Hands on with Microsoft’s new Outlook for iOS

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Microsoft quietly released Outlook for Mobile this week. It was a little weird as there were no leaks or even a hint at last week’s Window’s event. While I haven’t been overly happy with Outlook on my Mac, I like it on Windows. Exchange and Outlook are so deeply rooted in enterprise IT it’s almost impossible to segregate yourself from that platform. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this product.

So far, I’m very happy with it and it has become my mail client of choice. Since it’s available for both iOS and Android, for the sake of simplicity I’m going to call it Outlook for Mobile in this article to differentiate from Outlook for a desktop OS.

The problems with Mail.app

The default Mail app on iOS does the bare minimum in terms of email handling. Sure, I can send and receive emails, but Mail.app has always been more of triage tool and a quick way to reply to emails as opposed to a good way to process them. For starters, how it handles attachments is abysmal. It shocks me to think of how far we’ve come in some ways with iOS with new features like extensions, but how far we still have to go. Mail.app still won’t allow you to attach a file from a cloud storage service to an email.

This next complaint isn’t really directed at the Mail app, but an entire career that’s revolved around Outlook has trained me that when I’m looking through my work email, that the email client is also where I’ll get information about my calendar. There have been countless times I’ve been in Mail.app answering work emails and looked for a calendar icon to check my schedule. Again, this is more muscle memory, but it’s something I’ve missed.

Outlook to the rescue

There are many things I love about the new Microsoft. Even the freemium versions of Office have been great. With basic editing free, I no longer feel like Microsoft is beating me up for my lunch money. This trend continues with Outlook as it doesn’t even seem to care if you have an Office 365 account.

Outlook for Mobile will connect to most major email providers. Currently, it will not connect to a custom IMAP provider. This is not a big deal for me as all my personal domain email is on Google Apps anyway. I’m also forwarding all of them to one Gmail address anyway – it was just easier to have one set place to check all my mail. Outlook for Mobile also has a Focused Inbox. This is similar to the Primary view in Gmail. It cuts out a lot of garbage I get in my email, especially the stuff that ends up in Social and Promotions. Generally speaking, the emails in the Focused Inbox are emails I want to read.

A huge part of the email experience is sending attachments. I’ll often get an email from someone requesting a file. With Mail.app, I’d have to go dig out the file and try to an email it from the service’s app. If I’m on my desktop, it’s not a problem. Outlook for Mobile will let you simply reply to the email and select an attachment from either Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. You can also save attachments to these services, too.

This is such a huge game changer on iOS. I can’t believe Apple still doesn’t support email attachments very well. I can only hope iOS 9 will include this very basic feature.

Outlook for Mobile’s Calendering

There is also a button to view your calendar within Outlook for Mobile. As you’d expect this brings up the calendars for all connected accounts. While you can create accounts, I noticed connected to my work email account it could not bring up the Free\Busy status for attendees. I think this is intentional since there is an option to email people to see when they are available. This is a feature I’d like to see added.

The calendar views are also limited. I can view a list of upcoming appointments, a day’s worth, or if I rotate my phone the next three days. On the iPad, I can see a full week, but it’s a full week in advance; not the current week. For example if I look at it on a Friday it will show appointments until the next Friday. On either device, I cannot get a month view.

Final thoughts

Outlook for Mobile looks fantastic. The fonts are nice and clean and look amazing. I love I can finally reply to a message and attach a file without needing to jump between apps. My complaints so far are limited to the calendar, but that’s not the end of the world. It’s not like there aren’t other ways to view my calendar on my devices.

Overall, this is an extremely impressive initial release from Microsoft.

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