Office Mobile free on Android, iPhone is a clever bait

Microsoft made Office Mobile available for free since launch, on both Android and iOS. But, in order to take advantage of its features, users had to tie the app to an Office 365 subscription. So it was free, but not void of additional costs.

Yesterday, Microsoft launched Office for iPad and announced a subscription is now no longer necessary to get the best out of Office Mobile, which was just updated on both platforms to reflect this decision. While this only applies to home users -- which means a subscription is still needed for non-personal (commercial) use -- it is certainly a welcome change. But, it also means Windows Phone just lost one of its most important advantages over its main rivals.

Devices and Services Mantra

The Office playing field is now, basically, level between the three most-popular smartphone operating systems. This makes the job of the Windows Phone marketing team more difficult, as it now has one less exclusive feature to advertise to consumers. Tough luck.

Microsoft may naturally want Windows Phone to be at the top of the food chain, but it is also committed to its devices and services strategy. Since Android and iOS make for more than 90 percent of smartphone shipments, which in 2013 meant close to one billion units, ensuring Office has a place in mobile users' hearts and devices is more important than Windows Phone altogether, which struggles to gain traction. Microsoft simply has bigger fish to fry, and it now seems fully aware of that.

Potential Revenue Gains

Office Mobile may now be completely free on the two platforms, however this is not a blow to Microsoft's revenues. I doubt iPhone and Android users bought Office 365 just to use the app, which, realistically speaking, is not nearly worth $99.99 per year. I suspect most -- if not all -- enrolled their smartphone to their already paid-for subscription.

That said, a free Office Mobile may lead to a larger number of Android and iPhone users liking the app, after being able to use it for free, and then purchasing an Office 365 subscription -- that is not cheap, but important to Microsoft's long-term revenues -- in order to use the suite on their tablets too, which are used increasingly as PC replacements.

The (Clever) Bait

Truth is, Office does not actually lend itself well to smartphone use, based on my experience with Windows Phone. To be productive, a physical keyboard is a must-have as it makes it easy to input text, format it, and write formulas (the things I use Office for the most).

The small screen size of smartphones, combined with the lack of a physical keyboard, makes it very difficult to make professional-looking documents and presentations, and create advanced spreadsheets. For quick editing and basic tasks it is adequate, but for anything else users are better served by a PC or tablet with attached keyboard, like the iPad which is often paired with one. So...

This makes free Office Mobile a segue to Office on iPads, with an Office 365 subscription in tow. It is very likely Android tablets are next. Give a little, ask a lot in return. It is clever, is it not?

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