Microsoft's quietly huge moves into Apple's ecosystem

Why is Microsoft making it easier for iPad owners to do more Office-like work?

How many apps has Microsoft released into Apple’s App Store, to be used on iPhones and iPads? The easiest guess is “Zero, because why would they want to help people using the competition?” But the correct answer is actually “At least 14, with more in the works, because Microsoft is moving toward a different stance on ‘competition.’”

Most of Microsoft’s apps (which you can view if you have iTunes) are windows into a service the company provides: Bing for iPad, My XBOX Live, MSN entertainment apps, and the like. The odd app out is Photosynth, which is just a really neat app that makes shooting and compiling multi-shot panoramas super simple, with very light, almost non-existent Microsoft branding.

And then there’s SkyDrive, released this week. It gives iPhone and iPad users access to the bold 25 GB of free storage offered by what Microsoft officially named as Windows Live SkyDrive (the naming of which is this whole other thing I shouldn’t get started on again). It’s a dedicated iOS app that gives SkyDrive users folder-and-file-style access to everything they’ve stashed in their cloud storage. Apple’s own iCloud service is more tightly integrated, but it’s a different kind of cloud service, with switches for choosing entire aspects of each Apple device you back up: contacts, photos, app-specific documents, and so on. Other services, like Dropbox and SugarSync have been on iOS for much longer and have the built-in text editors, file management tools, and other deep integration tricks to show for it. But let’s presume that SkyDrive will improve in semi-short order, and that accessing your dozen thumb drives in the cloud will become easier and nicer.

SkyDrive app on an iPhone

Microsoft certainly hasn’t forgotten that they have their own smartphone operating system for sale. Indeed, the bulk of the official blog post announcing SkyDrive’s mobile apps is dedicated to showing how much better the SkyDrive experience is on a Windows Phone device. And Microsoft is moving toward a unified visual and connectivity experience between Windows 8, Windows Phone, and the XBOX network. But consider SkyDrive on iOS, along with the widespread rumor-turned-belief that Microsoft is working on Office apps for the iPad. Add them up, and they look like a definite change in direction.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Microsoft has started to see that more companies are adopting a “Bring your own device” policy, and there’s no use pretending that iPhones and iPads will go away any time soon, certainly not in the consumer market. To ignore the popularity of the iPad, especially as a device used in meetings and in travel situations, is to simply leave a big pile of money on the table. Macs aren’t usurping the standard Windows/Office/SharePoint company setups as fast as iPads are appearing in employees’ carry bags. iPads can exist in those setups, as Exchange support is built in, and Apple’s iWork suite allows for importing and exporting Office documents. But why not make Office easier to use on iPads, and let those who want a really tight, seamless integration find their way over to a Windows Phone (and, eventually, a Windows 8 tablet?)

Android is a separate matter, rife with open source and licensing issues, and lots of not-so-great blood between Google and Microsoft. Microsoft has an official Hotmail client for Android, but that’s more filling a gap than growing into a new platform.

Let’s open it up here--why do you think Microsoft is making it easier for iPad owners to do more Office-based work on their iPads?

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