Microsoft’s ‘Office’ might not show up in iOS after all

For some time now there have been persistent rumors that Microsoft has been working on a version of its hugely popular Office suite of apps for Apple’s iOS devices.

And why not? Apple has its own iWork suite of business apps, but it hasn’t been refreshed (except for a few updates) since 2009 when the latest version was released. (The versions available for the iPhone and iPad–iOS–are essentially the same as iWork ’09.) There’s been no reason given by the company as to why…is Apple planning to discontinue it? Is it working on releasing something better?

Or–is Microsoft planning on introducing Office for iOS?

Apple doesn’t tend to do things in knee-jerk fashion, so it seems unlikely it would frankly much care what Microsoft does.

Then, this word, after Microsoft’s Czech subsidiary said that the company is working on both iOS and Android versions of Office:

Microsoft on Wednesday disavowed comments made by its Czech subsidiary that the company will roll out iOS and Android apps of its Office suite early next year.

“The information shared by our Czech subsidiary is not accurate. We do not have anything further to share at this time,” a company spokesman said in an email Wednesday.

Earlier, Frank Shaw, the head of Microsoft’s corporate communications, tweeted a nearly-identical denial.

Microsoft was backing away from a report on the Czech website IHNED that said a local Microsoft official had confirmed that native iOS and Android apps for Office would debut in the first quarter of 2013.

Rumors of Microsoft pulling the trigger on Office for iOS, largely fueled by the success of the iPad, have surfaced repeatedly. Each time Microsoft has quashed the talk, at times with vague denials that leave room for interpretation.

Again on Twitter, Shaw later responded to a reporter’s comment with the line, “Gee, I thought it was pretty blanket,” referring to his previous statement that the information distributed by Microsoft’s Czech arm was “inaccurate.”

That leaves little room for interpretation.

But Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, and that research firm’s in-house lead analyst on Office, was not so sure. In fact, Miller said there were compelling arguments for either issuing native iOS Office apps, or keeping the money-making suite tightly—if not exclusively—tied to Windows.

While the components of Office first appeared as early Mac OS apps (Word 1.0 in 1984, Excel 1.0 in 1985, and PowerPoint 1.0 in 1987), the history of the actual Office suite on Apple’s computers begins in 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, having been ousted by its Board of Directors in 1985. It’s now known that Apple was in serious financial trouble, likely days away from bankruptcy, and Jobs had to do what he could to save the company. Projects were discontinued, product lines dropped…for example, the Newton team, which had been spun off into its own company as Newton Technology, was brought back in and then dissolved.

Walter Isaacson, in his best-selling biography Steve Jobs, quoted the CEO:

I called up Bill [Gates] and said, “I’m going to turn this thing around.” Bill always had a soft spot for Apple. We got him into the application software business. The first Microsoft apps were Excel and Word for the Mac. So I called him and said, “I need help.” Microsoft was walking over Apple’s patents. I said, “If we kept up our lawsuits, a few years from now we could win a billion-dollar patent suit. You know it, and I know it. But Apple’s not going to survive that long if we’re at war. I know that. So let’s figure out how to settle this right away. All I need is a commitment that Microsoft will keep developing for the Mac and an investment by Microsoft in Apple so it has a stake in our success.”

(The lawsuits that Jobs describes involved the patents Apple licensed to Microsoft in the creation of its Windows OS. Apple believed that Windows was slowly infringing on its own OS, and legal action was taken. There’s more on this part of the two companies’ history here.)

There are compelling reasons in both directions for Microsoft. Keeping the Office suite available only on the company’s Windows-branded tablets and smartphones would ensure that users who wanted to use Office would require one of their devices.

On the other hand, the company is losing money on a daily basis without an Office collection of iOS apps. While Pages, Numbers and Keynote are acceptable and compatible substitutes–they’re not Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Users accustomed to those apps would snap up iOS ones very quickly, provided they’re not overpriced.

In either case, it shouldn’t be much longer before Microsoft tips its hand.

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