This has been a long time coming, but Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has finally given in and released Office for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, sort of. A premature leak from Microsoft's Czech Republic subsidiary late last year suggested that Office would come to iOS by March 2013, a claim that Microsoft officially denied. Looks like it wasn't so far off.
Before mobile workers get too excited, though, this Office Mobile for iPhone is only available for subscribers of Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based version of its flagship productivity suite. For those subscribers, Office Mobile for iPhone is entirely free.
The move is important since Microsoft is well aware of how strong its position is in productivity software. Office is the standard, hands down. That's precisely why the company has been using Office as a strategic weapon in the mobile war, historically withholding it from Apple's platform.
For instance, Microsoft's recent ad campaign against the iPad specifically calls out the lack of Office, an absence that only Microsoft has the power to fill. To that end, Microsoft has also set up a site comparing various specs of the iPad to other leading Windows 8 tablets -- and running Microsoft Office is one of the key categories. The only consumer Office app available on the iPad is OneNote. The new Office Mobile doesn't support the iPad, so Microsoft can continue with that campaign.
iOS users have been wanting Office for years, and Microsoft is partially delivering, but in a way that reinforces its push toward a subscription model. Opening up Office to iOS could be seen as a risk to Microsoft, since it removes a possible competitive advantage. This risk is small, though, as Microsoft is keeping it limited to Office 365 subscribers and excluding the iPad. The subset of mobile workers that actually try to get things done on their smartphones is undoubtedly quite small. Adding iPad support would have been a much bigger risk.
Apple already offers its iWork suite for iOS, which supports Office file formats. The Mac maker also reinvigorated its mobile productivity push by detailing iWork for iCloud this week, but no one has illusions of Apple making a dent in the enterprise market.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is a much bigger threat to mobile Office than Apple. Not only has Google now partnered with Hewlett-Packard to resell its Google Apps for Business to small and medium businesses, but also Google acquired Quickoffice a year ago, one of the most popular mobile alternatives to Office that was exclusive to iOS at the time. The search giant just released Quickoffice for Android in April. Google is also working to put Quickoffice into a browser, putting even more heat on web-based Office.
The extent of Microsoft's support for Office on Android is that Office Web Apps can be used from Chrome on Android. You can't help but wonder if the company also has a native Android app in the works for Office 365 subscribers. Releasing Office Mobile for iPhone will give Microsoft a chance to defend its Office user base from iWork and Quickoffice, while nudging people in the general direction of paying $10 per month.
Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.