Microsoft Strategy Update: Office on iPad and Android Tablets

Microsoft Strategy Update: Office on iPad and Android Tablets

Yes, touch-first Office will ship on iPad and Android, not just Windows 8/RT

In the first of a series of posts that examine some Microsoft revelations from this week's Financial Analysts Meeting, here's a look at what the firm's executives said about Microsoft Office coming to iPad and Android tablets, and how this meshes with what we already knew.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this is a hot-button topic for Microsoft these days and for obvious reasons: With the market for personal computing expanding beyond traditional PCs to include smart phones and tablets, Microsoft no longer owns a stranglehold on what it calls "the end points" for individuals' computing experience. Thus, it should expand the reach of Office—which, by the way is its biggest business by far—to include the other platforms that are popular as, if not more popular than, Windows. After all, Microsoft makes Office for the Mac, and that system is the smallest of all the major OS platforms by far.

To frame this discussion, it is very important to understand that there will soon be four "types" of Office, and that three of those are available today. These are:

Full Office. This is the traditional version of Office that is offered on full-featured PCs with keyboard and mouse accessories, or Office for Windows and the Mac. This will always be the most full-featured version of the product, and while it's moving from a traditional software delivery form to one that is delivered online as part of a subscription, the mission is unchanged. Furthermore, the "full" Office will always include more applications—and thus more diverse functionality—than you will see in the other versions (Publisher, Visio, and so on).

Office on the Web. This version of Office—called Office Web Apps—provides a subset of the full Office experience, which can be expressed in two ways: A subset of the actual applications—here, we see Word Web App, Excel Web App, OneNote Web App, PowerPoint Web App, and Outlook Web App only—and a subset of the capabilities of the corresponding full Office applications. Office Web Apps can be had for free (except for Outlook Web App) or as part of an Office 365 subscription and by other means.

Office Mobile. Microsoft provides this stripped down offering on smart phones, including Windows Phone, iPhone, and Android handsets. As with Office Web Apps, Office Mobile is a subset of full Office, both in the apps offered—Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint Mobile—and in their capabilities. (PowerPoint Mobile is particularly limited).

Touch-first Office. And here we get to a new Office offering, one that Microsoft first discussed for Windows 8/RT—on those platforms it is thus a "Metro"-style app—back in June at Build. At the time, all Microsoft would say is that it was working on such a product and that it would ship sometime in 2014. But with this week's Financial Analysts Meeting, we now know more. And we know it's coming to iPad and Android tablets too.

In response to the very first question asked at this event, Qi Lu, the executive vice president of Microsoft's Applications and Services Group had this to say about how/when Microsoft would port its Office applications to iPad and Android devices.

"We are working on touch-first versions for our core apps in the Office suite, Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and we will bring these apps to Windows devices, and also to other devices in ways that meets our customers' needs, and the customer value of those experiences, and in ways that economically make sense for Microsoft, and at a proper timetable.  That's how we think about making these decisions as the question is being posed."

He also noted, "the first factor [strategically] is customer interest and customer experience. It is quite important for us to ensure that there's genuine customer interest, customer need, and at the same time we can also deliver a quality experience that serves our customer's needs. The second factor is economics, and financially it has to make sense for Microsoft.  So those are the two factors that guide our decision-making."

To recap:

Touch-first Office is coming. First to Windows 8 and Windows RT, but also to "others devices." This means iPad and Android OS. And while I've never explicitly heard about Office on Android tablets, I've heard a ton about the work being done to get Office on iPad. It's happening.

Touch-first Office will also be a sub-set of Full Office. Qi Lu mentioned that Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint would be part of that offering, and of course OneNote, Lync and other related apps like Skype, SkyDrive, and SkyDrive Pro are all available on iPad and Android already.

Touch-first Office will functionally sit between Office Mobile and Full Office. Since touch-first Office will "deliver a quality experience that serves Microsoft's customer's needs," it won't be a scaled-up version of Office Mobile. In fact, I think it's reasonable to expect something that is akin to an offline, touch-based version of Office Web Apps from a functional experience. Just my gut feeling.

Touch-first Office won't be free. This was never said explicitly, but since touch-first Office has to make financial sense for Microsoft, we can assume that this offering will require an Office 365 subscription, at least on iPad and Android.

Sounds good to me.

Next up: Windows RT and Windows Phone

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