Microsoft will probably tie Office apps for the iPhone and iPad to its Office 365 "rental" subscription plans to prevent the mobile apps from cannibalizing sales and to skirt the "Apple tax," analysts said today.
"I do see a definite linkage between iOS and Android apps, and Office 365, so that Microsoft can capitalize on mobile's move into the enterprise," said Daryl Ullman, co-founder and managing director of the Emerset Consulting Group, which specializes in helping companies negotiate software licensing deals. "They can't keep Android and iOS completely out."
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Last week, speculation on Office apps for Google's Android and Apple's iOS hit a new high as The Verge, citing unnamed sources, reported that Microsoft will release iOS apps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in late February or early March 2013, followed in May by similar software for Android.
The apps, collectively dubbed Office Mobile, will be offered free of charge on the iOS App Store and Google Play, the Android digital marketplace.
In their free versions, the apps will only let users view documents. To enable editing -- and presumably other functions, such as document creation and printing -- customers will have to chain the apps to an up-to-date Office 365 subscription.
There's precedent for this kind of linkage in Apple's App Store: Intuit, for example, offers free iOS and Android apps for its Quicken 2013 personal finance software, but those apps only work if tethered to a paid copy of the Windows program.
The benefit of such a tactic is that it allows developers to sidestep the 30% cut that Apple takes of all app revenue, something Microsoft would probably prefer to avoid.
The tying of the apps to Office 365 has been brought up previously by analysts. Last month, Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft argued that an app-to-Office-365 link was one of several ways Microsoft could distribute Office to rivals' phone and tablet hardware.
"I haven't changed my theological viewpoint," Miller said in an email Friday. "Microsoft will not be giving away the whole product, that's a given."
Miller continues to believe that an Office 365 tie-in is but one option Microsoft has available to offer iOS and Android apps without hurting its Office cash cow. "[There will be] some form of compensation, whether it requires in-app purchase, as OneNote currently does for higher-use customers; subscription to a service, and some strange unlocking in the product as a result; or an outright purchase of the apps in the store," Miller said.
For consumers, Office 365 will be the only way to obtain working apps for their iOS or Android devices, said Ullman. "It will drive consumer usage of Office 365," he said. "Microsoft's logic behind that is it will be a strong way to move people to the subscription model."