Microsoft terms talk of Office on iPad 'inaccurate'

Disavows claim by its Czech subsidiary that native iOS apps will ship in the first quarter of 2013

Microsoft today disavowed comments made by its Czech subsidiary that the company will roll out iOS and Android apps of its Office suite early next year.

"The information shared by our Czech subsidiary is not accurate. We do not have anything further to share at this time," a company spokesman said in an email Wednesday.

Earlier, Frank Shaw, the head of Microsoft's corporate communications, tweeted a nearly-identical denial.

Microsoft was backing away from a report on the Czech website IHNED that said a local Microsoft official had confirmed that native iOS and Android apps for Office would debut in the first quarter of 2013.

Rumors of Microsoft pulling the trigger on Office for iOS, largely fueled by the success of the iPad, have surfaced repeatedly. Each time Microsoft has quashed the talk, at times with vague denials that leave room for interpretation.

Again on Twitter, Shaw later responded to a reporter's comment with the line, "Gee, I thought it was pretty blanket," referring to his previous statement that the information distributed by Microsoft's Czech arm was "inaccurate."

That leaves little room for interpretation.

But Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, and that research firm's in-house lead analyst on Office, was not so sure. In fact, Miller said there were compelling arguments for either issuing native iOS Office apps, or keeping the money-making suite tightly -- if not exclusively -- tied to Windows.

It's conceivable, said Miller, that Microsoft would link iOS Office apps to its upcoming Office 365 subscription plans, which in the case of the deal for consumers, lets customers install Office on as many as five devices, including desktop and notebook PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

In that arrangement -- and Apple's iOS App Store policies seem to allow this -- Microsoft would offer Office apps free-of-charge, then tie them to an Office 365 subscription. Only users with a current subscription would be able to actually run such apps.

Other software-as-a-service companies use that model for their iPhone and iPad apps, which access customers' accounts: Salesforce is one example.

"But I don't think that would be a great idea," said Miller. "It would pigeon-hole Office [on iOS] if it was only available to Office 365 subscribers."

Miller said there were reasons why Microsoft would, in fact, release Office for iOS, and not tie it to Office 365.

"I have to wonder if the toxicity of the 'Apple tax' would really prevent them [from doing Office for iOS]," Miller said, referring to the 30% cut that Apple takes of all app revenue.

"But I really think they have to do something on iOS," said Miller. "Look at the App Store. Many of the most popular productivity apps are Office emulators. So Microsoft is leaving money on the table that could be theirs."

On the other hand, keeping Office connected to Windows also has benefits, in that Windows is, like Office, a major cash cow for the Redmond, Wash. company. "It's six of one, half-dozen of another," Miller said of the way the decision could go.

In any case, like other analysts, Miller was certain that any move -- or non-move -- would be decided at the highest level of Microsoft, and not left up to the fiefdoms of the Office or Windows groups.

"This would be a Steve [Ballmer] decision, Steve and Kurt DelBene [president of the Office division] and the board sitting down," Miller said. "It would be a chess move."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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