Outlook vs. native apps in Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android

Office 2016 has largely unified the Exchange experience on the desktop, but native apps still do better overall on mobile clients

Outlook vs. native apps in Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android
Derek Walter

Microsoft’s two-year-long effort to rework its Outlook applications and server software continued to advance with Monday’s announcement that the software developer is adding the ability to add and edit contacts in Outlook on Apple's iOS.

According to details posted in Microsoft’s Office blog, those same features will also roll out soon to Android. Microsoft redesigned the contact card to show more details and enabled easier calling and messaging with users' contacts. By tapping on a name in messages or events, you can access   phone numbers, email addresses and other details, like Skype IDs, along with your contact’s picture.

Users will also be able to save contacts to the default Contacts app on iOS and Android. This would allow users to see the name of a contact when receiving a call.

The latest move pushes forward with Microsoft's aim to deliver its Office communications tools everywhere: the Mail, Calendar, People (contacts), and Notes components in Outlook.

I also compared OneNote across platforms; it syncs through Office 365 and SharePoint. Microsoft clearly is planning to move users away from Outlook’s basic notes features to OneNote’s, but integration between OneNote and Outlook is nonexistent right now. That’s a symptom of Microsoft’s strategy to have a hodgepodge of clients whose capabilities vary widely as it figures out its long-term client mix, a situation that can bedevil multiplatform organizations.

It may take years for Microsoft to deliver fully on that promise of universal capabilities across all major platforms, but Outlook 2016 is now in decent shape on the Mac and the web. It's also been making slow but steady progress on iOS; Android continues to get the least love. Although none is yet as capable as the Windows version of Outlook, the gap continues to close, if unevenly.

Native clients from Apple, Google, and Samsung also support many Outlook features via their Exchange connections, and for some organizations, a mix of Microsoft and non-Microsoft clients may make sense.

To make sense of the universe of Exchange-compatible clients on the major operating systems, I’ve put together a table that shows the features where differences often remain. That way, you can see what client mix best supports the features you use and which features will thwart a multiplatform policy based on the notion of equal citizenship.

You may be surprised by how capable, for example, the Apple and Samsung clients are on their platforms. They also have better user interfaces than the Microsoft and Google clients, in my opinion. When you look at the capabilities of the Windows Universal “Outlook” apps that come with Windows 10, called simply Mail and Calendar, you’ll also see why any business Windows user needs the full Outlook app over the free limited Universal apps.

The tables below have three major sections: one for all the Outlook 2016 clients, one for the native Apple MacOS and iOS clients, and one for native Android clients from Google and Samsung. You may need to scroll horizontally to see all the columns.

Note: I tested Outlook 2016’s and OneNote 2016’s current versions as of Dec. 20, 2016, on Windows 10 Anniversary Edition (1607) on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4, MacOS Sierra 10.12.2 on a late-2014 Retina iMac 27, iOS 10.2 on an iPhone 7 and an iPad Air 2, Android Nougat 7.1.1 on a Google Pixel XL and a Pixel-C, Android Marshmallow 6.0.1 on a Samsung Galaxy S7, and in the current Chrome, Safari, and Firefox browsers, using an Office 365 E3 account. The native client apps tested were the then-current versions of Apple Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Notes on MacOS and iOS; Google Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts on Android; and Samsung Email, Calendar, and Contacts on Android.

This story, "Outlook vs. native apps in Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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