The Battle Between Microsoft and Apple Could Kill Office for iOS

It has been over six years since Apple introduced the iPhone. Millions of apps have been written for the platform in that time, with collective downloads into the billions. Apple's App Store is a thriving marketplace with a huge amount of software available on virtually any topic you can think of.

But not Microsoft Office.

There are plenty of third-party applications that handle Word and Excel files, but no apps from Microsoft itself. Office documents can be viewed through the SkyDrive application, but there's no editing capability. There's a version of Office for iOS supposedly in the works, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer threw cold water on the idea when asked about upcoming events for the Office suite after launching the new Office 2013 / Office 365 products earlier this week.

Asked how Office for the iPad was coming along, Ballmer told Bloomberg:
I have nothing to say on that topic. We’re very glad with the product, very happy with the product that we’re putting in market. It makes sense on the devices like the Mac and the PC. We have a product that we think makes a lot of sense. We do have a way for people always to get to Office through the browser, which is very important. (emphasis added)
About That Browser Solution

After a bit of experimentation, I can confirm that Steve Ballmer apparently lives in an alternate universe in which Microsoft Office is "accessible" from an iPhone. My iPhone 4S on iOS 5 was able to login into SkyDrive, no problem, but when I attempted to create a document, I ended up with this:

Safari treats the blank white space as an image rather than a text field; there's no way to input any document information or execute a "Paste" command. Tapping on the left-hand arrow brings up an option to increase the font (hilarious, given the total lack of writing) or to show the upper menu -- which is then used to return to SkyDrive's main folders.

When iOS was strictly an iPhone game, the question of how many people actually needed an Office suite (as opposed to the ability to view Office documents was a valid objection to whether or not MS should invest in building a product for the market. With tablets coming on strong for both iOS and Android, an Office suite suddenly makes a lot more sense. Some analysts have referred to the product as a practical license to print money for the company, and while that's debatable, pretending that iOS and Android don't exist isn't making Microsoft any money whatsoever.

So where is it? Great question.

Revenue sharing is reportedly a major sticking point. Microsoft is trying to push people towards yearly subscriptions with Office 2013 and Office 365, but Apple requires a 30 percent profit share on the sales of any application. Microsoft reportedly isn't thrilled at the idea of sharing that much revenue with Cupertino. Given that Office 365 would stretch across multiple devices, it's not clear how a sale would be counted in the first place.

If I bought an Office 365 subscription and an iPhone client was available, I'd expect access to it -- I already paid Microsoft for the software. Giving the client away, however, would nuke any chance of monetizing the service on iPhone or Android -- and monetization is the name of the game.

We may see an announcement later this year, but this is one area where Microsoft's desire to drive software-as-a-service adoption and the push to sell as many copies of Office across various devices as possible appear to have collided. It's ironic, really -- when Bill Gates agreed to port Office to the Mac nearly 20 years ago, it was seen as a lifeline for the beleaguered manufacturer. Now, Microsoft is knocking on the door of Apple's business -- and Cupertino seems disinclined to share.