Microsoft exec refuses to be drawn out on Office for iPad

Analyst who said Microsoft is leaving billions on the table asks about iOS, but Office chief DelBene dodges, touts online apps instead

Microsoft's top Office executive yesterday dodged questions about plans to bring its lucrative suite to Apple's iPad.

Talk of Microsoft porting its Office franchise to iOS - or at least the most popular applications in the bundle, like Word, Excel and PowerPoint - has swirled for years.

On Wednesday, Kurt DelBene, the president of the Office division, sidestepped a question about his iOS plans during a Morgan Stanley-hosted technology conference ( view transcript).

"We don't take it from the point of view of, 'Do we need to have the PC software that's running on a PC running on every single device?'" said DelBene. "We look very much at what is the experience that we're looking to have on those devices."

Instead, DelBene touted the few existing apps for Apple's iPad and iPhone, including OneNote, and talked up the online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which are free to use but accessible only through a browser.

"We've actually done a lot of work on iOS devices this time around," argued DelBene. "We have enhanced the Web applications pretty substantially, particularly in partnership with Apple. If you look at where they were as far as browser in 5.0 versus 6.0, there's been a lot of changes there to make those apps work super well on a touch device."

But DelBene refused to be drawn into details of a logical next step, selling native iOS apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Ironically, the Morgan Stanley analyst who asked DelBene about Office on iOS was Adam Holt, who last week drew attention for estimating that Microsoft was leaving $2.5 billion in annual revenue on the table by not porting the suite to the iPad.

Other analysts, including Bob O'Donnell at IDC, have said the same without naming a number, claiming that Microsoft could "start printing money" the moment it introduced Office for iOS and Android.

Late last year, unconfirmed reports circulated that Microsoft would release iOS apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint in late February or early March 2013, followed in May by software for Android.

Several experts have said that they expect Microsoft to tie iOS and Android Office apps to an Office 365 subscription, but the Redmond, Wash. developer said nothing today about those platforms as it rolled out Office 365 plans for small, mid-sized and large businesses.

DelBene's tight-lipped comments at the Morgan Stanley conference were no surprise, if only because they were very much in sync with those made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer four weeks ago in an interview with Bloomberg, when he said, "We do have a way for people always to get to Office through the browser, which is very important."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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