Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 12:37 am.

iPad + Office + Apple + Microsoft: Why It All Makes Sense

In case you missed the craziness this week, Microsoft appears to be making some Office apps for the iPad. Or maybe it’s not. Or whatever. MG Siegler has a good wrapup of the nonsense here.

Office for the iPad makes total sense, though. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple did give Microsoft some stage time to unveil it at the new-iPad event in a few weeks.

Why should Microsoft do this? The iPad is clearly a huge hit. Microsoft feels it. And Microsoft, still arguably the world’s most important software company, would be foolish to ignore this opportunity.

This isn’t like when Microsoft had to scratch and think before making Office for the Mac in the ’90s, when it would be lucky to sell a couple million copies per year. The iPad is way different: It should easily pass 50 million unit sales this year alone, and that’s potentially tens of millions of Office buyers for Microsoft. (Office, by the way, represented significantly more of Microsoft’s sales and profits last quarter than Windows.)

And while the economics for selling Office for the iPad are going to be different than selling it for Windows or Mac, that’s just the way things are going — that can’t stop Microsoft.

What about Windows tablets? What about Windows tablets? If Office is the only thing worth buying a Windows tablet for, no one’s going to want to buy a Windows tablet. Microsoft needs to give people many more reasons than Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to buy Windows tablets. So selling Office for the iPad shouldn’t get in the way of that. And anyway, it will be many years — if ever — before Windows tablets are selling in nearly the volume that iPads are. “Sitting out” the iPad could actually become a real risk for Microsoft and the future of the Office business.

Why should Apple give Microsoft a hand? Because being able to say “the iPad runs Word” is a bigger deal than you think. For consumers, for kids, for Walt Mossberg, and especially for corporations. Apple is trying to sell the enterprise on the iPad, and I’d be shocked if many big corporations didn’t at least think they needed real Office support on the iPad to justify the leap. They may never use it once they’ve purchased it. But checking that box is important.

What about iWork? What about iWork? It’s decent, maybe, but it’s no Office. Heck, even on the Mac, there are plenty of reasons to keep Word and Excel around if you handle those types of files in your line of work. (I try to do all of my spreadsheets in Numbers, but I still have to keep Excel open pretty much all of the time.)

Anyway, iWork doesn’t make Apple any money — selling iPads makes Apple money. So if supporting and promoting Office and iWork apps helps sell iPads, then Apple would be stupid not to. (Especially if Apple can also get Microsoft to do Office for the Mac App Store, add iCloud sync support, etc.) It’s the same reason Apple gave Netflix and Reed Hastings some stage time: Because even if it’s hurting iTunes a tiny bit, it’s helping sell iPads and Apple TVs, and that’s what matters.

Anyway, enough of this. Now you must watch this hilariously bad/great video that Microsoft made to discredit Google Apps/Docs for enterprise users. (Via Daring Fireball.) Clearly, Microsoft cares about remaining the go-to Office suite. To do that, though, it must now support the iPad.

Also: Why Microsoft will inevitably try to buy Nokia or RIM