Microsoft leaving $2.5 billion per year on the table by holding back Office from iPad

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Microsoft's reluctance to bring its industry-standard Office productivity suite to Apple's iPad may give the software giant a modicum of leverage in the new computing environment, but one analyst says that policy means Microsoft is leaving $2.5 billion a year on the table.

Morgan Stanley's Adam Holt says that, while Microsoft has so far held back from bringing Office to iOS, the ongoing popularity of Apple's mobile operating system may prove too big a draw, especially if Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets continue to underperform in sales. With Surface RT estimated to have sold only between 900,000 and one million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, even improved sales brought on by the Surface Pro are likely to pull Microsoft only to a 10 percent share in the tablet market in 2013, by Holt's estimate.

Ignoring Apple's iPad, the overwhelming tablet market leader, may give Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets an exclusivity boost Microsoft feels they need, but Holt says that a 30 percent attach rate on the iPad's install base would generate $2.5 billion in additional revenue.

Holt's figures are based on a number of factors that are up for argument. As mentioned before, Holt assumes a 30 percent attach rate among iPad users, due almost solely to the Office name. He justifies this by pointing to the attach rate Office sees on Macs, which is between 30 and 40 percent of the Mac install base. That figure is about three times higher than Office's attach rate on Windows machines, 10 to 15 percent.

Office 365, too, could add to long-term value for Microsoft, were the company to bring it to iOS. Holt, though, believes Microsoft may open up the platform to iOS and Android instead of developing a native app, thereby circumventing the 30 percent cut Apple takes on iOS subscription content.

Holt's analysis paints a difficult choice for Microsoft: abandon the one advantage it has over competitors in the hopes that it will reap more in revenues, or hold on to that advantage and continue on, albeit on a smaller platform.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal's Digits blog looks at Microsoft's situation, noting that the company risks sacrificing Office's growth if it insists on "keeping the umbilical cord with Windows intact."

Microsoft's decision, according to WSJ, is similar to one Apple faced when faced with the iPad and iPhone's popularity growing in part at the expense of the Mac. If Microsoft develops Office for iOS and Android, it loses leverage and undercuts the PC ecosystem that has supported the company for so long. If it holds back, it risks Office being usurped by any number of competitors.

Microsoft has been rumored for some time to be prepping a mobile version of its Office suite, but those rumors have yet to materialize. In December, a page on the company's website made mention of Office for iOS, and company representatives have stated as much publicly. The company, though, has yet to make any official announcement.