Still waiting for a better Skydrive

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Apple and Microsoft arguing about Skydrive and Office for iPad and iPhone

TheNextWeb is reporting that Apple has rejected Microsoft’s update to the Skydrive app for iOS devices (iPhone and iPad).

Skydrive is Microsoft and Office’s preferred way to share documents between devices. The current Skydrive app hasn’t been updated for some time and lacks essential features, especially better offline access and sync.

It’s not a technology argument, naturally it’s about money. Apple takes 30% of the revenue not just from app sales but any sales that originated on an Apple app. In Microsoft’s case that would mean paying 30% not just on an initial Skydrive paid upgrade but any future payment by that customer even if the later sales didn’t go via an Apple device.

You can imagine what that would cost Microsoft as they try to switch people to Office 365 subscriptions. Redmond doesn’t want to give Apple a 30% cut on an ongoing subscription stream.

Apple, not being completely stupid, wants a large slice of the income Microsoft will get from Office 365 subscriptions sold via their devices.

Apple’s hard line is understandable but also shows the power shift between the two big players. Over a decade ago Microsoft had the upper hand and agreed to keep Apple hardware viable for businesses by continuing to develop Office for Mac. Now Apple controls a hardware platform that Microsoft needs to keep its effective monopoly on office software.

While it would be best for Microsoft to be able to sell Skydrive and Office 365 services directly from Apple apps, there is a viable alternative. Microsoft could offer the Skydrive and Office for iOS as free apps with upgrades in service sold via their web site. As long as there’s no sales links in the Apple apps, Microsoft does have to pay 30% off the top.

Plenty of apps and services already do this. Dropbox, Pandora plus Microsoft’s own Skype all have free apps for iPhone and iPad; if you want enhanced features like additional space you can get that by going to the web site and paying. Magazine subscribers can get the iPad edition after paying the publisher directly. There’s no ‘buy this’ button in the app.

Apparently Apple has refused to let Microsoft do this for Skydrive and a future Office for iOS. If so, it’s hard to reconcile Apple’s “rules are rules” stance when plenty of existing apps and services bypass their payment gateway.

Perhaps Microsoft feels having that button is essential to getting subscribers to Office 365?

Meantime, we’re not sure that the iOS Skydrive app is worth waiting for. The Windows 8 app, especially on Windows RT devices, is lame and almost devoid of useful features. If Microsoft can’t get Skydrive working well on their own OS, what hope is there for Apple users?

Not for the first time, we’d like to see Microsoft focus more efforts on making their products truly compelling. If they did that then Apple would have little choice but to bow to customer demand.

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