Office for iPad a potential bonanza for partners

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces Office for iPad.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces Office for iPad.

The vast majority of solution providers cannot resell Microsoft’s Surface tablet. And, of course, only a handful of solution providers have Apple’s market-leading iPad in their inventory. But the arrival of Office for iPad could actually be good for the channel, as the new touch-oriented productivity apps may drag software sales by solution providers.

Yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed the worst-kept secret in in the tech industry – that Microsoft was developing a version of Office for the iPad. This is big news as Microsoft has battled to maintain control over its ecosystem by not enhancing the value of rival’s products by making versions of its software for iOS and Android.

Microsoft Office remains the market leader for word processing, presentation and spreadsheets, and generates more than $6 billion a year for the company’s Microsoft Business Division. While Microsoft has had light versions of its software of iOS for years, it hasn’t made full-functional versions. This has left an opening for Apple and its iWorks suite and a slew of third-party providers with alternative applications to run on the tens of millions of iPads in circulation.

Analysts say Office for iPad could increase Microsoft revenues by $3 billion to $5 billion. Most of that new revenue will come from Office 365 sales, which now contributes one-six of the Office take for Microsoft.

“Microsoft is focused on delivering the cloud for everyone, on every device. It’s a unique approach that centers on people — enabling the devices you love, work with the services you love, and in a way that works for IT and developers,” Nadella said.

The early reviews say Office 365 for iPad is probably the best deal and has the best chance of driving adoption. And this is where things get interesting for Microsoft.

After years of being told to promote and sell the Business Productivity Online Suite and, later, Office 365, solution providers are only now beginning to find traction for Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity suite. The subscription-based service is particularly appealing to small and midmarket businesses, as it provides applications for more devices – desktop, tablet, smartphone – than conventional licenses.

The fact Microsoft is now generating more than $1 billion in sales reflects the growing popularity of Office 365. The availability of an iPad version will make the suite more appealing to customers who have sat on sidelines with their conventional licenses or customers that have gone with less-functional Office alternatives.

Office for iPad is more than an opportunity to sell Office 365; this new Apple-friend Microsoft product could be a catalyst for horizontal and upselling. Office for iPad opens the opportunity to discuss security, mobile device management, backup and cloud storage, desktop and mobile virtualization, wireless networking and bandwidth management. It’s also an opportunity to talk managed services, such as administering Office 365 and support for all of the above technologies.

Analysts and Microsoft pundits have criticized the release of Office for iPad, a product that’s been in development for at least three years, saying that the lack of a tablet-friendly version for Windows 8 or Microsoft’s homegrown Surface will hurt other product sales. Perhaps, but the reality is the iPad is still the best selling tablet device on the market. And what Microsoft is probably betting on is that one product’s availability doesn’t make for the whole Microsoft experience.

Would it be nice if Microsoft and Apple opened their distribution channels and allowed solution providers to sell Surface and iPad indirectly? Absolutely. However, there’s much that can be sold in support of and around these devices. Office for iPad is an opportunity for the channel to capitalize on a new wave of mobile adoption.

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