Microsoft recently released a preview version of the Outlook Web App (OWA) on Google’s Android operating system, which fulfills a promise that the company made back in March. Outlook Web App for Android is a native app that brings back the in-browser OWA that corporate workers have been using for years on devices that do not support the full version Outlook client or do not have that software installed.
This app for Android, much like the one released by Microsoft for iOS back in July 2013, gives users the same functionality as Outlook Web App in a browser, allowing users to access email, calendars and contacts that could be housed on a company’s off-premises Exchange server. According to a recent statement from Microsoft, the beta for OWA for Android requires a smartphone with a small or normal sized screen along with Android 4.4 or later and Office 356 mailbox. Unfortunately, Android tablets are not supported.
One interesting thing is that Google did not define screen sizes of “small” and “normal” in terms of inches. Instead, the company uses density-independent pixels (or dp) to determine screen size. To put it more simply, small or normal screens are those that range up to 5″, meaning devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5 with its 5.1″ display are capable of running OWA.
One other problem for this app beta is the fact that Android 4.4 is required. Android 4.4 is only active on about 14% of all Android smarphones, though Microsoft did note that it would be adding support for other devices as the preview of OWA progresses. In addition to that, Microsoft also provided a place where users are able to vote for smartphone models that are unable to run the app.
Just like it did with other mobile variations of Office, Microsoft has teased OWA in an attempt to lure customers into subscribing to Office 365 which was introduced in 2013. Only customers with active business-grade office 365 accounts are able to use OWA on an Android device, despite that the app itself being completely free to download.
However, the requirement of Exchange Online is also important. Online Exchange is the off-premises hosted Exchange service that is included with literally every non-consumer Office 365 plan. Companies that are still running their own on-premise Exchange servers are plum out of luck on this one as they have been since OWA launched on iOS nearly one year ago. Microsoft has been promising that OWA will be officially supported from on-premises Exchange servers but has yet to actually follow through or even announce anything yet.
Due to the fact that OWA for Android is aimed at corporate workers, the app will not work for customers who have subscribed to the consumer-grade version of Office 365, which includes the $100 annual Home version and $70 annual Personal version. In addition to that, it will not work with Outlook.com, the browser-based consumer email service that is operated by Microsoft.
What’s worse is that early reviews for OWA were everything but nice. The app scored a dismal 2.1 out of 5 on the Google Play app store with a lot of users reporting that the app refused to let them log into their Office 365 accounts. Other users complained that the app itself was sluggish or looking out of place on an Android device.
Other users were peeved at the off-premises Exchange requirement. One user complained that not everybody uses Office 365. The user, Adam Bohn, stated, “It’s ridiculous that this app is exclusively for Office 365. Many organizations host their own Exchange servers and use Outlook 2013. There is absolutely no reason this app should be exclusive to Office 365!!!”
Interestingly enough, Microsoft did not take these comments quietly, replying to users like Bohn. According to a representative from Microsoft, “For this pre-release we’re focused on making this app great for Office 365 mailboxes. We do not have any news to share at this time regarding our plans for on-premises Exchange.”
Microsoft has yet to announce a timeframe for OWA’s launch on Android though the company is supposedly working on launching a touch-based Office for Android. This service is said to be similar to Office for iPad and is reportedly coming out by year’s end. If Microsoft follows the same suit it used for iOS then OWA would be released before the touch-based Office.
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