Microsoft Makes Outlook Mobile Apps More Enterprise-Friendly

Mere weeks after release, Microsoft beefs up Outlook's security and management capabilities on iOS and Android to help spur adoption by enterprises.

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Microsoft's Outlook apps for iOS and Android have been out only for a couple of weeks, but the company is already issuing updates to help spur adoption by business users. The apps are based on Acompli, which the software giant acquired on Dec. 1.

Wasting little time, Microsoft has issued updates to the apps that include two new IT controls and a smattering of user-centric features, revealed the Office Team in a Feb. 17 announcement. Key among them is password enforcement for organizations that use Exchange ActiveSync, the company's mobile email, contacts and calendar synchronization offering.

"If your company email policy requires that devices have a password in order to sync mail, Outlook will enforce this at the device level," stated Microsoft in a blog post. Slight differences in how Apple and Google manage passcodes and encryption for their respective mobile operating systems mean a slightly different setup for iPhone versus Android smartphone users.

For example, if a passcode is not set on an iOS device, the Outlook app will prompt users to set one up. "Until the passcode is setup, the user will be unable to access Outlook," said Microsoft. Also of note, iOS (8.0 or later) devices also ship with built-in encryption, meaning that once a passcode is set, Outlook data is protected whether or not an organization's policies call for encryption.

On Android, the app leverages Google's expansive set of device security options.

In addition to enforcing Android's screen lock rules, the OS allows "Outlook to honor additional Office 365 and Exchange policies regarding password length and complexity requirements and the number of allowable screen-unlock attempts before wiping the phone," stated Microsoft. A step-by-step setup process also guides users through the process and encourages them to implement storage encryption to help keep Outlook data safe.

Remotely wiping Outlook data is a faster process, occurring "within seconds," boasted the company. "The Outlook app will reset and Outlook email, calendar, contacts and files data will be removed from the device, as well as from Outlook's cloud components." Personal user data remains unaffected during the purge.

More IT-focused features are on the way, Microsoft said. Future updates will feature support for Intune, the company's cloud-based mobile device management (MDM) offering. Microsoft also plans to transition the app's cloud component from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to its own Azure cloud computing platform.

In addition, the app now supports mail sync via the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) standard, as well as its IDLE feature for "push-like behavior" and real-time notifications. A new conversation view toggle for iOS allows users to group email chains together. An Android version of the feature is in the works, said Microsoft.

Outlook for Android gains the iOS version's customizable swipe gestures. "You can swipe right or left to take actions like archive, delete, move, flag, mark as read/unread or schedule," stated the company. "Unlike other email apps, Outlook lets you personalize these swipe gestures to match your unique email habits." Users of both versions can now set up destination folders for their swipe gestures at any time after the initial setup.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...