(MoneyWatch) Microsoft (MSFT) plans to release a mobile version of its Office suite for Apple (AAPL) iOS and Google (GOOG) Android platforms next year, according to a report by Tom Warren in The Verge. If correct, the move will have been long rumored and even expected.
But rather than truly embracing competing platforms to rise above them, Microsoft is using the move offensively. This seems more an attempt to sell corporations its own Surface as a mobile device choice and to seed its cloud ambitions.
According to the report, Microsoft will provide a new version of its Office Mobile apps suite that allows iPhone, iPad, and Android device owners to see Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents. Users will need a Microsoft account to view the content. The iOS version is expected in March 2013, with the Android one following two months later.
The key, here, is to notice that Microsoft is talking about reading documents. To edit or write documents, a user would need either a subscription on Office 365, its cloud service, which would be available through the app, or need a code from an employer or other organization that would enable editing. In other words, Office Mobile is largely a tease, much like the evaluation versions of Office that ship on millions of PCs are.
Microsoft has been pushing Office 365 accounts over the last year because it provides a lot of advantages for the company. There is no software to copy to multiple machines and, because it is regularly billed, the company locks down an automatic annuity rather than waiting to see how many companies and individuals opt to upgrade in a given year. If Microsoft is successful in moving people to Office 365, it could see a significant increase in annual revenue.
The other point the mobile approach makes is that users who consider Office to be a set of critical apps might consider the Microsoft's new Surface tablets. The devices come with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook and come with a full feature set. If you've used the Office compatible apps from third parties on tablets, you'll know that even the best ones can seem wanting when a few features you rely on are not available.