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Revenue explosion from iPad for Office fails to ignite

Gregg Keizer | Aug. 6, 2014
Contrary to some experts' expectations, Microsoft hasn't been "printing money" since it launched Office for iPad in March.

Contrary to some experts' expectations, Microsoft hasn't been "printing money" since it launched Office for iPad in March.

Although Microsoft has touted the number of downloads of Office for iPad — recently, CEO Satya Nadella claimed 35 million downloads — and trumpeted the growing subscriber base for Office 365, there's no evidence that the apps' release four months ago has unlocked a treasure chest of revenue.

"The additional subscriptions [to Office 365 Home] look like, at most, two or three hundred thousand," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, in a Monday interview. "The exact number is not important. What is, is that it's not a million new users."

Dawson had looked at the increase in subscriptions to the consumer-grade Office 365 plans — dubbed "Home," for $100 annually, and "Personal," for $80 a year — and concluded that there were no signs of a massive surge in the quarter following the March debut of Office for iPad.

Microsoft uses a "freemium" business model to distribute and sell Office for iPad. The Office apps — Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word — can be used by anyone free of charge to view documents, take notes and present slideshows. But to create new content or documents, or edit existing ones on Excel, PowerPoint and Word, customers must have an active subscription to Office 365.

So while the number of downloads was impressive, that figure wasn't indicative of how many had been enticed to subscribe to Office 365 Home or Personal because of the iPad apps' availability.

Dawson based his estimate of an iPad effect on the Office 365 growth rate Microsoft has disclosed. In the first quarter of 2014, before Office for iPad's release, the company added 900,000 subscribers to the Office 365 rolls; in the second quarter, after Office for iPad debuted, the subscriber count increased by 1.2 million, for a difference of 300,000.

Dawson acknowledged his estimate was rough, but stressed that the most important point was that the rolls didn't jump by a massive number.

Some industry and Wall Street analysts had expected a big boost to Microsoft's revenue from Office for iPad.

In January 2013, Bob O'Donnell, then an analyst with IDC, proclaimed, "The day they introduce Office for iOS and Android, they'll start printing money."

Others were bullish, too. In March 2013, Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at MobileTrax, said Microsoft could earn as much as $1.25 billion in the first year from sales of Office on the iPad and other tablets.

Microsoft has reaped considerably less, at least on the consumer side. Even if every one of Dawson's 300,000 subscribed to Office 365 because of Office for iPad, those new subscriptions would have added just $30 million to Microsoft's revenue for the year.


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