What if the good Outlook ran on smartphones?
The desktop version of Microsoft Outlook has always been pretty much the most powerful personal information and email management program around. This is the THE software that most employees in most businesses have open and running at all times. If you’re a blogger that swears by Gmail or an employee who’s business has switched to Google Docs, you’re missing out on some serious functionality that makes life so much easier especially when paired with Microsoft Exchange server of Office 365 Business (if you know what you’re doing). We’re talking about conditionally formatted email listings, custom views, categorizing everything, powerful rules, flags with reminders that show up in your tasks, customizable quick actions and programmable macros that can do just about anything. You’ve even got sticky notes, journals, robust contact management, and company-wide public folders.
The problem is, Microsoft never made a proper mobile version of this! Yeah, okay, Microsoft bought Acompli for iOS and Android and renamed that email program as Outlook, but… come on. It’s not even close.
Back in the 90’s it was acceptable for Microsoft (and Palm, Blackberry, etc.) to be releasing simple email, contact, calendar, tasks, and notes applications on their mobile PDA and Smartphone software because back then the market was fresh. Nobody thought people were going to use their smartphones for real work, so you didn’t need that much functionality. Well, it turns out in 2016 EVERYBODY uses their smartphones for work and all the email & personal information programs are still pretty crappy. (After over 15 years, mobile email still sucks.)
The desktop version of Outlook hasn’t stood still though and today it actually has a pretty decent touch-friendly interface on Windows tablets. It nicely adjusts its window size to small portrait orientations, large landscape orientations and everything in between. I can easily imagine it being responsive enough to work on a phone! So I will (imagine it.)
In real life, Outlook 2016 doesn’t scale down quite like this. The Office Ribbon stays at the top, but on a phone, it really belongs at the bottom where your fingers can reach it. Okay, yes that interface looks awfully dense and packed with buttons on the 5.2″ Lumia 950 screen. Many sections of the ribbon are compressed into smaller sub-menus that lose their touch-friendliness. On a 6-8″ screen, this could be quite usable though. Or what else would make it quite usable would be… A Surface Pen!
Maybe that ribbon at the bottom looks way too complicated, but most of that text is very understandable… since it’s written in my native language. That’s not the case with most smartphone apps that create awful unintelligible icons that no one understands. Hint: If someone calls your menu icon design a hamburger button, you’ve failed to design an interface the sufficiently communicates its function to the user. Anyway, Outlook on the desktop supports customizable toolbars/ribbons. I could prioritize my most-used commands on the desktop and have those sync to more prominent positions on the smartphone for easier access. (Customizable buttons could usher in smartphone user interface nirvana.)
If you’re Microsoft and you want to cater your smartphone platform to businesses, removing Exchange Task syncing is the opposite of what you want to do. Another thing you wouldn’t want to do is remove categories for contacts and Exchange Server contact groups for managing mailing lists. Yet, that’s what happened with Windows 10 Mobile and Outlook for iOS & Android are still missing these essential features.
The good Outlook with Continuum on a phone that scales up to a connected HD screen? Now we’re talking! I’ve tried Continuum a few times, but it really doesn’t make much sense since the Windows 10 Universal Apps are so lacking in basic features that we need to get work done. If I could open the good Outlook on any connected display while it was running off my phone, then we’d have something special. This may require a pretty expensive x86 phone, but I was running Outlook 98 on a 200mhz Pentium chip with 16mb of RAM at the turn of the century and that had way more features than any current smartphone email program.
What do you think? Have we been using “smart” phones that are too dumb to handle decent personal information management software for long enough?