Google escalates offensive against Office with Android 'KitKat'

Android 4.4 includes Quickoffice, mobile substitute for Microsoft's cash cow

Google last week again turned the screws on Microsoft and its Office franchise, this time by including Quickoffice with its newest Android mobile operating system, version 4.4 and dubbed "KitKat."

As of KitKat, Google is including Quickoffice, a Microsoft Office substitute, with new devices running the OS, as well as with Android 4.4 upgrades for already-owned smartphones and tablets.

Analysts interpreted Google's previous moves with Quickoffice as strategically aimed at Microsoft, Office in particular. While Office has a lock on the business market, the proliferation of mobile devices -- those in consumers' and workers' hands -- does not guarantees that position can be maintained.

They viewed KitKat as more of the same.

"I think this is definitely an escalation," said Al Hilwa of IDC, who has been closely following Google's Quickoffice moves. "Having apps built into OS distributions is huge in the long run, in whether people will pay for other packages. This is certainly going to be the case on smartphones and possibly tablets, where most of the usage of the Microsoft Office-compatible category is in browsing [documents] and not really modifying documents."

Google bought Quickoffice in June 2012, and began expanding the app's distribution within months. Last December, the company offered a free iPad-specific version to Google Apps for Business customers. In April, Google expanded the deal when it launched an iPhone version and others for Android smartphones and tablets, again free to Google Apps for Business accounts.

Google Apps for Business is a cloud-based suite that costs $50 per user per year, and is the Mountain View, Calif. company's linchpin in its quest for enterprise productivity customers.

Then six weeks ago, Google made its biggest Quickoffice move by offering the app to iOS and Android users free-of-charge, doing away with the Apps for Business link.

KitKat, however, goes one step further by including Quickoffice, removing the download barrier entirely, at least on Android. Quickoffice thus becomes a first-party app, just like Google Maps.

Neither Quickoffice or Apple's iWork suite -- the latter is now free to buyers of new iOS and OS X hardware -- can compete with Microsoft Office on features or document fidelity. But they don't have to, analysts have said.

"Every day Microsoft waits, Office market share erodes. People will learn to stick with the other stuff," Hilwa said in September when Google took Quickoffice free for iOS and Android.

Many have argued that as-is Office is unassailable in the enterprise. Recently, for example, Forrester Research surveyed companies already using Office and found that only 16% believed iOS and Android apps from Microsoft were important. And Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm that focuses on the Redmond, Wash. company, has gone on record saying, "Nothing will ever replace Microsoft Office ... at least for the time being for a huge chunk of business users."

Yet that leaves other customer segments open to attack. Most in danger from inroads by Google and Apple, experts have contended, are Office sales to consumers and small businesses, where the full-fledged Office can be overkill.

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