps for both platforms for some time. Now that a few screen shots have escaped Redmond and have suddenly become available, does this mean than we should take the next level of assumption - that Office releases for iOS and Android really are in the works? We're not sure we are ready to make that leap. Microsoft folks back in the United States certainly aren't saying any such thing…at least not yet.
To be sure, it isn't being reported that a full version of Office is being made available. At best the actual app - which may end up being called Office Mobile - that may appear for iOS and Android will be a free Office document viewer with no actual document editing capabilities. There would be a requirement to sign up for a Microsoft Office account to make the viewer operational.
What about editing? Well, within the document viewer app Microsoft would supposedly provide an in-app ad suggesting that a user sign up - and pay some money of course - for an Office 365 subscription, which would then unlock a set of editing features. Users would be able to both view and work with documents from the Office "big three" - Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Although the "real" Office has been missing from iOS and Android, Office users haven't been entirely bereft of options for viewing and editing their Office docs. Some of the players here include CloudOn and OnLive Desktop, as well as the old standby Documents to Go - which takes us back to the glory days of BlackBerry. But they aren't the real thing, and we suspect that users would look to make the switch or at the least give the real thing a spin.
Good Move or Clear Mistake?
The next three to six months are incredibly important for Microsoft's mobile ambitions. The company has - at long last - its mobile ducks all in a row, and the mobility stars are absolutely in proper alignment for Microsoft to finally make a serious mobile move. One of the key things we believe differentiates Windows within the enterprise is Office, and the "easy" availability of Office across all Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 platforms is a critical enterprise advantage. It is here that Microsoft needs to drive home all of its differentiators, starting with Office.
Full access to the "real" Office is something can generate significant interest from iOS and Android users. There are plenty of them who may be persuaded to switch platforms. Getting iOS and Android users to switch platforms would be far, far more valuable to Microsoft - in both the short and long term - than any possible incremental revenue that might be generated by iOS and Android users paying subscription fees for Office 365.
Perhaps Microsoft thinks that an Office Mobile would somehow provide enough access to iOS and Android users to give Microsoft a means to reaching out and potentially sending "switch to Windows" ads of some sort. That would be a complete joke. It is not the way to convince users they should switch. The way to convince users to switch is for Microsoft to have courage for one's convictions - that Office on Windows platforms is the real and far superior experience. Convincing users in the stores is where the battle will be fought. The choice needs to be Office or no Office. Period.
The courage of our convictions then is that Mobile Office for iOS and Android would be a clear mistake. We'll leave it at that.
Edited by Brooke Neuman