Outlook doesn't always sync perfectly with mobile devices and there are numerous reasons. Resolving most can require specialized knowledge, so adopting some best practices is a good idea. The biggest problem is inherent to mobile devices—connectivity and timing. More often than not the device's mail client, not Exchange or Outlook, is the problem. In this article, I'll provide a few tips that keep synching in check. So much depends on the actual device and its mobile operating system, that these tips are generic. There are no instructions for specific devices.
1: Know your setup
First, let's discuss connecting and account configuration just a bit—nothing heavy, just the basics. Knowing your setup is key to making good decisions. Most of us prefer connecting over the air--your mobile device uses a data plan or available Wi-Fi instead of locally installed software to synch with a mail server. It's convenient for people with multiple devices. Exchange ActiveSync is an Exchange protocol that synchronizes email, contacts, calendar, tasks, and notes for mobile devices with various mail services.
Last but not least, your email account is probably POP3 or IMAP. POP3 leaves a copy of an email message on the server so you can receive all email messages on multiple devices. An IMAP account syncs email; both your devices and Outlook must be configured to IMAP. If you're using a recent version of Outlook, your accounts are IMAP unless you've converted to POP3. These terms will come up in instructions, so you should be able to apply them to your particular setup.
2: Be consistent
Run the same version of Outlook on all your computers. If you use delegates (users who can share your folders), they should also run the same version of Outlook. In addition, all systems should have the latest service pack and updates installed.
Make sure your mobile device is running the most recent operating system. When you purchase a new device, update its operating system immediately, if necessary.
4: Know the ActiveSync settings
If you're using ActiveSync, spend some time familiarizing yourself with its settings to avoid frustration. It won't always work the way you expect. For instance, you might have to tell ActiveSync to sync specific items to a new device. Of all these 10 tips, this is probably the most important—ActiveSync might be the best tool you have, especially if you have no one in-house to rely on.
5: Don't deliver any surprises
If you're using personal devices on an Exchange network, please tell IT what you're doing. Trying to sync an unknown device that's not properly supported can corrupt data. Respect your team and keep them informed. If they tell you the device isn't yet supported, don't use it.
6: Avoid using your device to handle meetings
Don't use your mobile devices to schedule, accept, decline, or otherwise modify Outlook meetings. The problem is timing. You can't depend on the device to update immediately and consequently, the server can't always apply requests in the right order.
Once a meeting is corrupted, you must delete it and create a new one. You can use your mobile device to create and modify personal appointments.
7: Reconfigure if necessary
ActiveSync won't be able to view email on a mobile device if your profile is corrupt. If this happens, simply delete your ActiveSync/Exchange account. Then, reconfigure your device for your email account.
8: Consider Outlook Web App or 365 Mail
If you're not entrenched in Outlook management tools, consider using Outlook Web App (OWA) or 365 Mail. You're limited in what you can do via your device, but you can access your email and view your calendar. Be sure to install the most recent app for your device:
You can sync Outlook through OWA if you know the name of your Exchange server and your OWA website address. If you don't have this information, ask your administrator to set this up for you. For more information on OWA, read Outlook Web App.
9: Get phone-specific info
Check out the instructions for synching specific phones with Outlook:
10: Get the support you need
If you don't have IT support in your organization or you can't get a device and Outlook to sync properly, contact Microsoft support:
- iPhone or iPad: Outlook for iOS and Android Help Center
- Office 365 admins: Office 365 for Business Support
- All other accounts: Microsoft Support
In today's plug-in world, we expect things to just work. To improve your chances, use these tips to avoid unexpected problems and stay synced.
Send me your question about Office
I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at email@example.com.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.