What if Microsoft threw an iPad Office party, and no one came?

Even if customers don't pour billions into Microsoft's coffers, supporting rival mobile platforms is crucial to the company's future, analysts say

Microsoft will make a killing when it launches Office apps for Apple's iPad and tablets powered by Google's Android mobile operating system.

That's been the consensus of most analysts, pundits and outside-Redmond observers since talk accelerated last year that Microsoft would unhitch Office from Windows and make the productivity suite, in some fashion or another, available on rival tablet platforms.

In January 2013, Bob O'Donnell, then an analyst with IDC, proclaimed, "The day they introduce Office for iOS and Android, they'll start printing money."

Others have come up with back-of-the-envelope estimates to bolster their contentions that Office will be a mother lode for Microsoft. Last March, Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at MobileTrax, said Microsoft could earn as much as $1.25 billion in the first year from sales of Office on the iPad and other tablets.

Wall Street hasn't been immune to that thinking, either. Last week, Heather Bellini, a Goldman Sachs analyst who covers software for the investment firm, touted Office's opportunities on the "billions of devices in people's hands," when she interviewed Tami Reller, Microsoft's head of marketing.

"At some point ... is that what's going to help you decide, [that you say], 'Hey you know what, maybe what we should do is, even if it impacts Windows in the near-term, the opportunity to reach, call it 5 billion, or 7 billion people on these devices, is a much greater opportunity for Office and these applications than maybe what we could lose?'" Bellini asked.

Bellini was only the latest in a long string of analysts, from the technology industry and Wall Street, who believe that Microsoft would unlock a massive treasure chest if it only offered Office on the iPad.

A lost opportunity?

Why has everyone assumed Microsoft will do Office for other tablet OSes? Why do they believe there's a Croesus-sized pile of money waiting for Microsoft to scoop up when it does?

More importantly, is there a chance that when Microsoft launches Office for the iPad, it will get a big yawn rather than pull in big bucks?

Some analysts think so.

"The expectation [that Microsoft will do Office on iPad] is realistic, but what if Microsoft ships Office [on iPad] and no one cares?" asked Michael Silver of Gartner. "That's more and more likely for every day they don't."

From Silver's perspective, Microsoft has already squandered an easy opportunity to make Office the de facto productivity software on tablets, just as it has long been on traditional PCs, where Office faces virtually no competition and has an especially fierce headlock on the corporate market.

"Microsoft risks relevancy the longer they refuse to play in the market," said Silver. "People have been getting used to the 'good enough' software that's out there for years now."

Citing a recent Gartner survey of enterprises on productivity software use, Silver said that sans Microsoft Office on the iPad, businesses have chosen a bewildering array of alternate apps. "Office-like products on tablets are all over the board," said Silver, "with at least 30 different products. So it's pretty fragmented."

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