Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Could Outlook now be the most Important App on your iPhone?

By Vern Weitzman

Outlook for iOS Makes the iPhone Even Better

I used a BlackBerry for 11 years before I switched to an iPhone.  BlackBerry lost the battle to iPhone but they have always had bleeding edge Email capabilities on their smartphones.

I would have switched to iPhone even sooner had the iOS email application been a little more robust. I started using the first iPad in 2009 with iOS 5.0 and the mail app hasn’t significantly changed since then.  On the other hand, the iOS email app had no bells and whistles and almost anyone can learn how to use it in just a few minutes.  

Outlook focused inbox with icon bar at the bottom
With that simplicity came inconvenience. Some things just take too many steps and now that I look back at it, the iOS email app, it has been the least pleasurable part of my iPad and iPhone experience.

With the combination of my iPhone6 and the new Outlook app from Microsoft, I feel like I have moved a few steps forward.

iOS Outlook Email Setup

A conventional installation of iOS email requires the user to step backwards out of Settings in order to launch the Apple mail client to complete the setup. In contrast, the Outlook app enables setup from the app itself, and immediately afterward displays the inbox.

Using iOS Outlook EMail

If you know how to use the standard iOS email app, you already know how to use Outlook and will quickly see there are several improvements.

First, there is a focused inbox feature. Outlook figures out the most likely messages you need to focus on and displays exactly those messages. You can change the filter to see the other messages, or to see all messages.

As in iOS email, you can swipe left on the message list to delete an item.  A big selling point in Outlook is the ability to swipe right to schedule a message reading later. For example, I can schedule a message to reappear at the top of my inbox in a few hours, or tomorrow.  You can redefine swipe right to Archive, Delete, Move, Mark as Unread, or set the Outlook Flag.

Outlook inbox iphone app
Message and Thread View
The particular way this version of Outlook can organize by thread makes is wickedly simple.  The message opens and the app shows the new message, and a preview of the prior message (even if was the message was in your sent items).  You can even scroll up to see all of the historical messages in the thread.

Another welcome capability is to be able to instantly view your folder hierarchy.  My mailbox is over 15 years old and I have a lot of folders.  You can get to specific folders in iOS email but it takes a lot of scrolling and a lot of clicks just to get to your sent items.  When you click the menu icon on iPhone Outlook, the hierarchy appears instantly and you can zoom in effortlessly.

Outlook Calendar

When reading an email with the iOS mail app, it takes a few too many steps to check my calendar. For example, hit the home button, find the calendar app, futz with the view, get the information, click the home button to go back to email, launch the mail app again and hopefully still remember why you exited the email app in the first place.
Outlook for iOS Calendar View
The new Outlook App saves time because switching “email to calendar” requires just one touch at the bottom of the screen. If you frequently need to view your calendar from your iPhone, this is a killer feature.

The calendar itself is also more helpful to me than the stock iOS calendar app. It gives me a clear view of my meetings in agenda format.  In my world, I get the maximum amount of information in a single screen.

Another huge deal for me is the attachment handling.  The iOS email app only gives you the option to open an attachment in specific apps. With Outlook, I can easily save attachments to Google Drive and open them more easily.  It has also been incredibly useful to be able to attach any file from Google Drive. If a customer needs a PDF or I need to send a spreadsheet, I can do it while on the road.

Another satisfying Outlook capability is a single application to manage email, calendar, and attachments.  My stress level for dealing with email out of the office has diminished.

One thing I do not like is what happens after I delete a message. The Outlook app doesn’t display any message at all. This slows me down.  I can’t imagine the reason to place the user in a black hole until they specifically select another message.  I just want the app to go to the next message. I’d really like Outlook to figure out which way I read my email and determine if I am going oldest to newest or vice versa. (The iOS app does this. )

Another item on my wish list is to be able get a full contact view from the address book. Right now, you can only see an email address and compose messages from the People tab. Being able to view and dial phone numbers would be very useful.

Apple has done so many things right on iOS and the latest iPhones. I can’t imagine switching to any other device. However, enterprise applications such as a mobile EMail client on Microsoft Exchange Server are used constantly throughout my business day.   

Like many other users, I need added functionality to improve productivity. The Outlook App for iOS is step in that direction.

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