Requires active Office 365 subscription to edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, but no iPad version for now
Microsoft has finally launched its Office suite for iOS devices, with the release of iPhone app Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers.
The attached strings are made clear in its title: an Office 365 subscription is required to use the app. It costs $99.99 a year in the US, which is the first country to get the new app.
With no option to subscribe using in-app purchases, it appears Microsoft and Apple are still at odds over the 30% cut Apple takes on IAP on iOS. Reports in late 2012 claimed that this was the main stumbling block to the Office software appearing on iOS.
That hurdle has been swerved rather than dismantled with the new app, which is a free download on the App Store. Microsoft is following a path well-worn by other software-as-a-service and entertainment companies, from Netflix and Spotify to Salesforce.
“Microsoft Office Mobile is the official Office companion optimized for your iPhone. You can access, view and edit your Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint documents from virtually anywhere,” explains the App Store listing.
“Documents look like the originals, thanks to support for charts, animations, SmartArt graphics and shapes. When you make quick edits or add comments to a document, the formatting and content remain intact.”
Users can access their documents stored in Microsoft’s SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro and SharePoint services, as well as those attached to emails, and recently-viewed documents from their computers.
The new app is iPhone-only. Why no iPad app? The Verge claims that Microsoft thinks owners of Apple’s tablet are already well catered for by the Office 365 web-apps. It also suggests that the iPhone app will roll out internationally “in the coming days” rather than remain a US-only release.
Microsoft’s strategy for launching Office on iOS devices has been the subject of industry speculation for some time, not least because the stakes are high for the company.
In February 2013, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Holt claimed that iPad alone could generate $2.5bn of additional annual revenues for Microsoft, if it released Office for Apple’s tablet. That estimate was based on the assumption that around 30% of iPad users would want to use (and pay for) Office on their device.
Office has been one of the most reliable revenue-generators for Microsoft in recent years. In the first quarter of 2013 (its fiscal Q3), the Microsoft Business division which includes Office brought in $6.32bn, up 8% year-on-year.
Yet Office is also one of the key selling points for Microsoft’s own Surface tablets, and its Windows Phone 8 operating system for smartphones. Launching on iOS undermines that, meaning Microsoft has had to weigh up the pros and cons carefully.
With Gartner estimating that Microsoft took a 2.9% share of global smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2013 behind iPhone’s 18.2% – not to mention Android’s 74.4% – and with Apple now claiming 575m registered App Store accounts, it seems the rewards of iOS support for Office are seen as outweighing the risks to Microsoft’s own competing platforms and devices.
In April 2013, the same analyst warned that Microsoft faced a slide into irrelevance in the next four years unless it can make progress in the smartphone and tablet markets, as more and more people use the latter devices instead of a conventional PC.