By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated September 20, 2013.
Google has fired another shot in the online productivity wars. On Thursday, the technology giant announced that its Quickoffice suite of productivity apps for iOS and Android devices will now be free.
Quickoffice, acquired by Google a year ago, allows users to view, create or edit Microsoft Office Excel, Word and PowerPoint files on an iPhone, iPad or Android phone or tablet. Integrated new features in the free version include the ability to create .zip folders and view charts in Excel and PowerPoint files.
Prior to this announcement, the Quickoffice mobile apps were free only for Google Apps for Business customers, who paid $50 annually per user for the apps, but now the suite is available without charge from the Google Play store or in Apple's App Store to anyone with a Google Account. Quickoffice's previous price for non-Apps for Business subscribers was $14.99 for the iPhone or Android smartphone version, and $19.99 for Android or iOS tablets.
Challenge to Microsoft
Additionally, users who sign into their Google accounts from Quickoffice by September 26 will also receive an additional 10GB of Google Drive storage for the next two years. Existing Google Apps for Business users of Quickoffice will be able to update to the new app.
Google's move is a direct challenge to Microsoft, which has yet to release its ubiquitous Office suite for iPads or Android tablets. In addition to the free offer of Quickoffice, Google also provides Quickoffice as part of the Chrome OS used in its Chromebooks, and the Chrome browser in Windows and OS X can view Office documents.
Microsoft, of course, has long considered its Office suite to be its crown jewel, and releasing that jewel on rival tablet platforms -- especially when Microsoft is barely into single digits in mobile market share, while Android and Apple reign supreme -- could simply add more value to rival platforms. Want to create, view and edit Microsoft Office native files on tablets? Then use Microsoft Windows 8 or RT tablets -- or so goes the thinking in Redmond, Washington.
Microsoft has made Office available to iPhone and Android smartphones via its subscription- and cloud-based Office 365, but try creating or editing a Word file on a smartphone's small screen, compared to a tablet. Additionally, that Office Mobile app provides only scaled-down functionality, and the user must have an Office 365 account, which starts at $100/year.
By not making Office more widely available on tablets, Microsoft is directly inviting others to step in and fill in the gap, which is what Google is now doing. Additionally, Apple announced last week that it was providing its iWork productivity apps free with new iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches purchased after September 1. iWork can open and save Office files, and iWork files can be saved in Office formats.
Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, told NewsFactor that, for Google, "productivity apps don't drive a lot of revenue, and if you've got an asset that isn't financially critical, why not use it to put pressure on a competitor?"
On the other hand, he noted, Office is the second highest software revenue producer for Microsoft, after Windows. The company, King said, is the "odd position of trying to balance its platforms" with its software money makers, even as one of its platforms -- Windows RT for tablets -- is in a particularly tenuous position.
He added that protecting its platforms by restricting Office to Windows tablets, even though it makes sense, "is old school thinking that Microsoft may well have to change someday."