Office wars: Microsoft, Google, and Apple jockey for position

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Most people have gotten past the sentiment that tablets can’t be used for “real work”. The simple reality is that a tablet is capable of doing most of the core functions a traditional PC can perform: email, Web surfing, social networking, instant messaging, and so forth. But, before you rush out to get a tablet to replace your laptop you should be aware that your choice of productivity apps may be dictated by your mobile platform.

Why? There are a variety of factors involved, and it depends on which combination of office suite and mobile platform you’re talking about.

Choosing a tablet may depend on which office software is available for which platform

Google has stated that it has no current plan to develop for Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8. I assume the existing versions that work with Windows 7 will continue to work in desktop mode on Windows 8 systems, and that Google is referring specifically to developing apps for the Modern UI to be offered through the Windows App Store.

Clay Bavor, the product management director at Google Apps, told tech blog V3, “We have no plans to build out Windows apps. We are very careful about where we invest and will go where the users are but they are not on Windows Phone or Windows 8. If that changes, we would invest there, of course.”

Meanwhile, a TabTimes story suggests that Microsoft and Apple are having a tough time working out the details to bring Microsoft Office apps to iOS. The speculation is that the Office iOS apps themselves will be free, but full functionality will require a subscription to Office 365. Based on Apple developer terms, if Microsoft sells Office 365 from within the apps, Apple is supposed to get a 30 percent cut.

Those are a couple of examples from a complex landscape of competing interests. Microsoft and Google are the dominant competitors when it comes to office productivity software, and Apple has its own productivity software as well. Microsoft, Google, and Apple also compete against each other in the mobile platform arena.

Google would obviously prefer that businesses and individuals use Google Apps for their productivity needs, but they’d also like to see people using Android tablets, or Chromebooks built on Google’s Chrome OS. Similarly, Microsoft would like to drive sales of its own tablet ecosystem, but it also recognizes that iOSand Android are the dominant platforms, and it has a vested interest in making Microsoft Office available to all.

Aside from the competitive strategy of balancing office suite and mobile platform sales, there’s the matter of limited resources. The statement from Google doesn’t really sound like sour grapes over offering its software on a Microsoft mobile platform as much as it seems like a calculated decision about how to use resources most effectively. Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 are simply not a big enough market to warrant the effort from Google.

What does that mean for you? Well, it means that you need to consider what office productivity software is available for each mobile platform, and factor that into your tablet purchasing decisions. If you rely on Google Apps, a Surface RT probably isn’t the best choice right now, and if you depend on Microsoft Office, you may not want to buy an iPad or Android tablet.

We're still waiting for Microsoft Office for the iPad.

It would be nice if the office suites were more platform-agnostic and you could get Google Apps or Microsoft Office apps no matter which tablet OS you choose, but that’s not the case—at least not yet. For now, you need to consider the bigger picture of how you plan to use the tablet, and which tools or applications you will need to interact with in order to choose the tablet that will work best for you.

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