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Microsoft Office on Android biggest challenge: Uprooting Google Docs

Office on Android will land in preview soon with more freebies to encourage usage. The challenge is that Android is already tightly integrated with Google Docs.

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Microsoft on Thursday said that it will launch a preview of its Office applications for Android and just like on iOS customers will get editing and other features for free. The real takeaway is that Office has to deliver more to users on Android since it is taking on Google Docs on its own platform.

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The real move to put full-blown Excel, Word and PowerPoint on Android has been in the wings as Microsoft positions itself as a cloud and mobile first company. Microsoft said that it is offering more features without a subscription because it wants more usage, but I'll bet that the move also has a lot to do with Office on Android. "We're making core editing and creation available for consumers," said Amanda Lefebvre, head of Office product management. "Usage is our primary goal."

The Android Office apps will launch in early 2015. 

Also see:  Microsoft refreshes Office on iPad, iPhone, making more features free to consumers  |  Microsoft kicks off its Office for Android tablets preview  |  New Office for iPhone: Feature packed, but smaller displays still suffer (first take)

Usage for Office on Android is critical on the consumer and prosumer fronts. In the enterprise, iOS rules and Office is a natural fit. In the consumer market, Android dominates and Office needs to be a default choice as bring your own applications takes hold. Android tablets and phones will wind up with more share in the enterprise and Office needs to be front and center for Microsoft.

CNET: Office for iOS goes freemium: What you need to know

Here's the rub. Unlike iOS, Google's Android comes with tight integration with a document editing suite. With Android you need a Gmail account that's usually attached to Google Drive, Docs and other apps. Those services can be subscription based, but for most folks they're free. Microsoft can't offer viewing of Docs without free editing on Android if it wants usage.

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Enter Office. If Office didn't allow for document editing without a subscription, Microsoft would be at a disadvantage to Google's apps. A more freemium approach changes that equation for Office. Now all Microsoft has to do is provide a great experience when Office on Android is out of preview in early 2015.

Before today's iOS Office revamp where Microsoft dismantled its bundle for individual apps, the company required Office on iPad users to subscribe to Office 365 to do more than minor tweaks.

If all goes well, Microsoft will have Office on Samsung Android devices via a bundle in the enterprise as well as other devices. Sure, Microsoft will get some prosumers to trade up to a subscription, but it may not matter. After all, Microsoft's main goal is usage for the long term whether you bring your own productivity apps or get them through your company.