Office for iPad is coming, Ballmer says... after 'Metro' Office apps for Windows

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Microsoft tossed Apple users a bone when it released Office for the iPhone back in June. But it wasn’t a particularly appetizing bone, because when it comes to mobile productivity, most people want Office on their iPad, not a smartphone.

So when will the disappointment fade? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer cleared the air somewhat at a Gartner-sponsored event in Florida on Tuesday, The Verge reports.

“iPad will be picked up when there’s a touch first user interface,” Ballmer said. In other words, that’s after the finger-friendly modern UI Office apps currently in development appear. Yes, the Surface and its Windows-based counterparts will be the first to feast at the Office tablet table. But did you expect it any other way?

Wes Miller, an analyst with the independent Directions on Microsoft firm, offered a contrite (and spot-on) summary on Twitter:

A nebulous timeline

The next question is just as obvious: When will modern Office apps appear?

Whispers about the so-called “Office Gemini” project first surfaced in March, with those rumors suggesting that modern Office apps would appear sometime this fall. That timeline seems a bit ambitious, however, considering that when Microsoft showed a preview of its finger-friendly Powerpoint app at the Build conference in late July, the company stressed it was an early alpha version, with nary a UI element to be seen. The company also refused to offer release date information during that demo.

Even so, it’s clear Microsoft has lofty goals for the modern Office apps.

“This has all of the same transitions, the same graphic power, the same file-format capabilities,” Jensen Harris, Microsoft’s Director of Program Management for the Windows User Experience Team, told a gaggle of reporters at Build. “This is actual, running PowerPoint—except it’s running as a Windows modern app.”

Windows co-chief Julie Larson-Green showing off the modern PowerPoint alpha demo at Build 2013.

When tablet-friendly versions of Office do appear, they’ll likely do so in a way designed to stoke Microsoft’s Office 365 subscription service. An Office 365 subscription grants free and immediate access to Office and Office updates across all platforms and devices; that would doubtlessly extend to modern Office apps. Office for the iPhone, meanwhile, only works in conjunction with a premium Office 365 subscription (booooo!), which starts at $100 per year. The same goes with Office for Android phones. There’s no reason to think Office for iPad would buck that trend, whenever it finally arrives. (Meanwhile, Apple is offering its mobile iWork productivity suite for free to buyers of new iOS devices.)

But hey! There’s a bright side to the delay. To be frank, Office for iPhone pretty much sucks. Here’s hoping the extra cooking time can make the iPad iteration more palatable.

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