Preston Gralla

Office for iOS, Android not here until late 2014 -- bad for Microsoft, good for Google

April 10, 2013 2:09 PM EDT

It appears that the long-rumored version of Office for iOS and Android may not be released until the fall of 2014. If true, that could help Google make serious inroads into the office suite market, and seriously cut into Microsoft's lead.

Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft is planning to hold off releasing Office for iOS and Android until the fall of 2014. She says she's seen a roadmap of Office updates, and it shows that the Metro-style version of Office will be ready by October, 2013, and that the next version of Mac Office and an update to Office for Windows Phone will be ready in April 2014. That same month, Office RT is scheduled to be upgraded. Then, in the fall of 2014, Office for iOS and Android are slated to be released, although she's not sure whether there will be an iPad-specific version.

Why the long delay? Most likely it was in order to give Windows tablets and Windows RT a chance to gain market share. The Windows folks likely argued that having Office available on Windows 8 and RT tablets would give them a competitive advantage over Office-less Android tablets and iPads.

The strategy is a mistake, and an example of Microsoft being hurt by its over-reliance on Windows. Windows is no longer Microsoft's biggest money maker. The Office division outperforms it financially. There's no doubt that iOS and Android versions of Office will be substantial financial successes -- Gerry Purdy, principal of MobileTrax, claims that Microsoft could get an additional $1.25 billion in revenue in the first year Microsoft releases iOS and Android versions of Office, and $6 billion in annual revenue by 2017. I think that number is significantly over-inflated, but there's no doubt that iOS and Android versions of Office will help Microsoft establish Office as a subscription-based business, Microsoft's ultimate goal.

Waiting until late 2014 to release the iOS and Android versions will give Google a chance to eat into Microsoft's office suite market share. iOS and Android versions of Google's productivity suite Quickoffice now lets Google Apps for Business users edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, and save them in Google Drive, for free. Google could also release iOS and Android versions that lets anyone do that kind of editing, not just Google Apps for Business users.

That gives Google about a year and a half in which Quickoffice has free office apps for iOS and Android, and Microsoft has none. In a world less reliant on PCs, and more on tablets and smartphones, plenty of people might forgo paying for Office and stick with free Quickoffice. Free is tough to beat.

Microsoft should recognize that it does itself no good by holding back on products in order to try and goose Windows sales. For now, Microsoft rules the office suite market. But if it continues to make decisions like this, that dominance could eventually end.