Is Office for the iPad more than a mirage?

More rumors suggest Microsoft could introduce Office for iPad -- and even for the iPhone or Android. But Microsoft knows there are some hurdles ahead.

Zack Whittaker Writer-editor
Zack Whittaker is a former security editor for CNET's sister site ZDNet.
Zack Whittaker
3 min read

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Does it even exist? It's Microsoft Office for iPad.

Microsoft says it doesn't, while two sources -- BGR and News Corp.'s The Daily -- both claim it does exist.

All we know is that it should. But the brouhaha and speculation rides on and Microsoft remains staunchly quiet on the matter.

Further sources speaking to Business Insider -- someone close to the Office sales team no less -- claims the long-awaited software will arrive in November in time for Microsoft's SharePoint conference. It shocks back into life more rumours an iPad version could be on the way.

While it makes sense on the face of it to bring Office to iOS -- and perhaps even to the iPhone and Android -- Microsoft has a few hurdles to overcome.

Would Office on the iPad ultimately help or hurt Microsoft? OnLive

Microsoft will roll out Windows 8 in or around October. Most analysts and insiders suggest a fall launch. Timing is everything as the Redmond-based company has typically a small window to get the next-generation operating system out in time for the competitive and highly-charged Christmas holiday season

A Windows 8 edition will for the first time run solely on ARM-powered tablets. Windows RT will be Microsoft's first true venture into tablet computing. It's a make or break situation considering Apple not only rules the tablet space, but defined the tablet market with the iPad.

It may seem counter-intuitive to bring Office to the iPad because it would in effect make the iPad even stronger. It could even harm tablet sales if users prefer to buy iPads knowing full-well they can get the Office experience on a device they prefer.

Office for iPad out would guarantee a revenue stream irrespective of Windows 8's performance. At the same time, the consequence could be that it could leave Windows RT dead in the water, meeting analysts' initial expectations.

There are two key problems:

Rolling out Office for iPad on the App Store means Apple would receive a 30 percent cut of all Office for iPad sales. It would certainly be ironic that Office sales would actually help Apple.

Also, Microsoft is keen on integrating cloud services with the next-generation Office. The iCloud barrier would be a difficult obstacle to avoid. Microsoft wants to synchronize desktop files with cloud-based SkyDrive. SkyDrive already exists as an application for the iPad, but integrating SkyDrive into Office for iPad -- and circumventing iCloud altogether -- may not be allowed, leaving Microsoft stuck using a rival cloud platform or none at all.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter which platform is used. Microsoft could undercut Apple and bring Office to rival tablet platform. Apple couldn't viably do anything about it. if Apple vetoed the Office listing in its App Store, it could be argued the move would be anti-competitive. Apple certainly doesn't need any more antitrust suits following the ongoing e-book price fixing case.

Microsoft and Apple were unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

This story originally posted as "Could Microsoft make Office for iPad work?" on ZDNet's Between the Lines.