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Introduction to Outlook for iOS

Jason Rich takes a look at the new Outlook for iOS app and focuses on whether you should consider using it as an alternative to the Calendar, Contacts, and Mail apps that come preinstalled with iOS 8.
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For Windows-based PC users, Microsoft Outlook is a popular tool for managing email, contacts, and scheduling, especially among the millions of Microsoft Office users throughout corporate America. For Mac users, Outlook is also offered as part of the Microsoft Office suite, and offers an alternative to using the Mail, Contacts, and Calendar apps that come preinstalled with the OS X operating system.

As part of Microsoft’s efforts to offer a complete suite of authentic and fully compatible Office applications on the iPhone and iPad, a free and full-featured version of Outlook has recently been made available. It can be downloaded from the App Store. Unlike other Office for iOS applications (including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), a paid subscription to Office 365 is not required to fully utilize Outlook for iOS.

What Outlook Offers to iOS Mobile Device Users

What Microsoft Outlook for iOS offers is a feature-packed, yet intuitive email management application that includes integrated scheduling and contact management, along with the ability to easily access a wide range of attachment files directly from the iPhone or iPad. While this functionality is mostly possible using the Mail, Contacts, and Calendar apps that come preinstalled with iOS 8, the advantage to using Outlook for iOS is that all of these common tasks can be handled from a single app.

For anyone who already relies on Outlook on their PC or Mac, utilizing the iOS edition of Outlook is a no-brainer since all of your Outlook data will automatically sync between all of your computers and now iOS mobile devices when the app is used in conjunction with a OneDrive, Dropbox, Office 365, Outlook.com, iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Microsoft Exchange account.

One task that Outlook for iOS makes easier, for example, is managing your email inbox(es), because this app can be set up to automatically highlight your most important incoming messages and bring them to your attention first. As you’re managing your inbox, a simple finger swipe motion allows you to delete or archive a message, or associate it with your schedule, so that an incoming email will be brought back to your attention at the date and time you specify.

Messages can also be custom-sorted and displayed based on specific criteria. For example, you can view only unread messages, flagged messages, or those messages that have attachments using a single on screen tap. To locate a specific email, the intelligent Search field will help you locate what you’re looking for as soon as you start typing a keyword, name, date, or search phrase, for example.

By keeping tabs on who you communicate with most frequently, Outlook for iOS allows you to focus quickly on messages to and from those people, and prominently display emails, meeting information (events), and files associated with those individuals.

Beyond just handling email more efficiently, Outlook for iOS offers enhanced scheduling and calendar tools, and generates alerts and reminders from within the app as needed. By integrating the email and calendar functionality, Outlook makes it easy to determine time you have free, share that information with colleagues, for example, and more efficiently schedule meetings.

Another useful feature of Outlook when it comes to managing emails is the app’s ability to work with all sorts of email attachments from directly within the app. When using the iPhone or iPad’s pre-installed Mail app, for example, the file types you can add to an outgoing email, or use from an incoming email, is somewhat limited. When composing an email using Outlook, however, any file that’s stored within your Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive account, or within your mailbox, can be used as an attachment and in many cases, viewed or opened.

Getting Outlook for iOS Up and Running

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Outlook for iOS onto your iPhone or iPad, when you launch the app for the first time, tap on the Add An Account button to begin configuring the app to utilize your pre-existing email account(s) and related data.

One at a time, from the Add An Account screen, tap on the button that represents one type of email account you’ll be using with the app. Your options include: Outlook.com, Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, iCloud, or IMAP.

Next, enter the requested email account-specific information. For example, if you opt to add your Yahoo! Mail account details, you’ll be prompted to enter your email address, account password, and a description for the account within three separate fields. Tap on the OK option to continue.

The Outlook for iOS app will verify your account information and set up your email account for use with the app. As this is being done, the app will automatically import your important emails into what’s called the Focused Inbox. Other incoming emails will be placed within an inbox labeled Other. Over time, you can classify incoming emails as they arrive from specific senders, in order to assist Outlook is making your Focused Inbox more personalized, so it contains only the incoming email messages you deem important.

