Is Steve Ballmer putting the kibosh on Microsoft Office for the iPad?

There have been plenty of long-standing rumors that Microsoft will be releasing a version of Office for the iPad. But Steve Ballmer recently hinted to Bloomberg that Microsoft might not release one at all.

The rumors say that the iPad app will be called Office Mobile, and that an app will be available for Android devices as well. One rumor says the app for viewing would be free, and that in order to do editing, consumers would have to buy a subscription to Office 365. The Verge reported back in November that Microsoft would make available iOS apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint in late February or early March. In May, it reported, Android apps would follow.

At least one analyst believes that the iOS and Android apps would be a tremendous money-maker for Microsoft. IDC's Bob O'Donnell said, according to Computerworld:

"The day they introduce Office for iOS and Android, they'll start printing money."

If Ballmer is to be believed, Microsoft won't start printing cash any time soon. When asked by Reuters about the progress of an Office app for iOS, he said:

"We do have a way for people always to get to Office through the browser, which is very important. And we'll see what we see in the future."

In other words, iPad users can use the Web-based version of Office, and don't need a native Office app.

O'Donnell warns that if Microsoft doesn't release an iOS and Android Office app, it may lose out on a potential windfall. He said:

"If they wait too long, they risk people finding alternatives, or workarounds."

So it may be that Ballmer's hint of no upcoming iPad app may be mere bargaining tactics to get a better deal out of Apple. CITEWorld notes that Apple gets a 30% cut on all app sales, which Microsoft is not happy about. In addition, it would be difficult to figure out how many subscriptions to Office are driven by downloads of the free iPad app, further complicating the deal. CITEWorld notes:

"There has been some speculation that the launch...had been delayed due to disputes about the subscription process and Apple's requirement that it takes 30% from the sale of the apps."

With Ballmer, anything is possible, but my guess is that his latest statement is just a bargaining tactic and an iPad version of Office will ultimately be here, maybe sooner than we expect. Microsoft is betting the future of Office on a subscription service, and an iPad app could be a tremendous incentive for people to sign up.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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