Outlook for iOS Gets Voice-Control Features via 'Scheduler'

Microsoft recently described new voice capabilities for Outlook Mobile users on the iOS platform.

Outlook Mobile iOS users can schedule meetings via voice commands. The idea is to make it easier to schedule meetings on mobile devices with small keyboards. Meeting scheduling is facilitated via the Cortana personal digital assistant and information surfaced via the Microsoft Graph. The voice capability also lets users search for files via voice commands. Microsoft 365 users also now have access to Microsoft Dictation for iOS, which transcribes your speech.

These capabilities -- voice scheduling and dictation -- also will be coming to Android mobile devices, Microsoft indicated, although the timing wasn't described.

There is one catch for organizations wanting the voice scheduling capability. It requires using a new service called Scheduler, which costs $10 per user per month for Microsoft 365 E3/E5-type licensees.

Microsoft considers Cortana and Scheduler to be separate solutions, even though they work together:

Scheduler is a backend service that provides the scheduling intelligence, workflow, and can be enabled by the Microsoft 365 administrator. Cortana, the productivity assistant in Microsoft 365, acts through a custom mailbox* that is configured by the administrator.

IT pros will have to set up this custom mailbox using a PowerShell cmdlet.

Microsoft's Scheduler announcement also noted that human assistance by Microsoft is sometimes used to correctly steer Cortana's meeting scheduling. Here's what those humans can see:

If a request needs human assistance, they will have access to the email conversation from the point in which Cortana was added to the conversation, Microsoft Graph data, names, and emails of the people involved in the conversation but they will not have access to links nor attachments. Additionally, Scheduler will not process encrypted messages sent to the Cortana mailbox.

Public reactions found in the comments section of Microsoft's Scheduler announcement mostly had people decrying its $10 per user per month cost, which is half the cost of an Office 365 E3 subscription.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.