Microsoft released a native Android version of OWA in the Google Play Store last week. The version that's out there now is actually a pre-release to work out any bugs and issues before unleashing the app on the Android masses, but it moves Microsoft one step closer to providing a consistent Outlook experience regardless of device or platform.
OWA for iPhone and iPad was released nearly a year ago, and this March, Microsoft announced that the Android app would be coming soon. The pre-release version of OWA for Android only works with Android 4.4 "KitKat" phones, and it only works for customers using the latest version of Office 365 for business. That means no older Android devices, no Android tablets, and no Office 365 Personal or Office 365 Home accounts... at least for now.
Microsoft has traditionally supported access to Exchange-based email accounts from various platforms and devices using Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). A number of policy controls were added to EAS to enable Exchange admins to manage and protect email communications on rival devices like the iPhone, but Microsoft noticed some problems in how EAS was being implemented.
First of all, many implementations of EAS utilized only the basic elements of the specification -- like retrieving email and calendar information -- while ignoring advanced features like email delegation and Information Rights Management (IRM). The second major concern is that there were simply too many variations in how EAS was leveraged by developers. Some did it well and some did it poorly, but ultimately, it all reflects back on the brand reputation of Microsoft and Outlook.
The OWA for Devices effort basically borrows a page from the Apple playbook. Microsoft recognized that a stable, reliable, and consistent experience is in its best interests, as well as the best interests of the customers. It's a BYOD world with a diverse array of products and platforms in use, but Microsoft wants to make sure businesses and consumers continue to rely on Microsoft products and services no matter what device they choose.
By taking control of the experience, and providing a native OWA app for rival operating systems and devices, Microsoft owns it. Microsoft can make sure that all of the features and controls of Outlook are made available to all of the devices and that users are comfortable navigating and using Outlook no matter which PC, tablet, or smartphone they use. Someone who makes a switch from an iPhone to an Android smartphone shouldn't have to start from scratch to learn how to access and use Outlook from the new device.
It's a brilliant strategy, and one that reflects the reality of the tech landscape. It's no longer a Windows vs. Mac, or even an iPhone vs. Android world. There are still loyalists and fanboys more than willing to troll and debate those platforms to death, but from the perspective of Microsoft, or Apple, or Google, it's just a fact that all of these platforms co-exist. The challenge is to find ways to keep users engaged in your products and services -- and continue to generate revenue from those users without regard for which device or ecosystem they use.
OWA for Android is the final piece of the OWA for Devices puzzle. It extends the complete Office 365 experience to the vast Android audience and makes Office 365 a greater value for millions more Microsoft customers.
Have you tried Microsoft's pre-release OWA for Android? If so, please share your experience with this app in the discussion thread below.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.