What 30 million people already know about Microsoft Outlook on iOS and Android

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Credit: Microsoft

This is one hot app, with some brand new features available. Yep, I am really late to the party.

I guess it takes me a little while to figure these things out.

Nine months ago, shortly after the CES trade show in Las Vegas, Microsoft made quite a splash by offering an iOS and Android version of the Outlook app for the first time. It seemed to have promise, since it was trimmed down, lean and mean, and obviously a new direction for the Redmond tech giant landing on Apple turf. (The phrase “when pigs fly” came to mind.)

Call me a curmudgeon (and some people do) but I had some misgivings about the app. For starters, it was a 1.0 release. That's never a good sign. I tend to use Gmail and Chrome on my iPhone, which is the best of both worlds (a bit of Android and a bit of Apple). The last time I really relied on Outlook for any real productivity work with email and scheduling, the Minnesota Vikings were a front-runner in the NFL and Cris Carter was on the field and not behind a microphone. (Maybe it is ironic timing that the Vikings are actually doing OK this season so far and haven’t imploded yet.)

For me, Outlook is a bit cringe-worthy. I have 100,000 archived messages in Gmail. I never delete anything. I’m using up about 50GB of Gmail storage right now. The last time I tried to use Microsoft Outlook for the desktop, the incoming messages broke the app in about 14 seconds. (I know you can tweak the settings and only load new messages, but that never worked for me. They just kept loading. If you know how to get it to work, feel free to let me know.) Plus, Outlook is just old tech. Even the browser-based version of Outlook, which I use occasionally, tends to run slow.

The iOS and Android app seems to be cut from a completely different cloth, though. Yesterday, Microsoft released a new version that uses a fresh design, especially for the Calendar.

I was surprised at how smooth everything worked on my iPhone. I added my Gmail account and in two seconds I had about 12 emails in my inbox. The app uses two buckets by default--Focused and Other. In Other, I had a bunch of unnecessary and annoying email that isn’t worth a dime. Great! I swiped from the left and saw my Gmail labels, not any personal folders. Whew, thank you. The Calendar tab at the bottom of the app borrows some design cues from Sunrise, the company Microsoft acquired in February. (The blog post about all of this says they are “friends” which is one way to look at acquisitions.)

It’s amazingly useful. The scheduler uses a lot of color coding and grays out information you don't need. One meeting showed the conference call number for a meeting and, with quick color coding, who had accepted or not accepted yet. I like how you can drag down on the main week view and see the full month, but still see the text list of meetings for the day. In my email, there's a handy swipe-right option that lets me schedule a meeting quickly. You can select “in a few hours” to set it up.

What I’m seeing here is the reason 30 million people are actively using this app, according to Microsoft. It works. I like it better than the Gmail app. It seems to be a sign of things to come -- who knows, maybe an Edge browser for iOS is in the works.

The only small gripe here is that Android users have to wait a few more weeks for the update. It’s probably going to be just as hot on that platform as it is on my iPhone.

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