Office on iPads, Android Tablets Offers Good, Bad News for Microsoft

Microsoft is not confirming reports that its Office software suite will soon be available on Apple and Android tablets. But if the reports are true, it would keep Microsoft relevant in the bring-your-own-device era.

Rumors and reports are circulating that sometime in November the Microsoft Office application software suite will be available on the Apple iOS-powered iPad and the multiple tablet brands running Google Android. If it happens, it could be both good news and bad news for Microsoft.

The latest report about versions of Office for tablets was posted by the blog Boy Genius Report. However, we've seen this movie before; eWEEK followed reports of Office coming to the iPad back in February. So far, however, Microsoft, as well as Apple and Google, has failed to respond to requests for comment.

Releasing Office for the iPad and Android platforms could be a good move for Microsoft because it needs to make sure that its bread-and-butter productivity application gets a piece of the action from the heavy sales of those popular tablet platforms.

The Apple iOS enjoys a 63 percent share of the smartphones and tablets operating system market. The next closest is Android with 19 percent. The figures are global and from the tracking firm Netmarketshare.

Windows didn't even register with Netmarketshare as currently only Windows 7 runs on relatively few tablets. Microsoft's smartphone OS, Windows Phone 7, runs only on smartphones and has just a 2.2 percent share of the global market for smartphones, according to a report released May 24 by IDC. IDC's numbers, for the first quarter of 2012, give the lion's share of the smartphone market to Android, at 59 percent, and Apple iOS, at 23 percent.

The point is that with Apple and Google so far ahead in the tablet category, Microsoft's best chance is to hitch a ride on their rockets by running Office on their devices. Consider, too, that even if Apple and Google tablets are the most popular among the BYOD crowd, their enterprise network is probably still Windows-based. So that could provide some continuity in the workplace for Microsoft if popular Office apps such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint are accessible on both mobile endpoints and the corporate network.

The bad news about running Office on iPads and Android tablets is the implication that would have for Windows 8. The successor to Windows 7 is designed to run on tablets as well as desktop PCs. Microsoft is counting on Windows 8 gaining traction in the tablet space. If a mobile worker already has Office on his or her iPad or Android tablet, why would he or she trade that in for a Windows 8 tablet?

One theory on that comes from Digital Trends, which suggests that Microsoft could offer a slimmed down version of Office for iPads and Android tablets running just four apps-Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote-rather than the full Office suite, which also includes Outlook email and calendar.

Notably, OneNote is already available on iOS and Android. Digital Trends says Microsoft could use the smaller version of Office on those rival tablets to entice an iPad or Android owner to upgrade to a full version of Office on a Windows 8 tablet.