Get corporate email on your iPhone with TouchDown

Derek Schauland takes a look at NitroDesk's TouchDown for iOS, which allows you to connect to your corporate Exchange email from your iPhone.

NitroDesk has long made clients for Microsoft Exchange. They have a client for Android and clients for specialized Android devices, like the Nook and Kindle Fire. Having used the HTC EVO 4G for quite a while, the TouchDown email client was a lifesaver, taking the "work" out of work email.

When I got my iPhone, the built-in mail client was able to connect to my Exchange mailbox and receive messages and appointments, but it wasn't a terrific experience. Honestly, I'm not a fan of single-stream email or a consolidated inbox. I contacted NitroDesk so that I could review their TouchDown for iOS product, and it worked seamlessly for receiving email on my iPhone.

Some of my co-workers had gotten iPhones after the release of iOS 6, but they weren't able to connect to Exchange. The errors they received said that the connection was unavailable, but the messages didn't contain any details or troubleshooting information. After showing the TouchDown interface to a co-worker, she asked about its pricing and functionality. I let her know that we, as a company, didn't sponsor mail clients for smartphones, but she was willing to go out of pocket for the app — $19.99 (USD) — if I would work through the setup with her should any problems arise.

Configuring TouchDown on her iPhone produced an error, as well, but the message included more information about the issue — that it was unable to read an Exchange policy set on the mailbox. When I searched Google for this particular error message, the first item on the list said the problem was a setting on the Active Directory user object, allowing it to inherit security permissions from its parent object. I enabled that setting, and mail started landing immediately. TouchDown's descriptive error helped solve the issue for all of the people in my organization who wanted to get mail on their iPhones. Since smartphones are becoming increasingly popular, that setting was configured on all user objects with attached mailboxes, just in case.

The TouchDown application

Like the built-in email application, TouchDown will provide badge notifications of unread items if enabled. For users who separate corporate and personal email, it's nice to have a choice about the email in both accounts. I was also very impressed with NitroDesk's support team, who were helpful throughout the entire review process. Overall, the TouchDown application doesn't have one standout feature — the experience is very much like Microsoft Outlook, or at least as much like Outlook as one can hope for on an Apple device.

Using mail in TouchDown

The default folder in TouchDown is the inbox (Figure A). Figure A

TouchDown's inbox.

When you configure your email, you can choose how many days of email history to keep in the application.  The default is three days for messages. You can also decide which folders in your mailbox that TouchDown should sync. This is a pretty great idea, since there might be folders related to projects or other items that you don't need on a mobile device. Simply turn off synchronization on these folders by completing the following steps:

  1. Access the Settings option (the tools icon) at the bottom of the TouchDown app
  2. Select the option labeled Synchronized Folder
  3. Change the Off slider to On for each folder you want to include (Figure B)
Figure B
Folder synchronization in the TouchDown application.

You can switch folders by selecting the folder name at the top left of the display. From the drop-down menu, select the folder that you'd like to switch to.

Other options at the folder level include:

  • Filters: Apply one of the following filters to the current folder
    • All
    • Unread
    • Read
    • Flagged
    • With Attachments
    • High Importance
  • Tags: Apply tags or Outlook Categories to messages in the current folder
  • Diagnostics: View diagnostics recorded by TouchDown
  • Change Pin: If configured for your mailbox, TouchDown will support Pin-based device wiping
  • Reset DB: If there are problems with the TouchDown database on your device for a folder, you can reset it here
The folder list also contains the New message button, which opens a dialog box for composing new email (Figure C). By default, a signature is included to let recipients know that the message was sent from a mobile device. Figure C

Composing a new message in TouchDown.

There are several actions you can take with messages, including:

  • Forward: The new message icon on the lower-right corner of the selected message window is used to forward the message
  • Reply | Reply All | Forward: The option next to the Forward option displays a menu of options for replying or forwarding
  • Flag: The flag option allows selected messages to be flagged
  • Delete: The trash bin icon deletes the selected message
  • File: The folder icon allows you to select a folder to file the message into
  • Display Recipients: The people icon at the top of the selected message shows the recipient list
  • Tags: The tag icon at the top of the selected message allows tags or categories to be applied
  • Security: The lock icon displays information about the message being encrypted or signed

Using Contacts

Contacts available within your Exchange environment can be added to the contact list on your device. Information within the contacts folder will be displayed in the Contacts folder in TouchDown (Figure D). Items in the folder can be tagged and edited right from the application. Figure D
TouchDown's Contacts view.

Using TouchDown's calendar

TouchDown's calendar feature is much more like Microsoft Outlook than the built-in calendar application on iOS devices. It allows you to view items in a list, by day or by week, to get a good idea of what's coming up (Figure E). A view of the month is available on the left in landscape mode or at the top in portrait view.

I've noticed that some appointments have trouble syncing to the application. However, this typically goes away during subsequent attempts.

Figure E

Touchdown's calendar.

Using tasks

If you use tasks in Microsoft Outlook, these tasks can also be used and viewed in TouchDown. The following options are available for tasks:

  • Create a task
  • View existing tasks
  • Apply tags/categories
  • Filter tasks
  • Sort tasks

Using Notes and Documents

TouchDown also supports notes from Exchange. This feature is only available when used with Microsoft Exchange 2010. I don't use the notes feature in Exchange and have found that there aren't too many options for them — notes can be viewed, created, and tagged.

Another view available is for documents stored in Exchange. This feature seems interesting, but it isn't something I would think of just with Exchange. If documents were able to connect to a SharePoint environment, I think it would be a much more useful feature.

Settings and configuration

There are a ton of configurable settings for the TouchDown application (Figure F). Figure F

TouchDown settings and configuration options.

You can configure the following features within the application:

  • Account: Specify account options and connection settings
  • General: Enable email push settings, email history, email size, calendar history, and a kill code
  • Categories: Add or edit the categories available for items in your mailbox
  • Notifications: Enable or disable badges and other notifications for mailbox items
  • Email: Settings for managing email, including move to any folder, signatures, font styles, and confirmations
  • Calendar: Settings for zoom level, appointment reminders, statuses, week start/end, and workday start/end
  • Contacts: Filing settings, add to phonebook, Global Address Search
  • Synchronized Folders: Select the folders in your mailbox that should be available in TouchDown
  • SMIM settings: If your organization uses SMIME settings, these can be configured here


I've been using TouchDown on iOS for a while, and I really like the organization of the application. Being able to get my corporate mail on my iPhone separately from my personal mail with the added security of IT controls is also pretty great. My organization doesn't use remote wipe features as of yet, but this may be something we evaluate in the future. For organizations that need this capability, NitroDesk has a nice implementation. Because of the ease of use of the application and level of support provided at all levels, I'll be using this application for a long time.

Have you used TownDown for iOS? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.


Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

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