Google wages war on Microsoft's Office with free iOS, Android apps

Quickoffice is now free to anyone with a Google account; but Microsoft execs promise Office will come to non-Windows platforms

Google on Thursday released new Android and iOS versions of its Quickoffice app, a mobile-only alternative to Microsoft's Office suite, and announced they are now free for the taking.

The move puts more pressure on Microsoft to offer Office on iPads and Android tablets, an analyst said.

"Google's taking the opportunity to get people to use their technology and adopt it," said Al Hilwa of IDC, "so that when Office comes [to tablets] those people already have what they need with Google's apps."

"We're making Quickoffice available for free to everyone: students, businesses, nonprofits, governments, consumers and anyone with a Google Account," said Alan Warren, head of engineering for Google Drive, on a Google blog yesterday. "Simply sign in with your Google Account to start editing Microsoft Office Excel, Word and PowerPoint files on your iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet."

Quickoffice, which can both edit existing documents and create new ones, relies on Google Drive to access Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets and presentations that users have uploaded to the search giant's online storage service, and to store new files built from scratch on a smartphone or tablet.

Before Thursday, customers paid $14.99 for Quickoffice on iPhones or Android smartphones, and $19.99 for a version for Android or iOS tablets.

Google bought Quickoffice in June 2012, then rolled the firm's development team into its Google Apps group.

This was not the first time Google made Quickoffice free: Last December, the company offered an iPad-specific version to Google Apps for Business customers. In April, Google expanded the free deal when it launched an iPhone version and others for Android smartphones and tablets.

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

Quickoffice, now free on both iOS and Android to anyone with a Google account, lets users edit -- although with difficulty -- Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations on an iPhone.

Google has also baked Quickoffice into Chrome OS, the browser-based operating system that powers Chromebooks, and added Quickoffice document viewing to its Windows and OS X Chrome browsers.

Most analysts believe that Microsoft's reluctance to port Office to devices powered by rival operating systems has opened the door to others' mobile productivity apps, and caution that by delaying Office on the iPad and Android tablets, Microsoft risks losing customers.

Redmond, so the thinking goes, has withheld Office from Android and iOS tablets as a strategic move to protect Windows and the tablets that it and its OEM partners sell. Windows RT, the scaled-down version of Windows 8 that powers the Surface RT, Microsoft's beleaguered tablet, comes with Office. And the legacy version of the suite, Office 2013, is a big part of Microsoft's marketing of its own Surface Pro, as it is for OEMs that produce Windows 8 tablets.

Microsoft has shipped Office for Apple's iPhone and Android smartphones, tying both apps to Office 365, the company's "rent-not-buy" software subscription model. But as experts have pointed out, there's a big difference between availability on a smartphone, where document editing is nigh impossible, and on tablets, which are much more conducive to content creation.

"Every day Microsoft waits, Office market share erodes," said Hilwa on Thursday. "People will learn to stick with the other stuff."

Google and others -- Apple last week began giving away its iWork productivity apps to new iPhone and iPad buyers -- are counting on convincing consumers to try their wares while Microsoft dawdles.

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