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Apple raises bet in poker game with Microsoft over mobile productivity

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 12, 2013
Gives new iOS device buyers free copies of iWork apps.

This summer, when Apple rolled out iWork for iCloud, Gottheil and other analysts viewed the new online apps as competitors to Microsoft's and Google's similar cloud productivity offerings, Office Web Apps and Google Docs, respectively.

Apple has decided to give away the iOS iWork apps to all new device buyers. Pages, shown here, is a simple word processor and document designer. (Image: Apple.)

Then Gottheil said iWork for iCloud meshed with Apple's long-running strategy of trying to tempt consumers and small businesses now in the Windows camp to defect to OS X, iOS or both. "I see this as building a bridge from Windows to the Apple platforms," said Gottheil of the entry into Microsoft Office's turf.

The free iWork apps fit that strategy, he said yesterday.

Apple does now have a leg up on Microsoft in the space, since the former is giving away mobile productivity apps and the latter is not.

Microsoft has shipped Office Mobile — an app that includes scaled-back versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint — for the iPhone (in June) and Android (in July). But while the apps themselves are free to download, they must be linked to an active Office 365 account before they'll work. The least-expensive Office 365 plan — there are a range for consumers, small business and enterprises — costs $100 a year.

Microsoft has not released Office Mobile for the iPad or Android tablets, an omission that has been hotly criticized by analysts.

Those experts believe Office has been withheld from the iPad and Android tablets because CEO Steve Ballmer decided to use the suite as a carrot to draw customers to the Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets that Microsoft and its OEM partners manufacture.

But with signs that Microsoft's strategy hasn't worked — the company wrote off $900 million in July to account for Surface RT tablet overstocks — outside analysts have urged Microsoft to instead play to its strengths and sell its software, Office first of all, on rival platforms that account for the vast bulk of sales.

Apple's free iWork apps won't budge Microsoft: The former may be adequate for consumers and sole proprietors, but the latter's Office is entrenched in business.

Gottheil expected to see a little blow-back from current owners of iOS hardware — those with iPads especially — over Apple's move. Some of them, he said, would complain that they'd paid for something others will now get gratis, while others would say that they'd been left out in the cold even though they'd been loyal customers of the company's products.

But he didn't anticipate a major backlash, if only because the apps, while noteworthy, didn't cost enough to trigger anger.

 

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