Google escalates offensive against Office with Android 'KitKat'

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

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"I see Google's strategy as Occasional vs. Professional," said Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates in an email today. "Those that are heavy Office users will still want Office..., [for which there is] no substitute. Those that are only occasional users with more modest needs, of which there are many, will be okay with Quickoffice."

Other analysts have looked differently at rivals' game plans. Two weeks ago, when Apple announced that iWork would be available for free download by new iOS device owners, Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, saw some psychological warfare lurking in Apple's motivation.

"Free alternatives to Office have been available for 20 years, but this time, it's different," said Moorhead in a piece on Techpinions after Apple's announcement. "PC software that costs a lot of money looks odd when compared to low-cost mobile and freemium models. Over time, I believe buyers will be less likely to pay as much as they do today for PC software, [and] look more closely at the alternatives. This creates a big challenge for Microsoft."

Today, Hilwa said as much about Google's plan when he pointed out that with Quickoffice now part of Android, most users would not even bother to look for alternatives. That's a well-worn tactic by other operating system makers, whether Microsoft and the inclusion of Internet Explorer with Windows, or Apple and its built-in Calendar app within iOS and OS X.

Because Google and Apple hinge on revenue streams at odds with Microsoft's continued reliance on software sales, they can afford to give away software. Microsoft and its shareholders, however, would find that impossible to swallow, which was what Moorhead meant when he said the Redmond, Wash. company faces a big challenge.

So far, the company's mobile strategy for Office has reflected its need to monetize Office on mobile. While it offers free Web-based versions of Office's core applications, the native iPhone and Android apps must be linked to an active Office 365 account, which starts at $100 per year for consumers, and climbs to between $150 and $264 per user per year for businesses.

Most expect Microsoft to rerun that when it eventually releases Office for Apple's iPad, which should appear at some point after Redmond ships a reworked Office designed specifically for touch on Windows 8.1.

But not everyone.

"I think, eventually, Microsoft will have to release native [Office] software," said Ross Rubin of Reticle Research, without tying the mobile app or apps to Office 365. "Maybe they'd even release a free, or very low price app, competitive with Quickoffice and iWork, then offer in-app purchases for additional functionality."

Another option perhaps up Microsoft's sleeve, said Rubin, was to fork Office, offer one mobile version at little or no cost, but charge for a fuller-featured app. Even then, however, Microsoft faces unfamiliar constraints. "It's difficult to see [Office on mobile] commanding even a $59 price," Rubin said, pointing to the lower prices for smartphone and tablet apps, and the trend away from paid apps in general.

Microsoft, however, has scoffed at the idea that Apple's iWork, and by extension, any alternative, including Google's Quickoffice, is in any way competitive with Office.

"When I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don't see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch-up," said Frank Shaw, the head of Microsoft's corporate communications, in a blog post. "We literally wrote the book on getting things done."

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.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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