Outlook apps, Office for Android round out Microsoft's mobile portfolio

All the major Microsoft productivity apps are available for all the major OSes, but lack of MDM integration and other issues could hinder adoption.

Mobile businesses finally have the full complement of Microsoft productivity apps at their disposal, but there's more work to be done.

Microsoft this week released Outlook apps for Apple iOS and Google Android devices and removed the preview label from Office for Android. For the first time, the company's primary end-user applications -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook -- are now available on all three major operating systems: Windows, iOS and Android.

"It's not about only supporting Windows and Windows devices," said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass.

There are still improvements that Microsoft must make and caveats that businesses should be aware of, however.

Outlook apps lack MDM

A glaring omission in Outlook for iOS and Android is the lack of mobile device management (MDM) integration. Confidential, business-critical data constantly passes through enterprise email systems, and if IT administrators can't secure that information through Outlook, the new apps will be non-starters, said Bryan Barringer, an independent mobile consultant.

"I have to be able to control policies for what I want my users to be able to do or not do," he said.

Microsoft plans to add MDM capabilities in a future release, the company said in a blog post.

In general, the new Outlook apps bear little resemblance to the desktop version in terms of appearance and features. They're actually rebranded versions of Acompli, a mobile email client Microsoft acquired in December.

Users of Microsoft, Google, Apple and Yahoo email services (including Exchange and Google Apps) can access their accounts through the Outlook apps, which also have built-in calendar functionality. Outlook's Focused Inbox feature automatically sorts incoming emails, placing less important messages in the background. And it integrates with cloud storage from Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive for file attachments.

On the downside, Outlook for Android is only a preview release. The follow-up flags that rule many an Outlook user's life on the desktop are significantly less detailed on the iOS and Android versions; users can flag messages for follow-up, but not on a specific date.

Still, the Outlook name should be enough to attract iOS and Android users, Gold said.

"What's important here is not that every bit and byte is working well," he said. "It's that Microsoft has changed strategy."

But businesses don't typically adopt Microsoft products immediately upon release, and that trend will likely continue in this case, Barringer said.

"We're conditioned from an enterprise perspective to wait," he said. "Release 1 is never really good enough for the enterprise."

Microsoft Office for Android limits device support

Microsoft Office for Android tablets comes out of preview mode nearly 10 months after Microsoft released Office for iPad. Like their iOS counterparts, the Android versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are free for users who want to view, edit or create documents for non-commercial use. On tablets with screens larger than 10.1 inches, however, an Office 365 subscription is required.

Commercial users must also have a qualifying Office 365 subscription to edit or create documents. Most companies  already pay for on-premises Office licenses, so the Office 365 requirement is not a deal-breaker, Gold said.

A larger issue could be Microsoft's limited support. The company only supports Office on Android devices with ARM processors and at least 1 GB of RAM, running Android 4.4 KitKat. Devices running Android 5.0 Lollipop can use the apps, but Microsoft will not support them. The company said it plans to add support for Lollipop and Intel-based devices in future updates.

Once support improves, the availability of Office for Android could help boost overall Android adoption among businesses. Whereas Apple has reasonably strong Office alternatives in Pages, Numbers and Keynote for iOS, Android lacked in that area, Gold said.

"This certainly helps the whole enterprise Android push," he said.

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