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If Office comes to Android, will anyone want it?

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A help-wanted ad sparks talk of an Android port, but is Android big in the enterprise?

The sleuths over at The Verge reported last week that Microsoft is looking for beta testers for the pre-release versions of Office for Android. Despite a slow holiday week, the news traveled pretty fast. If you have an Android tablet, you can sign up at the SharePoint website for recruiting testers.

At first glance, a port of Office to Android tablets makes sense. Android is the dominant mobile platform due to its many licensees (or, as I like to call them, Samsung and everyone else). However, you have to look behind the numbers to see the real potential and question whether it's a good idea.

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The reason is obvious: Android is a free OS given away to anyone who will use it, and almost anyone will these days. There are a lot of cheap handsets on the market, especially in emerging nations, using Android. That's how Google got such ubiquity.

Apple's base may be much smaller, but its users spend much more money than Android users. Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt illustrated this in a recent article, noting that Apple users spend four times as much money on apps as Android users. And, he notes, this creates a vicious cycle of developers avoiding Android if they don't think they will make money on the platform.

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And despite Apple's shunning of the enterprise until recently, it's the device of choice for the enterprise. A June 2013 activation report from mobile software maker Good Technology found 75% of the mobile activations at Good's Fortune 500 clients were for iOS devices. Need more proof? Online ad firm Chitika said iPads accounted for 77% of Web traffic in the second quarter of 2014. Samsung was in second place with 8.3% percent. Microsoft had just 1.6% of traffic.

Seeking Alpha notes that the release of Office for Android might cripple whatever sales there already are for Windows 8 tablets. The exclusive availability of full native Office apps on the Windows Surface was supposed to be a major selling point for the tablets. What incentive is there for a Galaxy Tab user to shift to the Surface now?

I'm tempted to say that supporting Android is a sign of Satya Nadella's pragmatism, but I'm tempered by the fact that these ports aren't done in a weekend and the project might very well have been greenlit by Steve Ballmer. Whoever approved the project, it doesn't matter. It's a good move to cover all the bases, but given Android's non-presence in the U.S. enterprise, I don't expect it will set the world on fire, either.

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