Why I don’t use Outlook on my Android phone

Based on my previous articles about my journey from Windows Phone to Outlook, you would think that I use every Microsoft app available on my Android device.

This assumption is largely correct as I use the Arrow app launcher, OneDrive for photo uploads, Yammer for social engagement, Skype for Business for conferences, and plenty of others.

But the one app I don’t use it Outlook. I did use it on my first Android phone and cursed something that I thought was an Android limitation – but it turns out it is an Outlook on Android limitation, and for me that is a showstopper:

The ability to create new and modify existing contacts!

Yep, that is a feature I simply cannot live without. At first it was infuriating as I was relatively new to Android, but as I was using the Gmail app for my personal email experience (which is also hosted on Office 365) I found that the issue was actually Outlook. It was quite frustrating to figure out – I would create or modify a contact on my phone in the Outlook app, only to find seconds later it wasn’t there!!!

As a person who is constantly meeting new people I need the ability to save contact details, and they come from a variety of sources: a business card handed to me, an email signature, told verbally, my incoming call log, etc. I don’t want to have to wait until I’m back in front of my Outlook client on my Surface Pro 4 to record their details, or have to use the Outlook on the web interface – I want to do it then and there. And I don’t think I’m being unreasonable.

In fact if you look at the UserVoice page you’ll see that this specific feature has over 20,000 votes and was been flagged as “Under Review” back in July 2015.

We are left to wonder why this hasn’t been fixed yet?

So what do I use instead of Outlook?

I did use the Gmail app for my personal Office 365 email and it was acceptable, but I had a few sync issues there so definitely wouldn’t use it for work purposes.

Instead, a friend of mine who worked with me at Paradyne, Ian Culliver, told me about an app that he uses instead of Outlook. He had switched from Windows Phone to Android years ago and so had a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. When griping about the Outlook contact experience he told me that he uses an app called Nine Mail. It is available for a 2 week trial, and after that costs US$9.99. This is fairly steep compared to the free Outlook app, but then again it’s the same cost as lunch.

Two things about this app caught my attention. The first was the ability to add & modify contacts!

The second was the ability to set VIPs, which allows me to disable all email notifications (something I love to do) and only receive them from important people such as my wife and specific business contacts. (What’s surprising is that the Microsoft Band v1 handled VIP email notifications over 2 years ago!)

These two are enough for me to stay on Nine Mail for a while.

I still have the Outlook app installed and synchronising in the background as the Skype for Business client requires it to get calendar information. All notifications are turned off however, and the Outlook app isn’t even on my main screen.

As you can see on the screenshot of my phone, the Nine app is in the bottom right corner with the Nine calendar widget featuring prominently.

The Outlook app is buried inside the “Microsoft Apps” folder.







But what about the rest of the features? And what do I recommend to customers?

Good question – do I practice what I preach? Do I tell customers to use what I use?

Yes and no. I tell them what I use, but then I tell them to use the supported app being Outlook. I tell them to use the app that has the most features for the enterprise, including integration with features such as Office 365 Groups. Things like Focused Inbox are an important feature for those who work in organisations that still receive large volumes of emails each day.

Also, the Outlook app does introduce new features at an amazing rate – although I’m still surprised saving contacts is still not fixed.

On a personal level, I don’t use those features as I’m in a business of one and for me contact management is more important than group collaboration.

Will I go back to using Outlook? Probably yes, at least for my work persona. But not until this contact problem is fixed, and probably not until VIPs email notifications is introduced.

The disruptive force of Microsoft Teams

It’s been barely three months since Microsoft Teams was made available in Preview, and in such a short time I have seen a considerable amount of change in both conversations around how organisations communicate as well as how IT Pros and MVPs are starting to look at the future way of working.

And it hasn’t even been made Generally Available yet – they key milestone where Microsoft releases it to the world as “ready for production use”.

