Microsoft may be ready to cave to the consumer pressure -- and reap the financial rewards -- of bringing its Office productivity suite to the iPad. New CEO Satya Nadella could unveil the iPad version at a press event March 27, according to Reuters News Service.
It would be a big move for Nadella, who replaced Steve Ballmer to become Microsoft's third-ever CEO earlier this year. He is set to address industry execs at a San Francisco event later this month.
Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment, but we caught up with Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, to get his take on the rumors. He told us right now the iPad version of Office is that -- a rumor. But he's not ruling it out.
A No-Brainer for Nadella
"The reality is that Office for the iPad is sort of a no-brainer in that they need something on that platform for customers who want to edit Office documents on the iPad," Miller said. "This will give them that answer."
Miller, for one, has been suspecting for a long while that the market would witness a range of updates to Office 365 during Microsoft's third quarter and early into the fourth. So far, he's been right. Microsoft recently unveiled the Office 365 Personal Edition.
"We likely see this Office for iPad app tied back to Office 365 subscriptions. In other words, the app itself may well be free but there probably will be requirements for a 365 subscription," Miller said. "This would reflect what we saw with them announcing a Personal Edition the other day and the hints that an app would be coming."
A Billion-Dollar Opportunity?
At least one financial analyst has supposed Microsoft could be leaving billions of dollars on the table by neglecting the iPad.
Indeed, according to Adam Holt, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, Microsoft could be missing a $2.5 billion opportunity in choosing not to offer Office on the mobile platform. Although Microsoft makes its CRM software available for the iPad, Apple users are left in the cold when it comes to other Microsoft productivity apps.
"While MSFT has resisted offering a full version of Office for the iOS, the company may ultimately decide there is more upside with Office on iPads, particularly if Win tablets fall short of expectations," Holt wrote in a research note. "The Surface RT likely sold only 900K-1M units in CQ4, while OEMs have pulled back on tablet builds and it may be difficult for MSFT to reach much more than 10% tablet share in CY13."
Show Me the Money
So how does Holt get to the $2.5 billion? Holt figures attaching Office to new iPad units for the fiscal year 2014 could add $1.3 billion in revenue. That number supposes 30 percent of iPad users would install Office on their iPad. If every iPad user opted to install Office, that number rises to $2.5 billion. Android sales could add even more to the total.
As Holt sees it, Office exclusivity on Windows tablets is important, but the iPad opportunity may be larger. He points out that Microsoft actually sees a three to four times higher paid Office installation rate on Macs (30 percent to 40 percent) than Windows machines (10 percent to 15 percent).
"Our conversations lead us to believe MSFT will price for value with Office on the iOS and net 30 percent to Apple (which can be negotiated), MSFT may get $50 to 70+//Office unit. If MSFT got 30% attach in one yr. at $60/unit on the ~200M base it is $2.5B in rev. -- more than the total amount of software rev. We forecast for MSFT (Office + Windows) from 11% tablet share in FY14," he wrote. "The math is compelling and may drive MSFT to move Office."