Office for iPad Reportedly Set to Launch in the First Half of 2014

Mobile touch-based versions of Microsoft Office have long been in the works, but a report this weekend from ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley indicates that the rumored “Office for iPad” may see the light of day even before Microsoft releases the next version of the software on its own Windows 8 platform.

Microsoft Office has long been the productivity suite of choice for businesses, even those that use Apple’s Macs (Office for Mac is one of the top selling apps for OS X). Its lack of availability for iOS has arguably been bad for both Microsoft and Apple; the former missing out on sales and the latter being denied a key selling point that could help the company further cement iOS in the enterprise market.

Rumors that Microsoft was working on a deal to bring Office to the iPad date back to 2011, but Apple’s mandatory commission for App Store purchases and the hope that Microsoft could use Office’s Windows exclusivity to draw attention to its own tablet initiative were reportedly roadblocks to the software’s release. Finally, in late 2013, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told analysts that Office for iPad was indeed on the way, but it would only be released after the company introduced a touch-based version for Windows 8, a project internally codenamed Gemini.

Now, with new CEO Satya Nadella at the helm, Microsoft appears to be changing course, with Ms. Foley reporting that Office for iPad may launch before Gemini, and that the timing will be “sooner than most think.”

But I hear Ballmer and the senior leaders of the company may have had a change of heart towards the end of last year. According to one of my contacts, Ballmer OK’d the suggestion by the Office team that they’d bring Office for iPad to market as soon as it was ready, even though that would likely mean before the Windows 8 version. I’m hearing that new date for Office for iPad is some time in the first half of calendar 2014.

While iOS users who need native Office support will likely be excited by the news, there’s a strong possibility that Microsoft will only make Office for iPad available to those with Office 365, the company’s subscription-based Office program. While Office 365 does offer a number of compelling benefits for heavy Office users, its $99 per year fee will surely dampen the reception to Office for iPad’s eventual release, in the same fashion as Microsoft’s Office for iPhone app, which also requires Office 365.

Microsoft has declined to comment on this latest report, but Ms. Foley has a proven track record. It’s therefore a safe bet that Office for iPad will show up in the iOS App Store sometime during the next four months.

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