Outlook for iPad

Last month Microsoft released Outlook for iPad (based on Acompli, an app it has previously purchased). Since the company I work for uses Exchange 2013, I was able to take advantage of this and try it out. The interface is a breath of fresh air for anyone, like me who is stuck using Outlook 2013’s confusing and dated interface. My favourite feature is the ‘Focused’ inbox with automatically shows you a view of messages deemed important. Newsletters, alerts and other noise are quietly hidden away so you only get to see emails from real people. The ‘other’ inbox is only a swipe away, and the focused view is only that, a view; so it won’t have any effect on your desktop email view. This is surprisingly accurate and didn’t require much training. Replying and managing email is pleasant, with the ability to swipe to archive or flag email quickly.

Outside of the corporate word, the app supports Outlook.com, Gmail and other well-known email providers. I like to keep work and personal email separate, so I haven’t tried these.

 

Attachments

Another surprising feature of Outlook for iPad is the ability to connect to cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive 1. A lot of network administrators will loose sleep over this, but ultimately it’s a step forward – especially for users of Office 365 who will be able to access all of their ‘OneDrive for Business’ files and attach them to emails wherever they happen to be.

A week point however is the lack of a system extension, so it’s not possible to share a link from Safari to Outlook, or send and document directly from Word for iPad. I’m sure this is on the way, but I do think it should have been included in the initial version.

 

Calendar

The calendar seems quite basic. It doesn’t seem to do a great job of letting me see other invitees ‘free/busy’ information (the main benefit of using the desktop version of Outlook), but it’s serviceable for a version 1.0 release. It’s quite buggy, for example, I tried to update an appointment start and end date, but it just didn’t work. No crash, no error message, it just didn’t do anything. I’m sure Microsoft’s latest purchase, Sunrise indicates Microsoft is putting some thought into its calendaring strategy, and so major improvements should be on the way. I’m not sure about the unified app approach – I’ve always wished Outlook on the PC were separate applications instead of one big conglomerate (especially since it’s still full of model dialog boxes! I digress…) – separate apps seems especially fitting for iOS, and I can only think it’s a branding decision to go with one big ‘Outlook’ app on iOS.

 

Security Concerns?

The first release had no security requirements at all, so if your system administrator had mandated users have a passcode on their device, Outlook would ignore it. This has been resolved, though unfortunately it requires you set a PIN at a system level on the device, rather than just for the app (as had been the case with the pervious OWA app). I liked the fact I could have more lax security on my personal device (e.g. ‘Ask me for a PIN after 1 hour’) while the app could be much more strict (‘ask me for a pin after 5 minutes’) – this worked in the old OWA app, but not anymore; which is a major disappointment. Some system administrators might lament the fact the then app will store your emails on Amazon’s AWS servers (soon to be Azure, I have to believe), but it does allow the app to do lots of cloud processing that ultimately benefits users. The fact that Microsoft just released the app without any warning and a way to block the app is probably the bigger concern in my views, as I can understand organisations who have various security practises (ISO et al) not being very happy about being caught off-guard like this.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Outlook for iPad solidifies the iPad as a tool for business and makes me think that one day, many users will be able to use an iPad (or similar device) exclusively at work.

It’s missing some key features at the moment (you can’t set your ‘Out of Office’), but I’m certain they will come in time. The bigger question is whether tablet-devices will ever replace traditional PCs in the workplace. This is probably the subject of a future blog post, but with Outlook, Office and the cloud it’s becoming an increasing possibility. I personally use Outlook for iPad as more of a sidekick device than a laptop replacement, but then my job does involve using a lot of traditional desktop software such as Visual Studio, or macro-enabled spreadsheets. That said, for many enterprise users, an iPad with a decent hardware keyboard is now a viable alternative, if not for the small screen size.

 

 

 

1. Great to see Microsoft embracing interoperability, in contrast to Google, who refuse to support Windows Phone.

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Apple Podcasts Update – Now Works!

Apple have finally updated their Podcasts App, and the good news is that it now works brilliantly. Before it used to crash, downloads would fail to start, and synchronisation between devices wouldn't always work. The animated cassette player has also been removed, while I quite liked the animating, the app is much more intuitive without it (more akin to the original iPod App in iOS) and that's got to be a good thing. The best feature of this app is by far the synchronisation of positions between devices. It mean you can listen to a show on your iPad at home in the kitchen, and when you go to the gym later on it has remembered where you got to.

The one thing the app is missing is the ability to download podcasts automatically without opening the app. iOS really could do with an API that allows apps to schedule in long, power-hungry tasks to be performed when the device is plugged in and idle.

 

Search 'Podcasts' in the store.

 

5 iPad Power User Tips

Here are 5 things you may not have known about your iPad.

Go direct to notifications from the Lock Screen

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You can slide individual notifications to open the associated app instantly. Not very discoverable, but very useful!

Keep folders in the Dock

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Access your favourite apps from any of the home screens by keeping a folder in the dock.

Limit what your friends can see or do

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Lending your iPad out to someone? With “Guided Access” you can limit users to only one app, and even specify which parts of the screen will respond to touches. You simply triple-click the Home-button and enter your PIN to return to normal. Find this under “General > Accessibility”

Remind yourself where that app is

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Spotlight on iOS leaves a lot to be desired for when searching for apps. Thankfully it will tell you which folder an app is in, if any. Just check the column on the right – if there’s no folder mentioned, then it’s not in one.

Give presentations with a projector

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The iPad, along with Apple’s Keynote app can be used to give presentations. With the Apple VGA Adapter (or the HDMI adapter) you can display your slides on the projector, and view your presentation notes on the iPad’s screen. With the iPad 2 and above you can also display any app on the TV/projector.

The Cult of Over-Protection

On my holidays this year I’ve noticed a large number of people donning iPads. In the pub, on the train, on the ferry and even sat on the beach. Like it was intended to do, the iPad is finding its way into places no one would ever imaged a laptop would. One thing did strike me though, and that is how nearly every iPad I’ve seen out and about is parcelled up in a protective case (one person who sat opposite to me proceed to get their iPad out of one case, only for it to be inside another).

Yes, I get that these things aren’t cheap, but they’re also not as fragile as most people think. Why pay all that money for iconic design if you’re not going to ever see it? This is exactly the thinking behind the Smart Cover, which protects the screen while not in use without sacrificing the slimness and design.

A Popup Is Still A Popup

Remember the good old days of popups on the web? Back in the late nineties before all of the major browsers employed popup blockers, it was common for web site owners to bombard their users with a terrible experience of having to dismiss a popup before being able to use the web site. Geocities was famous for forcing these popups onto its users pages as part of its ill-fated revenue model.

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Not an uncommon sight back in 1999 (source)

Like everything eventually, popups are back in fashion. This time they’ve manifested as inline DIV tags that bypass popup blockers. Don’t be convinced by the transparent background – having to dismiss a popup before you can browse a site is a still a horrid user experience.

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What were they thinking? This one disappears by itself, but not all do this.

I understand sites need to make money from advertising. My worry is that the more obtrusive advertisements become, the more likely users will be pushed to install ad-blockers, and then they wont see any advertisements at all.