Microsoft's surprise launch of Office Mobile for the iPhone shows that the software giant continues to favour Windows' future over Office's fortune, analysts said.
And they just don't get that strategy.
"It's puzzling, [Office] on iPhone but not on iPad," said Frank Gillett of Forrester Research, referring to the launch of Office Mobile for iOS.
Office Mobile for iOS stores documents on SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro, depending on whether the Office 365 subscription is a consumer- or business-grade plan. (Image: Microsoft.)
"They're continuing the artificial advantaging of one product over another to change customer behavior," Gillett said. "We think that's a major mistake. In their eyes, not providing Office for iPad will motivate people to buy Windows tablets. That's baloney. People have already bought iPads. You're going to deny them Office and piss them off? That makes no sense. And it's not helping sort things out any faster for Windows 8 [on tablets]."
Bob O'Donnell of IDC was also mystified about the appearance of Office for the iPhone, but no sign of a native app for the iPad. "It sure seems like their strategy," O'Donnell said of the apparent preference of Windows. "But we think that's the wrong strategy now."
Microsoft, said O'Donnell, believes that Office is key to selling Windows RT hardware, including its own Surface RT. (Office Home & Student RT is bundled with Windows RT.) While he agreed with Microsoft, saying, "Office is really the only benefit [that comes with] Windows RT," and that the surest way to kill the tablet OS would be to release Office for the iPad, he said Windows RT was already on its deathbed.
"Almost every OEM that had a first-generation [Windows RT] product has canceled second-generation products, so we just don't see how it can do well, even with Office,' he said.
If Windows RT can't cut it, O'Donnell suggested, what's the point of sticking to a strategy that's not working?
The iOS app, officially labeled Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers, hit the App Store earlier today. While it will run on Retina-equipped iPads and the iPad Mini -- all three shipped in 2012 -- in a chunky expanded view, the versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are definitely "iPhone-ized" in that they're designed for the smartphone's smaller screen.
That distinction was critical to Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "They could have Office for the iPad, but they want to emphasize that Windows is the way you get a great experience on tablets. They're holding that back, but it's their set of cards to hold."
Most analysts, including Miller, have concluded that Microsoft decided to withhold Office because the Windows group viewed the suite as a major selling point for its tablets. Meanwhile, the thinking goes, the Office group lobbied for a release on rival platforms by claiming it could book impressive revenue. Windows won the debate.
"This is consistent with the prioritization of Windows over Office at Microsoft," said Miller of the iPhone-centric debut.
By limiting Office Mobile on iOS to the iPhone, said Gillett, Microsoft thinks more of Windows' future than it does about satisfying current Office customers. "It's more important to them to get Windows everywhere than to get Office everywhere," observed Gillett. "But they just need to uncouple the two. It's better to have someone [be] a customer of one of the two then to be a customer of neither."
By refusing to release a native iPad Office app -- something that sources have told Gillett has been completed, but put on a shelf -- Microsoft risks losing current Office customers, who, frustrated with the lack of Office on the iPad, are turning to alternatives.
"It's just game playing on their part," Gillett said of Microsoft.
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, had a different explanation for the iPhone-only release. "It's not ready yet," he said of a native iPad app, contradicting Gillett. "And they have other priorities, or should have, like getting Office on Android phones. But this will keep Office users happy, and fits Microsoft's strategy of Office working on many different devices."
But if Microsoft's strategy is to use Office as a carrot to tempt customers to stick with Windows, why do Office Mobile for the iPhone now? To Miller, the answer was simple. "The iPhone is benign. It doesn't pose a threat to Windows tablets," he said.
That's because Office Mobile is, not surprisingly, used primarily for document viewing, where the small screen is sufficient. In comments appended to a Friday blog post, Clint Patterson, director of communications for Office, said the most common use of Office Mobile for Windows Phone, which the iPhone version closely resembles, was viewing documents. What customers do beyond that, Patterson added, was only "quick ... on the fly" editing.
IDC's O'Donnell suggested that Windows Phone, which is not part of the Windows division responsible for the desktop and tablet operating systems, was not as powerful internally or able to politick as well, and so lost to the bigger Office group in a release-don't release deliberation.
Obviously, said Gillett. "Microsoft is willing to throw Windows Phone under the bus, but not tablets," he said, referring to the phone platform that until today had Office Mobile exclusivity.
Not everyone saw Office Mobile for the iPhone as a complete disappointment. "It's important that Microsoft did something," O'Donnell said. "I found the timing very interesting. In the same week that Apple announced iWork for iCloud, which is a pretty credible threat to Office on the iPad and iPhone, Microsoft does this."
On Monday, Apple seeded developers with iWork for iCloud, Web-based versions of its Pages, Numbers and Keynote productivity apps that have long been available for OS X and iOS. The trio will launch as a public beta this fall.
Moorhead was the most optimistic of the analysts who dissected today's release. "I think this is a good step," said Moorhead. "I'll give Microsoft credit here."
Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers is available on the U.S. App Store today, and will be rolled out internationally over the next several days, eventually reaching 135 markets, according to Microsoft. As its name implies, customers must have an active Office 365 subscription to use the mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint on iOS.
This article, Microsoft sticks it to the iPad with Windows-first Office strategy, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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