WTF? Microsoft's senseless Outlook app for iPads and iPhones

The Office 365-only Exchange/OWA client for iOS again shows how bad Microsoft is at mobile

Microsoft's new OWA email clients for iPhone and for iPad really should be named WTF for iOS. The Outlook Web Access client works only with Office 365 email accounts, meaning you need a business-level Office 365 subscription, and it offers very few capabilities: no file attachments (not even via Microsoft's own SkyDrive cloud service, for which there is an iOS app), no text formatting, no threading, no support for other email (regular Exchange is shut out as well). Ironically, you can add attachments if you use Outlook Web Access Webmail in Safari -- but not in the OWA app itself.

Microsoft's Outlook email app for iOS simply makes no sense

Given that you can just as easily get your Outlook/Exchange or Office 365 email from the native Apple Mail client, with its much richer capabilities (including S/MIME encryption for security-conscious enterprises), I can't think of a valid reason for Microsoft to deliver this fundamentally useless product. If Microsoft really believes it can sell Office 365 or the new Windows 8/Phone Metro UI by providing this kind of junkware to iOS users, Microsoft is doomed to die -- fast. It's a true WTF product.

[ Office for the iPhone: A pathetically bad app. • Office on the iPad: Finally, a usable Web version. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

What's sad is that there's actually a place for a second email client in iOS. Apple's Mail is quite capable, allowing you to insert attachments from your photo library, as well as send emails with attachment initiated by other apps. You can format text, work with message threads, even resend messages. But if you use an iPhone or iPad for both personal and work purposes, having a separate email client for both situations makes sense -- it's a common strategy on work and home PCs, for example.

There are a bunch of email apps for iOS that can serve as a second client to achieve that separation; Mailbox (for Gmail only) and the iPad-only Incredimail (for Gmail, Yahoo, and many other IMAP-based services) are current darlings of the tech press. They support attachments from your photo library (Mailbox also can get attachments from Dropbox), and they allow the kind of text formatting you'd expect. But they're limited to specific email protocols, and of course they can't be used to send attachments from other apps (Apple reserves that ability for its own Mail), so they aren't flexible enough.

They also lack a feature that OWA brings to the table: the ability to set a password for the email app. That way, you could not only separate your business and personal email, but let your kid (or boss) use your iOS device without worrying that the email isn't accessible. There is the Exchange-only $20 NitroDesk TouchDown client, which doesn't let you send attachments but can have its own password.

Microsoft is terrible at mobile. After three years, Windows Phone remains the least capable and least securable of the major smartphone platforms. Windows Phone's so-called Office app is a sad joke, less capable than everything else on the market. Microsoft's version of Office for the iPhone -- again, tied to Office 365 -- foolishly brought that travesty to iOS.

But OWA for iOS is even worse. Not only is it substandard in the typical Microsoft way, it's unnecessary. At least with Office for iPhone, you could argue there's some value in connecting to a corporate Office 365 environment from an iPhone in a pinch, rather than rely on third-party tools that might not have file access. There's no such rationale for OWA for iOS.

WTF, indeed.

This article, "WTF? Microsoft's senseless Outlook app for iPads and iPhones," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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