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Tuesday, March 25, 2008, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Microsoft hints at Office, voice recognition iPhone apps

Microsoft Corp. has been taking a long hard look at Apple's iPhone software developers kit (SDK) since it was released earlier this month in hopes of profiting from the thriving mobile platform by releasing a few native applications of its own.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is already the largest software developer for Apple's Mac platform outside of the Mac maker itself, with Fortune's Big Tech blog estimating that its Mac Business Unit generates revenues in excess of $350 million and profits of over $200 million each year.

Add to that the firm's expertise in its proprietary Exchange email protocols and business email systems, and it's almost a certainty that Microsoft will be among those bearing fresh wares for Apple's iPhone and iPod touch a bit later this year, Tom Gibbons, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Specialized Devices and Applications Group, told the business publication.

"We do have experience with that environment, and that gives us confidence to be able to do something,” he said. “The key question is, what is the value that we need to bring?"

Gibbons' team of Mac developers, which actually resides in Mountain View, Calif., just a few miles from Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, is reportedly weighing its most viable options for an initial native iPhone application, which appears as if it will fall within the Office family of productivity applications.

"It's really important for us to understand what we can bring to the iPhone," he said. "To the extent that Mac Office customers have functionality that they need in that environment, we're actually in the process of trying to understand that now."

In addition, Mike McCue of Microsoft's recently acquired TellMe voice recognition unit told Fortune that his team is also excited about iPhone development assuming the SDK will allow third party software to tap into voice recording and location-based features.

"If the SDK supports these things," he said, "we’re absolutely going to get a version out there as soon as we can, get TellMe out there on the iPhone."