Microsoft released Office Mobile for iPhones today, following Apple’s preview of iOS 7 and iWork for iCloud this week.
The new app is an answer to years of demand from iOS users to bring native Microsoft Office functionality to iOS devices.
Microsoft’s move to only support iPhones as a “companion” to the cloud-based Office 365 is a first attempt to appease the millions of iOS users who have demanded the ability to edit and create Office documents on their iOS devices.
Numerous third party developers such as CloudOn and Quickoffice (now a part of Google) rushed to fill the gap by offering applications that enabled iOS end users to view, edit and create Office documents on their iPhones and iPads.
Microsoft’s exclusion for iPads is especially glaring to end users who want Office compatibility on a device more suited for document creation and manipulation. The industry has construed Microsoft’s strategy as an attempt to protect its own Surface tablet sales, which to date have not generated the same level of sales that the iPad had when it first shipped.
“With Office 365 on iOS devices, it will [place] a pause in Windows RT buying because people will anticipate Office 365 will come to the iPad," said Chris Hazelton, research director of mobile and wireless at 451 Research in Boston. Windows RT comes with the Office suite and soon Outlook 2013 with the release of Windows 8.1.
In an interview at TechEd last week, Brad Anderson, Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Windows Server and System Center program management, coyly acknowledged that by not releasing Office for iOS or even Android devices, it could provide more leverage for sales of Surface devices.
However, Office Mobile for iPhone can work on the iPad either as a small or “2X” scaled screen. The company recommends using Office Web Apps on an iPad instead.
Office Mobile for iPhone enables end users to view, edit and create Word and Excel documents, but only view and edit PowerPoint slides. Those documents need to be stored in the SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro and SharePoint cloud.
The product is free for those with an Office 365 subscription plan and works with an iPhone 4, 4S, 5 or iPod Touch fifth generation running iOS 6.1 or later.
Office Mobile for iPhone's impact on the enterprise
Microsoft’s mobility strategy for iOS is a letdown in that it does not check a lot of boxes in terms of people's wish lists, said Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers, an Apple consultancy based in Boston. He views the new app as a way for Microsoft to sell more Office 365 subscriptions.
Office Mobile for iPhone could potentially spark consideration over how the enterprise puts into place stronger policies surrounding mobile device management and mobile application management (MAM). IT admins could create policies in which their end users can download the Office Mobile for iPhone, but require them to install MAM software on their devices to tie it into an enterprise’s corporate app store.
“This will accelerate mobile app management and is an opportunity for IT to regain control over mobility,” said Hazelton.
If enterprises think about mobile device and application management combined with services, this release is much more interesting, said Oh.
Microsoft could also consider offering Office applications for other iOS devices, similar to the way Apple delivers its business productivity suite.
Apple charges $9.99 for each separate iOS application such as Pages, Numbers and Keynote. For business users, paying $30 is not a lot for the productivity value they gain. Microsoft could do the same.
“If you’re charging $10 [for each application], it will force a lot of IT shops to start reimbursing, or put in place some reimbursement [program for employees] for Office,” said Hazelton. “It opens the doors to buy other applications and that in turn will put in place more formal mobile app buying policies and procedures [for companies], he said.
In addition, sales from separate applications could represent an additional source of revenue for cash-rich Microsoft and boost the mobile software ecosystem. Office 365 is on a $1 billion annual run rate as noted by Microsoft executives during its third quarter financial call in April.
Microsoft declined to comment.