Microsoft Office on iPad: Why it’s so hard to pin down

Once again, the tech world is abuzz with speculation about the possibility of Microsoft Office for the iPad — and once again, the situation is as clear as mud.

A member of Microsoft’s team in the Czech Republic made headlines today by telling a news site, and by extension the world, that native versions of Office 2013 for iOS and Android would be coming in March of next year.

This was clearly a surprise in Redmond. At first, the company put out a statement saying, “As we shared previously, Office Mobile will work across Windows Phones, Android phones and iOS, and we have nothing additional to announce today about retail availability of the new Office.”

Then, a follow-up statement said, “The information shared by our Czech Republic subsidiary is not accurate. We have nothing further to share.”

What’s going on here? First, the definition of “Office” is inherently squishy. Are we talking Word, Excel and PowerPoint or something else? Technically, Office is already on iOS and Android in the form of the company’s OneNote application. And the browser-based Office Web Apps work across devices, by definition. So the company’s statement about making Office work across mobile platforms doesn’t mean a whole lot.

But in a bigger sense, Microsoft would be crazy to come out with any type of official news about native Office apps for tablets other than Windows 8 devices right now. The company is two weeks away from the Windows 8 launch, and Office will be key selling points for new Windows 8 tablets.

The real question is whether Microsoft will offer full-fledged, native versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for tablets that compete with Windows. As we’ve said in the past, the company’s approach in this area will be a litmus test for the modern Microsoft.

My hunch, based on what I’ve witnessed reporting on the company over the years, is that we’ll see native versions of the core Office apps for iPad and Android next year, but they will be significantly less than full-featured, giving Office on Windows tablets the edge.

Previously on GeekWire: First look: Microsoft remakes Office for tablets and the cloud

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    I think your hunch is generally on the mark.

    I would just tweak it a bit to say I think they’ll do native code only as much as they have to to optimize those devices to run Office 365 better than if you were running it through a browser. They wouldn’t want those devices using their services through Chrome in particular, but also Safari or Firefox and they have no browser for those devices. But also, like you say, they want Windows to be the device people ultimately use. So the strategic outlook on those devices I would argue is:

    1. Keep people using Office and off of Google Apps.2. Keep people off of Chrome/Firefox/Safari.3. Encourage people to move to Windows devices.
    I think that translates to native code as much as needed to keep people on Office and off of Chrome/Firefox/Safari but still keep it less than Office on Windows.

  • VL

    The foreign subs are out of control! A retrospective on all their mess ups would be entertaining.

  • guest

    Don’t think they have any choice but to come out with native Office apps for iOS. Should have already been there. And MS already has a MacBU, so they can massage the message. The bigger litmus test is whether they do the same for Android. That one isn’t as clear, though it’s probably also required. I feel bad for this Czech softie. Ballmer and Sinofsky may have only received a hand slap for the (up to) $7 billion EU browser choice foul up, but something tells me this employee won’t get off as easily.

    • Joe_HTH

      They do have a choice. It would be stupid to launch native Office apps for iOS and Android with Windows 8 tablets about to hit the market.

  • ruchitgarg

    It totally makes sense to support all different devices!

    • Joe_HTH

      No it doesn’t. Not when Windows 8 tablets are about the flood the market and need Office as the differentiator.

      • TruthDetector

        “Windows 8 tablets are about the [sic] flood the market”

        My favorite illiterates are the know-it-alls.

        Could they be more hypocritical?