Tablets

Access Office 365 with an Android tablet: Lync and SharePoint

Will Kelly provides an overview of Lync and SharePoint options for Android tablets.

Once you have Office 365 email setup on your Android tablet, you may still need access to Lync Online (hosted unified communications server) and SharePoint Online (cloud hosted version of SharePoint). With Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Corporate Owned Professional Enabled (COPE) initiatives taking shape, use cases to connect Android tablet users to Office 365 are on the rise across many organizations. However, Android options for Lync and SharePoint lag behind the iPad and Windows 8 tablets.

Here is an overview of your current options for accessing Lync and SharePoint from your Android tablet.

Lync and Android tablets

Microsoft does offer official Android apps for Lync 2010 and Lync 2013. The disappointing news is that these apps aren't compatible with all Android devices. In fact, neither Lync app was compatible with any of my Android tablets, which means I couldn't test either app for this post.

This lack of compatibility could certainly stand in the way of BYOD planning and might be a consideration if your organization owns a significant amount of Android tablets, so set your expectations accordingly if Lync access from an Android tablet is a requirement for your organization. My search for third-party app options to get past my Android/Lync compatibility issues was equally disappointing. Throughout the search, I ran into varying levels of incompatibility issues and login errors to my Lync Online account.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Lync on Android borders on being an afterthought in an age where tablets are increasingly serving as a unified communications hub for mobile workers.

SharePoint Online and Android tablets

SharePoint Online is a major element of Office 365, and at the current time, mobile Chrome doesn't have native support for SharePoint. My tests to login to a SharePoint Online team site from my Android tablets were so unsatisfying that I'll spare you the screen captures.

Two current bright spots for Office 365/SharePoint access on Android right now are the free SharePlus Lite app and the SharePlus app for $19.99 (USD). The Lite app lets you read documents and navigate SharePoint team sites. Its user experience is consistent with the SharePlus iOS app. While writing this post, I did run into some authentication issues with SharePlus Lite after it had been working perfectly. So, I recommend testing the app thoroughly with the SharePoint sites in your Office 365 implementation that require mobile access.

Figure A shows SharePlus Lite ready to login to Office 365: Figure A

SharePlus Lite on an Android tablet.

The next Office 365 Android app to watch for is harmon.ie for Android set to launch in third quarter of 2013. I'm sure that harmon.ie will do a good job of transferring over the lessons they've learned about SharePoint mobile access on iOS to Android.

The larger point here is perhaps not a SharePoint deficiency but a deficiency in Microsoft's overall mobile strategy. Microsoft, as a company, needs to separate their platforms and devices to become device agnostic, which reflects the reality of today's mobile workforces, BYOD, and COPE. Office 365 and SharePoint, in particular, still require too many mobile access workarounds and the necessity of third-party apps. The heart of a successful Microsoft mobile strategy could be mobilizing their cloud apps for the major mobile device platforms, not just in the Surface tablet and Windows phones.

Office Web Apps and Android tablets

A recent post on the Office 365 blog by Amanda Lefebvre entitled, "Office Web Apps: More Office, more collaborative, more devices," makes this promise about future Android support in Office Web Apps:

The Office Web Apps also serve as a key connection point between Office and the expanding array of devices our customers use. We enable you to access Office content and tools from your device of choice through cross browser support on those devices where Office isn't installed or available. The full power of the Office Web Apps is already available for Windows 8 tablets and iPads and we will be extending the same capabilities to Android tablets via mobile Chrome browser support.

Until Office Web Apps support on Android catches up with the iPad and Windows 8 tablets, I recommend CloudOn, a virtual workspace that includes full versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint Office with full SkyDrive account access (now the default save for Office 2013). Figure B shows CloudOn as it appears on an Android tablet: Figure B

CloudOn lets you access documents on SkyDrive.

Mobilizing Office Web Apps across platforms is going to be hard for Microsoft to avoid as mobile workforces, BYOD, and even COPE devices chip away the platform lock-in that Microsoft and other large software vendors once had inside the corporate enterprise.

Conclusion

Lync and SharePoint support for Android is currently a bit disappointing. Hopefully, with a company like harmon.ie building an Android app for Office 365, other developers -- including Microsoft -- should follow suit to improve Office 365 support on Android.

About

Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...

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