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Microsoft Pulls Plug on Outlook Web Apps for iOS and Android

Microsoft's Outlook Web App mobile client e-mail applications for Android, iPad and iPhone devices will be phased out over the next few months, the company said this week.

The announcement used the old "Outlook Web App" term even though the currently used descriptor is "Outlook on the Web." This refers to browser-based e-mail client applications available to Office 365 subscribers and to users of the on-premises Office Web Apps Server (now called "Office Online Server").

Deadlines
In April, Microsoft plans to withdraw the Outlook on the Web apps for Android from the Google Play store. It'll also withdraw the iPad and iPhone Outlook on the Web apps from Apple's iTunes store in that month.

On May 15, Outlook on the Web (or Outlook Web App) mail client applications for Android, iPad and iPhone mobile devices will stop working, Microsoft's notice warned. On that date, end users still using those apps will get prompted with a message suggesting that they download the Outlook for Android or Outlook for iOS native apps.

End users will get recurring messages in April telling them that the Outlook on the Web apps won't work on May 15. However, if an organization uses Exchange Server on-premises, then IT pros will have to tell those end users that their Outlook on the Web apps are expiring. Microsoft explained that point in this "Microsoft OWA Mobile Apps" support document:

If your organization uses Exchange Server on-premises (that is, hosts its own Exchange servers rather than using Office 365) and you're using the OWA mobile app, you won't receive the in-app message. Your administrator should let you know that the OWA mobile apps will stop working on May 15, 2018 and that you can use Outlook for iOS or Outlook for Android instead.

Instead of using those retired Web apps, Microsoft wants mobile device users to use the "native Outlook app for iOS and Android devices." Setup instructions are linked at this page.

Microsoft gave no reason why it was ending its Outlook on the Web apps. It described the move as an effort to "streamline our mobile portfolio." Microsoft's Outlook mobile client portfolio has been confusing at best. A list of possible clients can be found here.

According to a Microsoft Tech Community explanation, the Outlook for Android and Outlook for iOS applications are based on Microsoft's acquisition of Acompli, and those reworked Acompli apps essentially became the official mobile apps going forward. At one point, the Outlook for Android and Outlook for iOS apps used Amazon Web Services (AWS) for caching, but that architecture was replaced with native Exchange Online support. That native support "means there is no mailbox data that is cached outside of Office 365," Microsoft explained in a TechNet document.

Feature Support
Unfortunately, it seems that the dying Outlook on the Web apps had greatest support for e-mail features. For instance, Outlook on the Web apps have support for things like renaming folders, which the native apps can't do, according to this Microsoft comparison chart. On balance, the bulk of the feature support seems to be mostly on the Outlook on the Web app side.

The "Microsoft OWA Mobile Apps" support document partially addressed the question of loss of features support when moving to the native clients. Here's how it characterized that change for end users:

Many features, including shared or delegate calendar access and the ability to view the Global Address List, are now included in the Outlook apps. Other features (like shared mailboxes) will be available by the end of 2018. In the meantime, the Outlook web experience is available from your browser on your mobile device.

It's not clear what Microsoft means by the "Outlook web experience." Microsoft's note perhaps suggests that there's another way to access Outlook in a browser. Meanwhile, comments in Microsoft's announcement, like "please stop deprecating functionality without providing an alternative," seem to be falling on deaf ears.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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