Mobility

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

Summary

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.

About

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.

12 comments
MrsRibs
MrsRibs

I am fearing the answer to this is no, but I am wondering whether Touchdown will interact with other aps on my device. For example, I use iAnnotate for PDF annotation, would there be a facilitate to interact between these two aps to get annotated PDFs out of iAnnotate and emailed through Touchdown - I am guessing that going the other way is trivial like any other PDF I would open on my machine. My apologies if this is a question for the iAnnotate developers!

kliucs
kliucs

When I am on-call, I want to get email sound alert when anyone send email to on-call group. How to set this up with TouchDown?

RonNItro
RonNItro

Hiya Emo! Yes, we're painfully aware of the Push issue. Sadly, the folks at Apple are the ones responsible here. they simply won't allow us to put an application in the App Store that has a true "push" functionality. We do actually have a version for Enterprise deployments that contains a proper Push, but it will not likely ever be available int he App Store. It's for private distribution through the B2B process only, sorry. DEREK - Thanks for the awesome article! nice to see stuff like this and your comments are well-taken by us. We try very hard to not poke our customers in the eye, and this sort of feedback is super-valuable.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

According to the documentation Touchdown for iOS does support Active Sync policies which can be used to prevent features on mobile devices. Keep in mind that changing some of these settings within a policy requires an Enterprise CAL in Exchange for each mailbox to which it applies. But disabling some features of the device might be a way to discourage individuals from just downloading the application and getting their mail.

CharlesG1970
CharlesG1970

One of the nicest features is the widget that allows you to see the latest e-mails (3), and the next few appointments (3) right from the desktop without opening the app! Just glance at the phone and know what is going on. Oh sorry, that only works on Androids. I forgot with iOS you need to open every app to utiulize any functionality. That is probaly also why the "Active Sync" does not work and you only get updates when you are running the app. Only native iOS apps are allowed to run in the background. :-)

Marty-7
Marty-7

I've been using my 4s with Exchange for a year and a half and I can't see spending $20 for an app that does what my phone already does.

cgarza
cgarza

I've helped someone set up TouchDown on their Nook. It wasn't the most straight forward process and the fact that it wasn't free is a huge disappointment. I have an iPhone for work and am able to connect to the Exchange server easily. I don't have a problem with the way it looks or behaves at all. I don't understand why anyone would spend $20 for an email program that isn't necessary.

todd.garner
todd.garner

Great - for all the IT departments trying to prevent company data being allowed on personal devices, now anyone who reads this article knows they can purchase a program and have it just work.

emofit1
emofit1

Like a lot of people out there, I have been using Touchdown for Android for a long time and simply love it. I have realized however I am not a fan of the Andorid OS and want to switch to an iPhone. Like you, I am not a fan of the built in mail client at all. Apple has a major shortcoming there. So I too evaluated Touchdown as well as it is imperative for my job that I have a good email/calendar client. No doubt Touchdown for iOS looks great, but it lacks one huge feature. Push technology while running inthe background. That alone renders it useless for business purposes. Whats the point of only knowing about email when you open the program. I am not sure I understand why this doesnt work as there are tons of apps and games that already utilize this. Hopefully their developers understand this quickly.

gsukumar
gsukumar

scrollable widgets on 4.x devices even on the smartphone version.

syntax_error
syntax_error

Not sure that woukd be the case, I'm presuming any active sync policy would still apply, we have to authorise each device before it can receive email. Thanks

gsukumar
gsukumar

You are right, push email is lacking. Not because it can't be done (our internal builds on our own devices support push email), but the way activesync push works, the device needs to have a persistent (but non-battery-intensive) connection with the server. The only way to do that on iOS, is to turn on a flag indicating that the app supports VOIP. However, this declaration will cause the AppStore to reject the app, since technically it is not a VOIP app. It is a technicality, but something the developer has absolutely no control over short of pleading. It has been tried before (remember sparrow ?) but never worked.