Analysis Microsoft has made Office on Android available on tablets at the exact moment its fortunes with Apple and Samsung are in flux. If Redmond's going to win, it needs to bet on Apple.
Redmond removed the preview label from Office for Android apps on Thursday, making Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote available from Google’s Play Store.
It’s on ARM chips now with support for Intel promised. You need Android Lollipop, at least 1GB of RAM and a screen of 10.1-plus inches.
Download is free but you’ll need a Microsoft account to use them and spring for an Office 365 subscription to create and edit docs.
The release date is significant date in more ways than you’d imagine. Microsoft has historically run a Windows-only apps strategy; its software was only for Windows, meaning it got two bites of the cherry when it came to earnings. Both apps and Windows licenses were sold, paid for either directly by the consumer or by the PC makers.
The one exception has been Office, which also works on the Apple Mac – which is a decently sized mutually-serving desktop and laptop market. Mac on Office helped Apple turn Macs into productivity machines in the office among creatives, while that's translated into money for Microsoft.
With mobile, Microsoft’s surrendered its PCs-only strategy to exploit the mutually serving benefits of Office apps on the go. Tablets have been a growing market, meaning more potential Office users. Office has been the world’s most popular productivity suite, meaning more potential tablet sales.
Except now tablet sales are falling, meaning Microsoft has missed the easy growth curve.
The fortunes of the device makers are shifting, too. Samsung is the world’s largest supplier of Android smartphones and tablets but sales of Samsung Android phones are down – pranging the electronics giant’s profits by 27 per cent in the fourth quarter. Fingers of blame pointed at Apple’s iPhone, with the iPhone 6's big-screen robbing the Samsung’s Galaxy line up of cash-happy customers.
Apple set its personal best on selling iPhones – 74.5 million units over Christmas – with the iPhone accounting for more than half of Apple's business. With bigger-screen smart phones supposedly robbing tablets of business, the question is how far all this changes the market positions of the players, in addition to the question of if – or, indeed, when – smartphone growth takes an even bigger chunk out of tablets.
What does this mean for Office for Android?
With Office apps already available for iPad and iPhone, Microsoft shouldn’t care who wins this round of see-sawing. Yet Microsoft has more of a stake in this than it realises. It should welcome Android's reversal and the ascent of iOS devices, as that potentially means more cash in the bank for Microsoft and Office 365 – the backend to Office for the mobile apps.
Yes, Google Play downloads beat AppStore downloads by 60 per cent in 2014, but the App Store meant more to app makers' bottom lines; it made 70 per cent more money than Google Play. It has become established fact that Android and iOS device-owners spend their money differently, the former developing a reputation for fiscal prudence (OK, being tightwads).
If that doesn’t register, consider this: more iOS users actually want Office for their mobile device than do the Android legions. Since it launched in November 2014, the Office for Android app has had just 250,000 downloads.
Office for iPad hit 12 million downloads in just a single week – its first. Admittedly, Office for Android has been in preview and not finished product so – arguably – is not attractive enough to suited-and-booted end users.
Sales of Office are falling at Microsoft as it pushes customers into Office 365 subscriptions – it has mainly been giving them away to drive market share.
Microsoft is trading a short-term loss in one of its core businesses for long-term gains; recurring revenue on Office 365. Redmond had better pray that the fortunes of iOS continue to improve at the expense of Android and Samsung. ®