Microsoft Unveils New Office Version for Android Tablets

Updated on

Microsoft Corp. is taking the wraps off a new version of Office for tablets running Google Inc.’s Android software -- in advance of an upgrade for its own Windows operating system.

The world’s largest software maker also unveiled updates to Office for Apple Inc.’s iPads and iPhones today, moving editing and file creation features to the free version, giving users access to a full-featured Office application. New iterations of the document, spreadsheet and productivity software for Windows-based devices are still in the works, said John Case, Microsoft’s vice president of Office marketing, who declined to disclose a timeline for their debut.

Before, Microsoft might have held up any new upgrade to Office so that its Windows business could have first crack at them. Now, that’s no longer how Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella sees the world, as people migrate from desktop computers to mobile devices, where Windows has minimal share.

“We are trying to get Office into as many people’s hands as possible -- on any device and any endpoint,” Case said. “Android is ready -- there’s no reason to hold it back. In a previous strategy for Microsoft, maybe we would have held one for the other.”

Office for Android is similar to the version for iPads that was released in March, at Nadella’s first public appearance after his promotion in February. The app has been downloaded more than 40 million times.

Healthy Number

While Android, iPhone and iPad users will have access to more features included in the free version, those seeking more complicated corporate tools will be required to subscribe to Microsoft’s Office 365. The cloud service helped to more than double revenue from commercial cloud products for Microsoft in the latest quarter. Case wouldn’t say how many of the 40 million downloads involved a paying customer, except to say it was “a healthy number.”

Given the popularity of Google and Apple’s applications for e-mail and office tasks, as well as other options from a host of startups, Microsoft needs to make sure it provides a compelling experience on those platforms, said Wes Miller, an analyst at Kirkland, Washington-based Directions on Microsoft.

“It’s foolish to provide a second-class experience to iOS and Android -- iOS because of the revenue it generates, and Android because of volume,” Miller said. “You only do that if you want to immolate your services in favor of your platform.”

To download the Android versions users have to join a Google+ group and get instructions. The apps are available as a preview because Microsoft wants to make sure they work well with the variants of Android and different hardware, Case said. Availability of final versions will depend on customer feedback, he said.

New Approach

Case declined to say when the Windows versions will be available. The operating system for personal computers and tablets is in the middle of an overhaul in preparation for the next release, called Windows 10. Office apps for Windows are likely to be released next year, Miller predicted.

There’s an increased focus at Microsoft on partnerships with all major players -- even competitors, said Case, pointing to a partnership with Dropbox Inc. that was announced this week to add the startup’s cloud-based storage features to Office.

“It’s a totally different world for us,” Case said. “Microsoft has come a long way in this regard, and there is no lack of understanding at Microsoft of this as a core strategy.”