Will Microsoft Make Office For the iPad?

One of the ironies of the technology industry is the relationship between Microsoft and Apple. On the one hand the two companies are fierce competitors, but on the other hand because of Microsoft Office, Microsoft is a very important software vendor for the Mac. So, it would not be a surprise if Microsoft were to create a version of Office for the iPad.

It was a surprise that Apple announced it would be including a version of iWorks, which is Apple’s alternative to Microsoft Office for the Mac, for the iPad. Coupled with the keyboard dock, iWorks will provide people the ability to create documents and spreadsheets on the iPad, providing a complete computing solution for many people. Clearly, Apple recognizes that users will find value in having productivity applications on the iPad.

If Microsoft were to create Office for the iPad, it would be sold through the iTunes App Store, and in the past Apple has not allowed applications in the store that provide the same functionality as the applications that are part of the iPhone OS. Making a version of Office for the iPad will require an investment by Microsoft, so it will want some assurances from Apple that it will allow it in the store before it would start developing the product.

My first reaction is that Apple would not allow the product, but other forces might come into play. One is recognition that just as Office somewhat legitimized the Mac, it could help the iPad gain recognition as a legitimate alternative to the personal computer. Another consideration is that a public dispute over not allowing a competing product in their store may draw more negative attention from the press and the government.

At this point, I doubt that there is much incentive for Microsoft to start developing software for the iPad as there is no real way to know whether the market is large enough to justify the development cost. However, if there are significant sales of the iPad, I can see Microsoft having some serious conversations with Apple. Microsoft has demonstrated it is willing to develop software for its competitor’s products, the question is whether Apple will treat the iPad as a platform like the Mac or a closed device like the iPhone.