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Office App for iOS could harm Microsoft more than it helps

By Michael Tanenbaum News | Office 2013 Dec 12, 2012
As Microsoft increases production of its Surface tablet, the possibility of Office apps for iOS and Android could undermine the company's hardware aspirations.
After reports surfaced yesterday that Microsoft is increasing production of its Surface tablet, questions about the company's software strategy, particularly concerning the Office suite, have left some scratching their heads. 

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Most reports since the release of the Surface with Windows RT have suggested the product is not garnering much in sales and attention thus far, certainly alongside Microsoft's major release of Windows 8, the launch of Windows Phone 8, and a greater presence in physical retail stores. All at once, the Redmond company has made aggressive bids in the mobile and hardware space alongside its leading Windows and Office software. 

One of the reasons for Surface's slow start may be that the device has only been available through Microsoft outlets, and thus increased production is aimed at supplying other retailers. So far, only Staples has been mentioned as a destination for Surface, beginning today, however other partners are likely to follow with announcements. On the other hand, Surface with Windows RT is hardly a bargain product, starting at $499 without the keyboard cover, and Surface with Windows 8 Pro, not available until January, starts at $899. 

In light of Microsoft's aim to unseat Apple's iPad, then, talk of an Office application for iOS seems counterintuitive. Microsoft would not only be attempting to beat Apple at what it does best with Surface, but it would also be facilitating use of the world's leading productivity software on an Apple device, the iPad, that likely would feature better touch capability than the Office version designed for Surface with Windows RT. 

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In a detailed analysis for ArsTechnica, Peter Bright considers the rationale behind an Office app for iOS and the dangers Microsoft would invite on itself if it decides to move forward with such a plan. Notably, an iOS Office app would differ from Office for OS X in important ways, specifically relative to touch features and the value proposition of Microsoft's fledgling Surface. 

As Bright notes, and as we also pointed out yesterday, the current dispute between Microsoft and Apple over SkyDrive subscription sales and iOS-version app store purchases could soon put an end to the idea of Office apps for iOS. The same dangers, however, would in principle be risked by a similarly "light" Office app rumored for Android as well. 

The real issue surrounds Microsoft's motivation to risk the ascent of its newest divisions by enabling access to one its most enduring products on competing operating systems. If Apple holds strong on charging 30% for in-app subscription, Microsoft may not be willing to forfeit the revenue. According to Bright, this is probably in Microsoft's best interest. 
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