As you’re reviewing your inbox, if you swipe from left to right across a message listing, by default the Schedule option appears. This allows you to set a date and time when you want to return your focus to that incoming message. Meanwhile, if a coworker or client requests a meeting on a specific day, it’s possible to have Outlook analyze your schedule and email them back potential meeting times when you’re available.

Navigating Around the Outlook for iOS App

From the main Outlook for iOS screen on the iPad, along the bottom of the screen are five command icons, which from left to right include: Mail, Calendar, Files, People, and Settings. Tap on the Mail icon to manage your email account(s). Tap on the Calendar option to manage your calendar and schedule. You’ll discover three command tabs along the top of the Calendar screen, labeled Agenda, Day, and Week. These are some of the ways you can display your schedule information within the app.

Tap on the Files icon to access your OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive account, as well as compatible files stored within your mobile device. The first time you use Outlook for iOS and tap on the Files icon, you’ll need to tap on the Add Your OneDrive Account, Add Your Dropbox Account, Add Your Box Account, and/or Add Your Google Drive Account button(s) in order to enter details about your pre-existing cloud-based accounts, so that Outlook can access them.

Based on the type of email account(s) you set up, Outlook for iOS will automatically import your contacts database and scheduling information that’s associated with that online account. The app will not, however, import contacts or events directly from the Contacts or Calendar apps that come preinstalled with iOS 8, unless this data is already associated with content from your compatible account that you’re importing. You can, however, first sync this app-specific content with your online email account, and then have it sync with Outlook. If you’re already using the Windows or Mac version of Outlook, all of your Outlook content will sync automatically if you have Outlook set up to work with a compatible cloud-based service.

Tap on the People command icon to display your contacts database that’s associated with your pre-existing email accounts and/or other versions of Outlook you currently utilize. Upon doing this, along the left side of the screen, an alphabetical listing of your contacts is displayed. By tapping on any contact, their full details will then be displayed on the right side of the screen. The Search field (that’s located in the top-left corner of the People screen) can be used to quickly find any contact in your database using any keyword or search phrase that’s related to that contact.

As you’re looking at a contact’s full details, tap on the Mail, Files, or Events option that’s displayed along the top of the screen in order to see additional Outlook-related content that’s associated with that contact, including files, mail, and events (scheduling information).

By tapping on the Settings icon, it’s possible to add additional, pre-existing email accounts to Outlook for iOS, plus personalize options related to the various features of the app. For example, you can compose and save email signatures by tapping on the Signature option, or pre-set command options associated with swiping left to right (or right to left) when viewing your email inbox.

Final Thoughts...

For current Outlook users who already have all of their essential email, contacts, and calendar data integrated with this popular software, adding Outlook for iOS to your iPhone or iPad and being able to access all of your Outlook-related content without having to first import and sync it with the Contacts, Calendar, and/or Mail apps, will be a welcome change in the way you access, view, and manage information using your iOS mobile device.

Likewise, if you’re already using an online-based email, scheduling, and contact management application that is supported by Outlook for iOS, such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, iCloud, Microsoft Exchange, and/or Outlook.com, initially importing your existing data into Outlook for iOS will be an automated and straightforward process.

With the exception of composing outgoing mails or adding events (appointments) to your Outlook database, what you’ll discover is that the ability to create or compose new content within the Outlook for iOS app, particularly when it comes to managing contacts, is somewhat limited. The app relies more on pre-existing data and content that’s imported.

If you’re not already utilizing Outlook on your PC or Mac, nor using one of Outlook’s compatible email services, using just Outlook for iOS probably won’t offer you any significant advantages over using the Contacts, Calendar, and Mail apps that come preinstalled with iOS 8, especially if you are already using the same apps on your Mac and sync your app-specific data via iCloud.

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