Software

Microsoft To-Do brings Exchange- and Office 365-powered Outlook Tasks to the iPhone

Outlook tasks have long been an iPhone black hole. While Outlook Task integration with iPhone Reminders is an option, the feature doesn't meet everyone's needs. Microsoft To-Do helps close the gap.

Synchronizing Microsoft Exchange Server- and Office 365-powered Outlook tasks on an iPhone has always proved challenging. While iOS Reminders can synchronize tasks and corresponding notes, it can be difficult to separate and navigate between personal and family iOS reminders and business-related to-do list items. And, connecting iOS Reminders to an Exchange or Office 365 account requires doing just that—connecting the iOS app to the corporate Microsoft network. Some organizations prefer to mate only Microsoft apps (such as Outlook on the iPhone) to the backend Microsoft technologies.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

Various workarounds in the past often saw business professionals leverage Toodledo, ToDoIst, TaskTask, Remember The Milk, or another such tool, which still required including a third party in the mix. Microsoft's free To-Do app, updated September 15, 2017 for iOS, offers an alternative worth considering.

Although To-Do isn't quite an Outlook task manager for iOS, it's close. The 54MB app offers a simple, basic interface. Microsoft hasn't overcomplicated the program with options and settings, which is both good and bad.

Microsoft To-Do is designed to plan your day and check off tasks as they're completed, not record particularly lengthy notes containing images or diagrams, track a task's percentage of completion, confirm to whom a task is assigned, or adjust a task's status, as can be done with Outlook's full desktop version. Instead, the mobile app makes it easy to add a new task, synchronize the mobile task list with Exchange- and Office 365-powered Outlook accounts, add simple notes, set basic reminders, add due dates, and add tasks to its My Day view that lists the day's tasks at a glance (Figure A).

Figure A

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Image: Microsoft Corp.

The program also offers smart suggestions, integrates with productivity systems such as GTD, and lets you create lists. You can create one list for work, and create another list for personal tasks, for example. Further, the lists can be color-coded to better enable differentiating between them. These lists appear on the app's main view.

Tapping a task's light bulb icon places the task on the My Day screen. All the tasks for a given day, regardless of the list to which they belong, appear within the My Day view. That's helpful.

But the application's integration with Outlook isn't ideal if you require more from the mobile task app. Tasks created in To-Do appear within Outlook for Windows as generic tasks devoid of list association. For example, a task added to a personal list within the app appears as a task with no category reference within Outlook for Mac and Windows. So, Microsoft's still got a little work to do. That's especially true considering the iOS app doesn't enable setting or viewing priority and more sophisticated notes information, which are important features for some Outlook users.

SEE: Time management tips for tech professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The app's real value for me is its ability to add new tasks, on the go, that subsequently appear in Outlook when I return to my desktop system at the office. I can quickly create a to-do list item, and I don't have to purchase and maintain a third-party application whose integration might break each time Microsoft, the third-party software manufacturer, or Apple releases new security updates or performance patches. Microsoft and Apple applications, in my experience, suffer fewer such hiccups.

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The program is easy to install and configure. Microsoft To-Do located my Office 365 account, auto-populated account information within the app's setup routine, and requested a password. After supplying the password, because multi-factor authentication is in place, I also had to provide the subsequent authentication code, but then I was in and tasks began synchronizing immediately. Easy.

Clearly, Microsoft's developers intend for To-Do users to focus on setting the day's priorities and marking tasks as completed as they go (Figure B). Overdue tasks are marked as such, which helps, but unfortunately many of the tasks I fulfill aren't so cut-and-dried and often take collaboration and coordination with multiple parties over an extended period of time before they can be marked completed, so I rely more upon the status, due date, and other features available within the full-blown desktop Outlook version. That said, it's nice to know I can at least access more task information and sync changes flawlessly, in my tests, with my Office 365 account using To-Do.

Figure B

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Image: Microsoft Corp.

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About Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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