Microsoft Office on the iPad? It’s complicated, apparently

final_consumer_quickoffice6.1One of the recurring questions at Microsoft’s Financial Analyst Meeting today was the company’s software development plans for non-Windows devices, most notably Microsoft Office on the iPad. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addressed the topic during his remarks, and some people who covered the event took his comments as a strong hint that Microsoft is making Office for Apple and Android tablets.

After listening live, then going back and reading the transcript, it doesn’t seem quite so clear-cut. Here’s a key excerpt from Ballmer’s comments.

“I heard the questions that came up and I addressed them briefly about non-Microsoft platforms. Those all do represent upside to us. And we don’t have our heads in the sand. We are working away on all the things you think we should be working away on.

“The most important thing for us to have is communications and notes. They have to be on every platform and we’ve done that.

“Doing authoring correctly on other guys’ platforms without a keyboard and a mouse, it’s tough enough to do it on a Surface where we do have a keyboard and a mouse in a tablet infrastructure. We’re investing in building those things in an absolutely first-rate way.

“It’s not clear to me what kind of opportunity financially our competitors are going to allow us to have providing e-mail on their platform. But even that is interesting to me. It’s interesting to me, although both Google and Apple do a pretty good job of kind of clamping down on the default e-mail experience in their two platforms.

“So we’re building the things that you would have us build. We have surprisingly less religion than you would think we probably have. But we do know the following things are true. We can lead with our enterprise services but our customers will require us to support other platforms, and we’re doing so. Or we can lead with our devices, particularly in the consumer market, and even so if we want people to adopt our services there’s a requirement that we support some other platforms.

“We’re always Windows lovers. We love Windows. Windows is first, Windows can be best because we have the capability of doing so. But we’re also eyes wide open and being I think pretty smart in taking a look in developing for other platforms.”

Yes, Ballmer was hinting at something there, but from those remarks it’s tough to draw any conclusions about future products or plans. To date, Microsoft has released Office for iPhone and Android phones with a $100/year Office 365 subscription, but so far it has avoided releasing the full Office suite for iPad and Android tablets.

Later, analyst Rick Sherlund had this exchange with the Microsoft CEO.

RICK SHERLUND: Steve, I thought you were pretty explicit that there’s a version of Office 365 optimized for touch coming for other platforms. So congratulations on that. I think that will be a big step in delivering on your strategy.”

STEVE BALLMER: And Windows platforms.

So apparently that’s some form of confirmation? Of something?

At any rate, while we’re trying to decipher the signals from Redmond, Google was very clear today about making Quickoffice available for free for Android and iOS phones and tablets (pictured above), including Office document creation and editing. And Apple has made its iWork suite available for free for all new iOS devices, as well.

  • Walt Crench

    So four years after Microsoft knew Apple was working on a touchscreen tablet, 3+ years after they intro’d the Frankenslate with HP, they’re working on making their biggest money maker on the platform that is torpedoing PC sales.

    Per the CFO’s comments, decisively and with focus.

    • Guest

      Congrats. That comment is as stupid as the real Walt French.

  • Guest

    Unclear how you monetize Office on iPad, especially now that they’ve dropped the price of their suite to $0. But it’s no secret that MS is working on a fully touch enabled Office. They should really have had that for Surface, but I guess they started too late and also were busy on Office 365, which has been quite successful for them.