As with most of their offerings, Apple has decided to be fashionably late to the world of online productivity. We are hearing reports that Apple has opened up a pre-release web-based version of it's iWork software to multiple platforms.
Usually the discussion of productivity and cloud infrastructure revolves around a handful of heavy hitters, among the pile are Lotus Notes, AWS cloud services, Microsoft's Office, and Google with their Google Docs offerings. Historically Apple's productivity and cloud offerings have been met with ire from some users, pleading defenses from fanatics and shrugs from the enterprise, but when Apple makes a move, it's guaranteed to catch a few people's eyes.
Some earlier reports are now taking this news and opportunity, to not only mitigate Google's inroads into classrooms and enterprise but also dig up the ever-aging cliche of Apple taking on Microsoft in yet another product category. Some might go as far as to see this move as an attack on Microsoft's bread and butter, the Office revenue stream or a response to Office for iPad, but I believe it's neither.
Apple sinks the cost of iWorks into their hardware margins these days while they seek to offer it for free. iWorks may be preferred by Apple's key market of consumers, but has yet to make any significant headway in the enterprise market.
Lastly, the move to a web based offering, is an admission that their app based approach isn't fulfilling the increasing demands of their current product users. At best, this is a logical move for Apple consumers. Now that iWork is being ported to iCloud, anyone with an Apple ID username and password can login to iCloud to use these new web-based versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.
It just so happens that these applications are also compatible (to a certain degree) with Microsoft's Office formats. People who own an iPhone, iPad, or Mac can now have access to their documents anytime and from anywhere. This type of fluid accessibility has been offered by Microsoft, Google, and other competitors for years, it was only a matter of time before Apple followed suit.
While Microsoft should maintain a healthy level of observation to any new competition in the productivity arena, some Apple product users could maintain that iWorks was a pleasant substitution to Office on their new Apple device rather than a sought after replacement on their old Windows/Chromebook/Linux tablets or PCs. Mac and iOS users historically haven't made the move from Windows (Android/Chrome/Linux) to Mac and back, thus the clamor for iWorks outside of Apple devices feels a bit mute. Opening up iWorks to the Web is much less a move against Office, but more of a move to continue their ease of use mantra for their current customer base.
With recent moves, like increasing cloud storage offerings, consumer friendly adjustments to licensing models, feature updates to their Office Web apps, and porting their much lauded office apps to two of the biggest mobile platforms, Microsoft has appeared to rise to the changing landscape of productivity.
As always, competitions leads to innovations, and hopefully Apple can spur even more innovation out of the likes of Google and Microsoft, but it remains to be seen what Apple can do to entice non Mac and iOS users to switch from their current cloud/app rich office alternatives.