Microsoft Sees Software Possibilities For iPhone

With the exception of Apple, Microsoft makes more software for the Mac than any other vendor.

Microsoft plans to offer software for the iPhone, saying in a recent interview that developers are considering a variety of possibilities that include offering Office functionality on Apple's smart phone.

Microsoft's focus on the iPhone stems from Apple's release of a software development kit this month. The iPhone SDK, released in beta, gives developers access to the same tools Apple developers use for building applications that run on the iPhone's Max OS X-based operating system.

In an interview with Fortune magazine, published online Tuesday, Tom Gibbons, corporate VP of Microsoft's Specialized Devices and Applications Group, said the software maker was looking closely at the SDK and considering its options.

"It's really important for us to understand what we can bring to the iPhone," Gibbons told the magazine. "To the extent that Mac Office customers have functionality that they need in that environment, we're actually in the process of trying to understand that now."

With the exception of Apple, Microsoft makes more software for the Mac than any other vendor. Among its most popular offerings is its Office suite for the Mac.

"We do have experience with that environment, and that gives us confidence to be able to do something," Gibbons told Fortune. "The key question is, what is the value that we need to bring? We're still getting comfortable with the SDK, right? It's just come out. So we had a guess as to what feasibility would be like, now we'll really get our head wrapped around that,"

Apple plans to release the final version of SDK in June, along with new versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch operating systems. The latter gadget contains the same platform as the iPhone, minus the cellular component. AT&T is the exclusive cellular provider of the iPhone.

One element of the iPhone upgrade that should prove helpful to Microsoft is support for the software maker's Exchange e-mail server. Earlier this year, Apple said it licensed Microsoft's ActiveSync protocol for connecting the iPhone's e-mail client directly to an Exchange server. As a result, e-mail, calendaring and contact items can be pushed directly to the smart phone.

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