Apple is Microsoft's best friend in delaying Office on iPad

Apple may be doing Microsoft a favor by holding up App Store placement. If users can get Office 2013 on the iPad, why buy a Windows RT tablet?

Microsoft has committed to putting Office on the iPad and other iOS and Android devices. But the details are sketchy -- and the devil's very much in the details. If Apple is indeed holding up App Store placement for the Office apps because of a commission dispute, as I hypothesized yesterday, it may well be saving Microsoft from shooting itself in the foot.

Nobody knows for sure what Office 2013 on the iPad will look like. Last month, Tom Warren reported on the Verg that unidentified sources close to Microsoft were telling him the Office apps for iPad will just be viewers. If you want to be able to edit your documents, you'll have to spring for an Office 365 license.

Leaving aside the question of how well the Office 365-licensed iOS apps would work (they'd certainly be stunted in some -- perhaps many -- ways), that possibility presents an interesting conundrum.

On the one hand, if Apple sticks to its guns and demands a 30 percent cut on any iPad purchase, Microsoft could lose a significant amount of revenue. Consider the possibility that a customer (individual or company) decides to go with Office 365 to get the iPad Office apps, then later decides to switch to Android or Windows devices. Microsoft would be in the unenviable position of paying 30 percent of the annual renewal fee to Apple, even if the customer no longer uses Apple products.

Apple wins.

On the other hand, if Apple backs off -- or Microsoft works out some sort of compromise -- you have to wonder what effect it will have on Windows 8 tablet sales. Certainly, Microsoft would lose one of its key Windows RT selling points: If a customer can get a fully functional (or almost fully functional) copy of Office 2013 on his or her iPad, why buy a Windows RT tablet?

Apple wins.

That scenario -- where having Office on other devices reduces sales of Windows RT devices -- has been debated before, but now that we have real, live (expensive!) Windows RT hardware for comparison, it's very hard to imagine Windows RT taking off. The only part of the equation we haven't seen yet is whether Office 2013/Office 365 on the iPad can hold a candle to Office 2013 RT/Office 365 on Windows RT.

Apple may be doing Microsoft a big favor.

You also have to ask yourself: If Microsoft's so hell-bent on getting a robust version of Office 2013 out on iOS and other mobile platforms, why haven't we seen a version for Android?

There have been lots of leaks from unnamed sources identified as being part of the Microsoft camp, but I haven't heard a thing from an Apple source, identified or not.

I think there are many shoes yet to drop.

This story, "Apple is Microsoft's best friend in delaying Office on iPad," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.