Apple plays defense, Microsoft goes on offense in battle for iPhone customers

Sunday, June 16th 2013. | Software News

Rivals Apple and Microsoft bookended the week by revealing productivity tools aimed at the same pool of customers: The millions who own Apple’s iPhone.

On Monday, Apple unveiled iWork for iCloud, a trio of Web apps that run in a browser on OS X, Windows and iOS — and while not explicitly supported, likely even Android via Chrome — and allow document creation and editing on all of a user’s devices. They are the iWork apps Pages, Numbers and Keynote already available as native applications on OS X and iOS, but ported to the Web.

The last day of the workweek, Microsoft unleashed Office Mobile for iPhone. The app, which features Word, Excel and PowerPoint document viewing alongside some elementary editing, is written for the iPhone, but users can run the app on Retina-equipped iPads and the iPad Mini if they can stomach the real-size-of-the-iPhone display or a 2X-expanded look, the two options the iPad gives native iPhone apps.

iWork for iCloud won’t reach a public beta phrase until this fall, while Office Mobile was good to go on Friday. Apple’s not said whether — and if so, how much — it will charge for iWork for iCloud. Microsoft’s tied Office Mobile to an active Office 365 account, which costs $ 99 annually for consumers and more than that for each business user. No Office 365 subscription, no Office Mobile.

The two releases in the span of five days caught the attention of one analyst. “I found the timing very interesting,” said Bob O’Donnell of IDC in a Friday interview. “In the same week that Apple announced iWork for iCloud, which is a pretty credible threat to Office on the iPad and iPhone, Microsoft does this.”

The launch of Office Mobile did come as a surprise: Previous reports had pegged a fall 2014 launch for Office, albeit for both iPhone and iPad. The suddenness made it easy to interpret as a rushed response to iWork for iCloud.

But the lead time required to get an app approved by Apple for the App Store makes it more likely that it was coincidental. In fact, Apple, not Microsoft, may have been the one that made a last-minute decision. Reports have had Microsoft haggling with Apple for months over terms of the latter’s cut for Office 365 subscriptions purchased within the iOS app, and Apple would certainly have known of the timeline for Office Mobile’s launch in the App Store.

Timing aside, the two initiatives take very different tacks. While iWork for iCloud appears to be part of Apple’s long-running strategy to keep its users within its own ecosystem, Microsoft’s is an attempt to tap into the iOS market and make some of them paying customers.

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