Microsoft Outlook app – the contrarian view

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There’s plenty of uncritical hype about the Outlook apps for Apple and Android devices that don’t mention the two big downsides of the Microsoft Outlook app.

Single app = Single view

In Outlook for Windows or Mac you can open up many different views.  One each for the Inbox, Calendar and Contacts plus other windows for whatever you like.

You can do that already with iPhone, iPad or Android because there are separate email, calendar and contacts apps.  It’s easy to switch between those apps using the methods available in iOS or Android systems.

But you can’t quickly switch with the Outlook app because it’s a single app and all apps have a single view.  To switch between, say, Inbox and Contacts in the Outlook app you have to tap on the menu bar then the People option.

That’s not too bad but Outlook app reverts to its default view when you switch.  If you’re looking at a specific contact, then switch to Calendar and then back to People, the contact you were looking at is gone in favor of the default contacts view.  It’s the same if you’re looking at an email or appointment – Outlook ‘forgets’ where you are when you switch to another part of the app.

All that slows things down a lot.  It’s easily avoidable by using the Mail, Calendar and Contacts apps supplied with your device and will sync with cloud storage.

If Microsoft hadn’t been in such a rush, they would have produced a trio of Outlook apps; Mail, Calendar and People.  Then users could switch between the apps as the operating system designers intended.  It’s what Microsoft itself has done with the Windows app equivalents of Outlook.

Security and Privacy hole

Since the first release of the Outlook app, Microsoft has taken steps to address some of the security concerns.   However they’ve not fixed the major, and for many, deal-breaking problem with the Microsoft Outlook app.

The Outlook app sends all your mail, calendar and contacts data through Microsoft’s own servers.  That includes your personal account login and password!

Normal apps connect directly to the mail/data storage server.  That’s what you’d expect and it’s what Microsoft itself does.  Outlook for Windows/Mac, the Mail etc apps in Windows 8 & 10, Windows Phone have all worked for years by direct connection to the mail system you choose.

But not the Outlook app.  Despite appearances, your login details are saved on a Microsoft server and then used to get your data and pass it along to your device.

Microsoft’s only change in this critical area is to move the ‘middle man’ servers from Amazon to their own machines.  That’s not a fix, it’s a change of address.

This isn’t a secret, though you have to dig deep to find the disclosure on the Acompli web site (not Microsoft.com).  The privacy policy has all the usual assurances, which Microsoft has a spotty record of honoring.  The privacy policy counts for nothing if Microsoft receives a request for information from a government.  It seem likely that a log of all messages/data going through the Outlook app servers ends up with the US government.

That’s just for starters ….

There’s plenty of other reasons to avoid the Outlook app.

The main one is the ‘no edit’ People / Contacts view.  At least now you can see more contact details (originally it was email address only). But you can’t edit an existing contact let alone add a new one.

The idea of automatically sorting your emails has been around for years and the ‘Focused Inbox’ might work for you.  But many people find it a nuisance, hiding messages they need to see and consistently ‘focusing’ on messages they don’t.  These attempts at mail management are better done on the desktop or server where there’s more software power and configurability.

Why?

So why did Microsoft make their Outlook app in such a clumsy and insecure way?  Simple – it was easy and cheap.  The core Outlook app came from a startup, Acompli, bought by Microsoft.  It was simple to rebadge the app as ‘Outlook’ and push it out the door.

Over the last few months, Microsoft has feverishly worked to fix the app, sort of.  The connections are more stable, the Contacts/People feature has been improved a tiny fraction and many other changes.

But the core problems haven’t been addressed and aren’t likely to be.  For the moment, Microsoft is committed to the Outlook app for Apple and Android.

You choose

We’d like to love the Outlook app but it’s really so limited and insecure that it’s impossible.

The mail/calendar/contact apps that come with Apple or Android devices do a good job.  They might not be quite as fancy but they are more secure, more powerful, easier to work with and better suited to devices than the Microsoft Outlook app.

Don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything if you drop the Outlook app and use other methods.


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