While there was some general hubbub about the potential release of originally named “Skype Teams”, when Microsoft Teams was actually made available the impact to the industry and Office 365 in general was almost explosive.

For starters I don’t think a single workload or functional release of Office 365 has generated such an amazing amount of blog posts, podcasts, webinars, and general discussion. And again – all in under three months, while the product is still in Preview. While Yammer certainly created a significant amount of conversation and disruption, a large component of that was negative with many IT Pros objecting to it being thrust upon the Office 365 community and customer base. Interestingly the release of Microsoft Teams has actually brought Yammer back to the forefront with many people asking the question of where does it actually fit in with Microsoft Teams.

Historically in Office 365 we have predominantly had two communication tools: Outlook for emails, and Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync) for instant messaging, voice and video. Yammer has been part of Office 365 since 2013 and was not as revolutionary as many had hoped. This was due in part to a few reasons:

  • Many customers and users had been using Yammer before Microsoft acquired it
  • The approach to replacing email with Yammer was in some camps too forceful, and in others too confused
  • In many instances Yammer was simply “turned on” without any consideration as to its place in an organisation, and generally led by IT as a traditional technology deployment – often leaving behind a proper change management and adoption strategy
  • Being categorised as a “Facebook for work” which was misguided, because while Facebook is a common social networking platform there are others such as LinkedIn and Twitter, with which Yammer also shares similarities

The current landscape of communication options within Office 365 now looks like this:

Microsoft Teams is largely seen as a competitor and reactive response to Slack which has quite a substantial user base not just amongst developers, but business users in general. I have spoken to a number of customers who have moved away from Yammer and started using Slack as they wanted something more “live”.

Ultimately the introduction of Teams has given Office 365 customers choice: the ability to choose the right tool for communication for the right purpose, team, way of work, and user generation.

Recently I wrote a blog post for AvePoint explaining how to successfully implement both Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams, explaining the confusion and challenges between them.

One of the things that Microsoft Teams has done is to surface the importance and benefit of Office 365 Groups. While Groups was introduced in 2014 there was still a lot of confusion as to their place in the Office 365 world, who should use them, how to access them, and for many – what the actual point of them was.

Because Microsoft Teams requires Office 365 Groups – it has become paramount for Office 365 customers and IT Pros to understand how they work and how to use them. Before teams it was still somewhat easy to stay aligned to a specific Office 365 workload or technology such as Exchange Online or SharePoint Online, but with Groups they show the importance of both as well as introducing a number of other features such a Skype for Business meeting rooms and Connectors that bring in content from external applications and sources.

While Office 365 Groups have been there for quite some time, they lurked in the background. Microsoft Teams has now provided an easy and somewhat unified way to access the features within them (there’s still work to be done though, specifically around accessing the mailbox, Planner and existing content stored in the Group).

The big thing I have seen Microsoft Teams do is change the way customers talk about using Office 365. Historically conversations were generally workload based: migrate mailboxes, migrate files, deploy an intranet, roll out IM & conferencing, etc.

Now I am seeing customers looking at the implementation of Office 365 through a much broader lens. They are finally asking the question: “I want to transform the way we work and make us more productive, how can we use all of these technologies to do that?”.

Previously I found customer IT Pros might have been resistant to Yammer, mainly because they didn’t understand its place. And the reality is that they weren’t the audience for the product – the business was. Now I am finding they know that they are no longer the audience for Office 365 in general – they are there to enable the organisation to be better, and are asking for help about that.

Often when I speak to customers I am now hearing them say things like: “we want to look at how to use Yammer and Teams to change the way we work, Cloud PBX to improve our traditional communications and conferencing, and oh yeah I guess migrate our mailboxes”.

While many pioneers have travelled this road before – the tools simply weren’t there or as functional (or existed outside of our walled garden).

We are facing a new world thanks to Microsoft Teams – and not because it is the best tool or way of working, but because it appears to have finally shaken the tree hard enough to make people think beyond their mailboxes and file shares.