Why you won't see Office for iPad, Android -- at least for now

If you want Microsoft Office for Android or iOS, then you'd better hope that Windows-powered tablets fall flat on their face.

There's a very good reason why we've not seen a version of Microsoft's Office suite for iPads and Android devices, and it has everything to do with Microsoft wanting to give enterprise a reason to choose Windows 8 or Windows RT tablets over tablets powered by Android and iOS.

Microsoft has vigorously denied claims that that an Office for iPad exists and will be rolled out in time for an upcoming SharePoint conference in November, and ZDNet's Jason Perlow speculates that Office for the Android and iOS platforms exists as long as you redefine what an "app" is.

While I think that Perlow comes up with some solid reasoning as to why Office might not work as a traditional 'app', the real reason why Microsoft hasn't yet bought Office to the iPad and the myriad of Android tablets out there is that it needs to keep this ace up its sleeve for itself.

With Windows 8, Microsoft is one again getting ready to try to convince us that tablets -- specifically, Windows-powered tablets -- are the future. Problem is, Microsoft is entering this game at a very late stage.

Apple has flooded the market with millions of iPads, and Android is doing a very good job of mopping up the budget end of the market with devices such as the Kindle Fire. This leaves Microsoft having to play catch-up in a market already well saturated with tablets.

Microsoft has a lot riding on Windows 8. In a radical departure from previous version of Windows, this platform sweeps aside the traditional keyboard and mouse input system that people know and love, and instead replaces it with a user interface designed to be controlled by touch as the primary mechanism.

It's a massive gamble, and even Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has admitted that it's the "riskiest product bet yet for Microsoft".

Given that Windows 8 is so different and a risky product, and that Microsoft can ill-afford to end up with 'another Vista' on its hands, the Redmond-based giant needs all the help it can muster.

Which is why it's turning to Microsoft Office.

Love it or loathe it, Microsoft Office is one of those killer Windows applications that enterprise users continue to have a love affair with. Wherever Microsoft makes Office available, enterprise will follow.

And this is Microsoft's gamble with Office. If it makes Office available on all tablets, irrespective of operating system, then enterprise users are free to choose whatever platform suits them. But if Microsoft keeps Office exclusive for Windows powered tablets -- both Windows 8 and Windows RT, which we know will come with Office apps installed -- then that gives both the company and the platform a massive advantage, especially with enterprise customers -- which, as Microsoft knows -- is where a lot of the money is.

This is precisely the same reason why Nintendo doesn't make the hugely popular Mario franchise available on platforms such as iOS. While it would be a massive money-spinner, it would put Nintendo's future in jeopardy if gamers no longer had to buy Nintendo hardware in order to play the classic game.

The way I see it is that Microsoft isn't going to consider releasing Office for iOS and Android until it sees how Windows 8, specifically Windows 8 on tablets, does in the marketplace. If Windows 8 and Windows RT-powered tablets do well, then it's possible that Microsoft will keep Office as a Windows exclusive as far as tablets are concerned. However, if Windows tablets falter then Microsoft might as well cut its losses, admit defeat once again in the tablet market, and develop a version of Office for iOS and Android.

If you want Microsoft Office for Android or iOS, then you'd better hope that Windows-powered tablets fall flat on their face.

Image source: Microsoft.