Does Google’s Quickoffice Deal Hasten Office for the iPad?

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Does Microsoft plan to release editions of its Office 15 suite for the iPad and Android tablets, and if so, when? Although Microsoft still isn’t saying, some industry analysts conjecture that editions for Windows 8 PCs and RT tablets will come first, despite Google’s newly minted acquisition of Quickoffice, a key player in MS Office-compatible mobile office suites.

Microsoft OfficeMicrosoft, in fact, has yet to announce versions of Office for either iOS or Android. Still, analysts contacted by TabletPCReview this week expressed little surprise over the possibility of a suite for Apple’s iPad. “Microsoft hasn’t admitted to an iOS version, but it’s been widely believed that Microsoft will have one,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, in an interview with TabletPCReview. There’s more skepticism among analysts, though, about an Android app suite from Microsoft.

The buzz over the prospect of these two mobile editions of Office 15 began as early as February, in published articles citing unidentified sources at Microsoft. The talk picked up last week with an article in TechTarget’s SearchEnterpriseDesktop, one of TabletPCReview‘s sister sites, predicting shipment of Office 15 for Windows 8 in October, 2012 and a subsequent release of iOS and Android editions next spring.

By and large, analysts have tended to agree that if Microsoft does offer Office for non-Windows mobile devices, these will probably be released later on, giving Microsoft’s family of Windows 8 PCs and mobile devices a chance to get ahead of rival hardware products by wielding Office as a unique competitive edge.

“The division of Microsoft that produces Office software for Apple [computers] is really close to Apple. Microsoft might have asked this division to hold off. Meanwhile, Microsoft has never liked Google at all,” Enderle told TabletPCReview. “In general, it’s always ‘Windows first.’ That’s been Microsoft’s approach, and Office is the biggest single asset that Microsoft can deliver,” said Rob Helm, managing VP at Directions on Microsoft, in another interview with TabletPCReview.

Will Google’s new deal with Quickoffice push up the delivery of Office for other mobile gadgets? “That’s doubtful, It’s Microsoft’s goal to position Windows [better] vs. Android,” Enderle replied. “[The deal] might instead force Microsoft to strengthen the Windows version of Office.”

Responded Helm: “I don’t think Microsoft will change the timing of anything due to the Quickoffice deal. However, Google’s getting into the business will definitely put [an iOS version of Office] higher on Microsoft’s priority list.”  

Microsoft: No Comment
Even after Google’s Quickoffice announcement, Microsoft is keeping publicly mum about the possibility of Office 15 suites for iOS and Android. “With regard to the Office 15 release dates, we have not announced specific dates, but we do look forward to sharing more information about Office 15 this summer,” a Microsoft spokesperson said, in an e-mail to TabletPCReview this week.

“Until then, people interested in learning more about Office 15 can read PJ Hough’s blog announcing our Technical Preview and Steven Sinofsky’s blog announcing Office as part of Windows on ARM. With regard to speculation around the Office suite coming to iOS/iPad and Android devices, we do not comment on rumors or speculation.”

Posted back in January, the blog by Hough (who is CVP of development for the Microsoft Office Division) reveals nothing about Office 15’s feature set, although it does imply that Microsoft will ship Office 15 for Windows 8 tablets and PCs simultaneously.

Office Word 15

Yet, according to a number of published accounts based on leaks from developers, and notably Windows expert Paul Thurrott, the edition for Windows 8 PCs will include features such as a Metro-oriented touch-enabled user interface (UI) and built-in connectivity to Flickr and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. In addition, Microsoft’s controversial “Ribbon” first introduced in Office 2007, will now be hidden by default.

Published in February, the blog by Microsoft President Steven Sinofsky outlined a suite for Windows on Arm (WOA) — a platform since renamed “Windows RT” — which will differ from the PC-oriented Office 15 for Windows 8 by including only four components of the larger suite. Specifically, the edition for the next generation of Windows tablets will be limited to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, according to Sinofsky.

Meanwhile, according to a Microsoft roadmap leaked on Twitter (and in many other places) in April, Office 15 will enter beta this summer and general release early next year. Again, though, the roadmap doesn’t mention intentions by Microsoft toward any non-Windows tablets or phones.

Will iPad Version Boost Office vs. Google Apps?
An iOS edition of Office would also be in line with Microsoft’s current efforts to make its cloud-enabled Office 365 more accessible from the iPad, according to Helm. Right now, those who try to use Office 365 on iPads can still run into OS and/or browser compatibility issues. Microsoft, though, has been trying to correct these problems, he told us.

An iPad edition could “make Microsoft Office correspondingly more competitive to Google Apps on the iPad,” Helm contended. “[But] I could picture Microsoft giving Android lower priority because [the Android OS] is so fragmented.” Yet, another analyst at Directions on Microsoft, Michael Cherry, questioned whether Microsoft might be overestimating the level of interest consumers really have in running Office on any sort of tablet.

“Has the lack of Office really been that much of a barrier to iPad sales? When people go into an Apple store, do they say, ‘Does the iPad run Office – and if not, then, I don’t want it?’ Even if people do think they’d like to run Office on an iPad, it could turn out that they won’t like doing so,” according to Cherry.

Due to the limitations of the tablet’s soft keyboard, he added, a separate hardware keyboard is required for doing much aside from light editing of office docs, a task that can also be performed through the use of PDF readers and third-party suites like Quickoffice.

Furthermore, the flavor of Office 15 which appears on Windows RT tablets will be “minimized,” Cherry observed. “There will be no Outlook and no Vizio, for instance.”

Office for iPadOffice 15: ‘Compelling Enough’ on Tablets?
For his part, though, Helm thinks that the jury is still out on whether Microsoft can produce a “compelling enough experience” for using Office on tablets as opposed to PCs. “For example, we still haven’t seen what Microsoft’s hardware partners will be able to deliver for a dual-use [tablet] scenario,” according to the analyst. Helm also suggested that the existence of Office 15 for iOS could bolster the use of Office 365 on iPads, since Office 365 editions of products such as Word and Excel are more limited in their features.

“The bottom line is that Office 365 is designed to work well with devices [running] offline file editors. There are third-party alternatives out there for iPad, but there’s nothing from Microsoft yet,” he elaborated.

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