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Will Microsoft Open a Branch Office in iPad Land?

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Feb 22, 2012 9:49 AM PT

A sighting "in the wild" of Microsoft Office for the iPad set speculative tongues wagging Tuesday, even as the Redmond crew denied the existence of the app.

Will Microsoft Open a Branch Office in iPad Land?

The buzz began when Matt Hickey wrote in The Daily that the app was only weeks away. He also scribbled that he had hands-on experience with a prototype of the app. A photo of an iPad running the software accompanied his report.

The software's interface contained elements of Microsoft's only app for the iPad, OneNote, and its Metro interface found in the company's mobile operating system Windows Phone 7 and its upcoming Windows 8 OS, according to the report.

Microsoft disavowed Hickey's report. "The Daily story is based on inaccurate rumors and speculation," the company said in a statement provided to MacNewsWorld by Serina Hall, account coordinator for Waggener Edstrom. "We have no further comment."

Exclusive for Microsoft Tablets?

Analysts interviewed by MacNewsWorld who are familiar with the tablet market were divided on the prospects of a version of Office for the iPad.

Microsoft may not want to bring Office to the iPad because it wants it to be exclusive to tablets running Windows 8, hypothesized Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft. "If Office is only available on the Windows 8 tablets when they release, that might give people a reason to buy Windows 8 tablets," he reasoned.

There are financial considerations, too, he added. "Most of the apps for the iPad don't have a very high price tag," he noted. "Microsoft may be asking itself can it make money writing Office for the iPad?"

"I use my iPad all the time, and I don't feel like I have to have Office to make my iPad valuable at work," he added.

Windows 8 Carrot

The Office guys at Microsoft see the iPad as a huge potential market, but the device guys see Office as a carrot to attract users to Windows 8 tablets, observed IDC analyst Tom Mainelli.

"When Microsoft looks at the market and what it needs to do to make Windows 8 tablets successful, it sees Office as a key component for that," he said.

"Even if there's an Office for the iPad in the works, we probably won't see it until Windows 8 tablets ship into the market," he added.

As an iPad user, Mainelli confessed that he'd love to have a version of Office that ran on the tablet. "There are plenty of third-party apps that do what Office does, but none of them can promise a level of compatibility with a real-deal Office application," he observed.

Balancing Act

Microsoft needs to balance any potential financial gains from an Office for iPad product with financial and strategic gains for Windows 8, Mainelli's IDC colleague Al Hilwa explained.

"That's a tough decision," he said. "That's why I'd say," he continued, "that if Microsoft does support the iPad, it won't do it until Windows 8 is out and it's a big success."

That doesn't mean, however, that an Office for the iPad couldn't be in the works at the division of Microsoft that makes products for Apple's computer lines. Its Office team works separately from the Windows Office team.

"That group could do Office for the iPad and do it reasonably well," observed Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group.

"If this rumor is true, then the development path will go to the Mac development group, not the Office for Windows group, and that's how they're going to make it work," he added.

Best Guess: It's Coming

Microsoft is a big company, and in big companies it's not unusual to have divergent interests, explained Gartner Vice President for Mobile Computing Ken Dulaney.

"Not every business unit works in lockstep with the other one," he noted. "They all have individual profit goals."

So Microsoft could be hedging its tablet strategy, he continued.

"It's like betting on two things, hoping that both will work out, but if only one works out, at least you've won something," he said.

Historically, Microsoft has made Office for Apple products, he explained. So there seems, he continued, that there's some logic behind Microsoft creating a version of Office for the iPad.

"If I were writing a research note on this," he added, "I'd say that there are existing data points that would make me guess that they're going to make a version of Office for the iPad."

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