January 29th marked an interesting and somewhat surprising day in iOS history. It was the first day that you could get all of the “core” components of Microsoft Office on your iOS device. For twenty years before the 29th, Microsoft Office was only available for Windows and Mac. With Outlook’s arrival, iOS and Android have the honor of being the third and fourth platforms that run Office. In this month’s feature article, we’ll take a look at Outlook for iOS, which comes in a “universal” version that is native to both the iPhone and iPad.
The iOS version is quite attractive and takes its design cues from Outlook 2013 for Windows and Outlook 2014/365 for Mac (The naming on the new Mac Outlook, available only to subscribers to Office 365, is unclear). Once you have downloaded and setup Outlook on your iDevice, you’re presented with two ways to view your email: Focused and Other. These two views differentiate between email that is timely and important (i.e. from real people like those in your contact list) and that email you can review at your leisure (i.e. newsletters and ads). In my month of use, Outlook has proved remarkably correct on separating the wheat from the chafe.
Additionally, Outlook adopts the now-common “swipe” gestures to triage email. If you’re familiar with the recently redesigned Mail app for iOS 7 and above, you know that you can swipe left on a message in Mail and see options for actions to take on that message. Outlook incorporates this functionality so that you can swipe left on a message to archive it (i.e. put in a single storage folder) or swipe right to schedule the message to reappear in your inbox at a time you choose.
One of Outlook’s best features is the fact that everything - contacts, calendar, and mail - are integrated into a single app. Outlook for iOS continues this tradition. At the bottom of the screen is a row of buttons so that you can access your mail, calendar, and contacts, what Outlook calls People, without bouncing in and out of different apps (i.e. Mail then Calendar then Contacts as you would normally on an iDevice). Additionally, Outlook adds a feature unique to its mobile versions - the ability to link Outlook to a variety of cloud storage providers, including iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive, so that you can quickly send attachments from those services via email.
Microsoft has posted an FAQ about its new app, including what services it connects to and what languages it is available in. You need to be running iOS 8 or above to run Outlook.
There are two potential limitations or concerns with the new app. The first is that, in order to use the features like Focus and mail scheduling, Microsoft must filter your email through its servers. If you’re uncomfortable letting Microsoft be an intermediary between your mail provider and you, then avoid the app.
The second limitation is that Outlook, as yet anyway, cannot take advantage of any of the sharing functionality in iOS. By this I mean being able to send an email or schedule a calendar appointment from insider another app. For example, if you’re reading an article in Safari and want to send the link to that story to someone, Safari is able to call the native iOS mail client and let you send an email without leaving Safari. The same is true with, for example, scheduling a calendar appointment from within OpenTable. The burden is really on Microsoft to see how well they can integrate Outlook into iOS via the Share Sheets functionality in iOS 8. Hopefully they will do that.
In either event, Microsoft has been updating Outlook quickly; I believe four releases in February alone. It’s definitely worth a look if you aren’t satisfied with Apple’s default mail, contact, and calendar apps.