Microsoft thrives on Android, iOS as bet away from Windows pays off

As Microsoft Word tops 1 billion installs on Android and Office is all over the iOS productivity rankings, the software giant has its beyond-Windows hits. Now it may have a needle or two to thread.

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In 2015, Microsoft faced a big decision. Develop its apps for Android and Apple's iOS and make them just as strong as they were on Windows or continue with a flagging bet that Windows Phone would gain traction.

Fast forward from 2015 and it's pretty clear that Microsoft's beyond Windows approach paid off well. Windows Phone is end of life and Microsoft Word has more than 1 billion installs on Google Play with PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote logging more than 500 million.

Also: Google Drive vs. OneDrive: Which one is better for your business? 

On Apple's iOS, Word is No. 11 on the App Store productivity charts behind Outlook at No. 6 and Excel at No. 24. 

The multi-platform approach has also delivered customers Microsoft may not have had otherwise. On Microsoft's last earnings conference call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that with a SaaS approach on Android, iOS  and Windows there's just a bigger market. And if someone downloads Word they are likely to wind up Office 365 subscribers.

In terms of overall reach of Office 365, we continue to see significant opportunity going forward on multiple dimensions. So for example, we never participated as much in, I would call it, nondeveloped market medium and small businesses with all of the sophisticated workloads. So now that -- with the SaaS approach, you can reach a much broader base of business customers all over the world, is one opportunity.


  • Office 365 Consumer subscribers were 34.2 million.
  • Office 365 Commercial has 180 million users.
  • Outlook apps on iOS and Android have more than 100 million users.

Those stats aren't as lofty as 1 billion installs of Microsoft Word, but they represent paying customers in most cases. I may have Word installed on Android and rarely use it. But if I use OneNote and PowerPoint more I'm likely to go for the Office 365 subscription.

That app flywheel is what makes Office one of the primary cash cows of Microsoft. The fourth quarter earnings report from Microsoft is likely to highlight more Office cash falling out of the sky.

Also: Microsoft Office 365 for business: Everything you need to know 

What's next? Microsoft has to blend Android apps with its Windows Lite devices. Microsoft has more than 150 apps from in the Google Play Store.

But as Mary Jo Foley reported in June, there are a few items on the to-do list. Foley wrote:

Microsoft has had some noteworthy success in getting its own apps to succeed on Android. Microsoft's Android apps like Launcher and Outlook. Microsoft currently has more than 150 apps from various teams in the Google Play Store, as Microsoft engineers working on Android recently blogged. Of these, five have more than 500 million downloads. 

The other side of the equation -- how to get third-party Android apps on Windows -- has proven trickier for Microsoft. It wasn't that long ago that Microsoft briefly allowed Android apps to be ported to Windows 10 using the Microsoft-developed Android bridge codenamed Astoria. Microsoft ended up dropping the Astoria bridge in 2016, claiming that its iOS bridge would enable the same list of apps to be ported to Windows 10. Microsoft's iOS bridge is basically defunct and hasn't been updated or marketed in more than a year. 

Tipsters claimed the real reason Microsoft nixed its Android bridge was because it worked too well. If it was trivial to get Android apps to run on Windows 10, and users wanted and needed Android apps -- not Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps -- why was Windows 10 really necessary at all? 

In other words, congrats on the installs and users on multiple platforms Microsoft. How the future is navigated may become a bit trickier. Does Microsoft need its own Android store to compete with Chromebooks by Google? Maybe Microsoft's iOS and Android success only goes so far.

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