Rivals Apple and Microsoft bookended the week by revealing productivity tools aimed at the same pool of customers: the millions who own Apple's iPhone.

On Monday, Apple un">

Apple plays defence, Microsoft goes on offence in battle for iPhone customers

Gregg Keizer
17 June, 2013
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Rivals Apple and Microsoft bookended the week by revealing productivity tools aimed at the same pool of customers: the millions who own Apple’s iPhone.

On Monday, Apple unveiled iWork for iCloud, a trio of web apps that run in a browser on OS X, Windows and iOS – and, while not explicitly supported, likely even Android via Chrome – and allow document creation and editing on all of a user’s devices. They are the iWork apps Pages, Numbers and Keynote already available as native applications on OS X and iOS, but ported to the web.

The last day of the workweek, Microsoft unleashed Office Mobile for iPhone. The app, which features Word, Excel and PowerPoint document viewing alongside some elementary editing, is written for the iPhone, but users can run the app on Retina-equipped iPad“>iPad Mini if they can stomach the real-size-of-the-iPhone display or a 2X-expanded look, the two options the iPad gives native iPhone apps.

iWork for iCloud won’t reach a public beta phrase until this spring, while Office Mobile was good to go on Friday. Apple’s not said whether – and, if so, how much — it will charge for iWork for iCloud. Microsoft’s tied Office Mobile to an active Office 365 account, which costs US$99 annually for consumers and more than that for each business user. No Office 365 subscription, no Office Mobile.

The two releases in the span of five days caught the attention of one analyst. “I found the timing very interesting,” said Bob O’Donnell of IDC in a Friday interview. “In the same week that Apple announced iWork for iCloud, which is a pretty credible threat to Office on the iPad and iPhone, Microsoft does this.”

The launch of Office Mobile did come as a surprise. Previous reports had pegged a fall 2014 launch for Office, albeit for both iPhone and iPhone or iPad“>iPad app, the strategy is half-hearted. Still, better than nothing.)

Which strategy, defence or offence, will win out?

Ironically, even though Apple is playing catch-up – Microsoft has offered free web-based apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint since 2009 – it has the most flexibility because it has the least at stake.

If iWork for iCloud ends up bring free to all iCloud account holders, as Gottheil suggested, and that affects iWork apps and applications – which are supposed to be upgraded this fall – Apple loses little because revenue from software sales is a pittance compared to what it brings in from hardware.

Microsoft could dampen any enthusiasm for iWork for iCloud by simply better publicising its Office Web Apps, the limited-function, limited-feature online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that have a four-year head start. They’ve been around long enough that many consumers don’t even know they’re there.

But it’s unlikely Microsoft will play the Office Web Apps card; Microsoft loses an Office sale for every customer who realises he or she can get by with the free online apps. That’s even truer now that Microsoft has pitched Office Mobile to the iPhone. If it counters iWork for iCloud with Office Web Apps by talking up its offering, it risks opening users’ eyes to the fact that they don’t need Office 365 simply to view and edit documents on their Apple smartphones.

Even so, Office is a behemoth in business, where the iPhone has made impressive inroads. Apple, on the other hand, has a poor track record in online, with multiple failures, including a precursor to iWork for iCloud, the abandoned iWork.com. Add to that Apple’s ambivalent attitude toward iWork – the last time it updated the OS X version was in 2009 – and the money’s on Microsoft.

O’Donnell from IDC wasn’t the only analyst to disagree. Gottheil, too, cast iWork for iCloud as a credible threat to Office on iPhone and iPad.

“Microsoft has to be worried about Office, not its enterprise [customers], but those who just buy it to be able to read Office file formats and create small documents,” said Gottheil in an interview last week. “iWork for iCloud is a threat there.”

Perhaps. But don’t bet on it.

by Gregg Keizer, Computerworld

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