Why Microsoft Office on iOS and Android May Not Be Worth the Wait

Rumors suggest that native Office apps for iOS and Android devices may require a subscription fee to be useful -- and even then, they will only offer basic editing functions.

As persistent rumors suggest, Microsoft Office is indeed coming to iOS and Android devices in early 2013, according to The Verge, which cites "several sources close to Microsoft's plans."

But if what these sources say is correct, I'm not getting my hopes up for native Office software on non-Windows mobile devices. Here’s why.

The Verge's sources say the Android and iOS apps will be free. So far, so good. They will also require a Microsoft account (formerly known as a Windows Live ID). No big deal; these accounts are also free.

Moving on, The Verge says a Microsoft account and the free apps will give Android and iOS users basic viewing functionality of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents. But that's something iOS and Android users already have.

If you want to edit these files, you'll need a subscription to Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based version of its Office suite. Here's where the money comes into play: Office 365 subscriptions cost $4 to $20 per user per month or $48 to $240 per user every year.

Office 365 logo
The Verge's sources also say iOS and Android Office users will only get "basic editing" options that "won't go very far in attempting to replace regular full use of a desktop Office version."

So if you're holding out for some robust, native Office apps on your iOS or Android device, you might need to let go of that dream.

I understand Microsoft's predicament. Why compromise sales of its desktop Office software by giving away many of the same tools to users of rival platforms such as iOS and Android? Why not encourage people to buy Windows Phone 8 or Windows-based tablets instead for a fuller mobile Office environment?

On the other hand, at least when it comes to Office, Microsoft isn't following the old adage of "be where your customers are." Their customers, at least in the mobile world, are largely on Android and to a lesser extent iOS.

Android sales represented 75 percent of the worldwide smartphone market during Q3 2012, followed by iOS at almost 15 percent. In total, that's 90 percent of the worldwide smartphone market. These figures are from IDC.

By comparison, Windows Phones accounted for only 2 percent of worldwide smartphone sales during Q3 2012, IDC says. That's an increase over the 1.2 percent market year the same time last year.

It’s worth noting that IDC's figures don't reflect whatever impact Windows Phone 8 will have on Microsoft's piece of the smartphone market. Even so, by limiting the usefulness of native Office apps on non-Windows mobile devices, Microsoft might be missing the chance to woo Android and iOS customers to its desktop Office software.

Bottom line: If the rumors are true and if you're a committed iOS or Android user, you'll be better off sticking with Office-compatible apps such as Office² HD for iPad and Quickoffice Pro HD for Android and iOS tablets.

Both are highly capable apps that replicate much of the desktop Office experience. At $8 and $20, respectively, they're inexpensive. And best of all, they don't require a monthly subscription fee.

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