The Office suite of productivity apps has long been a cash cow for Microsoft. As the gold-standard for software that helps you to get things done, Office is used in a huge number of businesses and educational establishments. And it is not cheap software. Whether you buy an Office 365 subscription or buy the licence outright Office is an investment businesses feel is worth making. Furthermore, it isn't just a Windows product. Office for Mac is one of Microsoft's biggest earners and - until recently - you could buy Office for iPad, iPhone and Android phone and tablet. (See also: Office for iPad, iPhone and Android FAQs.)
While anyone could download and install the apps, you could only create new documents if you had a paid subscription to Office. Not now.
As of the beginning of this month Microsoft made Office free for iOS and Android. You can now install and use Office on your iPhone, iPad or Android phone and tablet. And you can use it to create, open and edit Office documents. So why has Microsoft done this?
Why Microsoft made Office free for iPad, iPhone and Android: why not?
The idea of getting an expensive product such as Office for free is an exciting one, but it really isn't that big a decision for Microsoft. The truth is that the mobile and tablet versions of Office aren't worth a great deal. Microsoft generates only 13 percent of its Office revenues from consumers. Just the tiniest fraction of that revenue comes from iPad, iPhone and Android apps. And that is revenue it has to share with Apple and Google, remember.
Of course app-using tablets and smartphones are relatively new, when compared with Microsoft's core Office business. So you could argue that this is a potential growth market. But I would argue that it is very unlikely that many people use iPads as their principal computer. More likely people have access to a PC- or laptop (or Mac) and do most of their productivity work on that. Being able to open- and edit docs on a touchscreen device is a nice extra, but it doesn't replace the need for a proper computer. There may be some maniacs who run their business lives exclusively from an iPad, but that group of users is the sum total of customers Microsoft is about to lose. I'm sure it can afford it. Those that do are a potential loss of business, but...
Why Microsoft made Office free for iPad, iPhone and Android: safeguards its core business
Microsoft is more than willing to pay that price. And that is because giving away for free Office will hurt Google Docs and other free third-party office suites that proliferate in the mobile and tablet space. It will also shore up support for Microsoft's core Office userbase. (See also: Office for iPad, iPhone and Android FAQs.)
The BYOD phenomenon means that most businesses, schools and colleges are stuffed full of people who use Office in their professional lives, and smartphones and tablets at leisure. These worlds collide and people are used to opening and tweaking documents on their personal mobile devices. Being able to do so - for free - using a native Office app is another reason for business users to stay with Office from Microsoft.
Being able to use Office on such devices means Office remains the go to tool (rather than Google), and iPads, Androids and the rest are now additional kit. Microsoft is betting that - in a weird way - maing Office a free tool for touchscreen devices makes it more useful as a full-blown product for PC and laptop. And that in turn shores up the idea of the Windows PC as the hub of the working world.
At the very least it makes Office seem a more compelling choice in the face of increased opposition from Google and the rest. And that makes giving up a tiny amount of revenue a smart choice. (See also: Microsoft Office 365 review.)