Touch-first Microsoft Office for Android to beat Windows 8 version to market

In another example of Microsoft's mobile-first strategy, the company is expected to make the Android tablet version of its core touch-first Office apps available months ahead of the Windows 8 variant.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

When asked recently why Microsoft brought the iPad version of its core Office apps to market before it launched the Windows variant, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the reason was quite simple: Market share.


So it shouldn't surprise anyone -- though I have to admit, it did me -- that the Android tablet version of Microsoft's touch-first Office suite looks to be coming to market ahead of the Windows 8 version, according to contacts of mine who asked not to be named. The Metro-Style Windows version of the touch-first Word, Excel and PowerPoint bundle is now looking more like spring 2015 than fall 2014, which was its most recent rumored availability date, those same sources of mine added.

Microsoft, unsurprisingly, isn't commenting on these claims. But here's my guess as to the thinking here.

Office is the dominant productivity suite on Windows today. But Microsoft increasingly is focused on being a cross-platform software and services provider. This emphasis isn't new to the Nadella regime; it actually predates it by a number of months. But Nadella just last week made it plain (again) that the marching orders for Microsoft these days include not being bound to one app, one platform or one device.


For now, Office still is one of Microsoft's cash cows. To keep Office strong, Microsoft needs to do more than just continue to shove new features into Office for Windows (and, to a much lesser extent, Mac). The company needs to be where the users are. And in the mobile space, the majority of users are on iOS and Android.

At Build 2013, a year ago, Microsoft showed off an alpha version of its coming touch-first version of PowerPoint. Officials claimed at that time that Microsoft's plan always had been to deliver those touch-first apps (which I've been calling "Gemini," though internally, some Softies call them WinRT apps) in 2014. Just a couple months ago, I heard from one of my sources that these Windows Store apps still were on course to launch in the fall of 2014.

But now, it's sounding like the new priority is getting the promised Android versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint to market. Microsoft officials said in March 2014 that the timing for the Android version of these touch-first apps wasn't solid yet. I'm hearing, however, the plan is to make them available before the end of calendar 2014.

The other date in play here is when Microsoft plans to deliver the Metro-Style Gemini/WinRT versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. My sources say the new plan is to make these commercially available in the spring of 2015. (I'm not clear if a preview/beta version of these Gemini apps will be out before year end.)

That spring 2015 date also is when Threshold, a ka "Windows 9" is expected to hit. The timing isn't likely coincidental, given Microsoft is believed to be building at least one Threshold SKU that won't include a desktop. Such a SKU would require a version of Windows that doesn't need the desktop/Win32 environment to run. That's when the Metro-Style/Windows Store versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint become a necessity, not just a nicety. 

There's one more thing to remember here. Microsoft's Office team also is believed to be updating the desktop versions of all the Office apps (minus InfoPath, which is on its way out). Those updated desktop versions are likely to hit in early 2015, as well, I've heard. (Mac users: I have no info right now on when the follow-on to Mac Office 2011 is coming. The Office for iPad team and the Mac Office team are now one.)

All I can say is the way the new Microsoft works is a lot different from the days of "first and best" on Windows....

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