Outlook for iOS 8 vs Apple Mail for iOS

Love it or loath it, email is an essential part of any modern technology device. While some may bemoan the concept as broken - surpassed by instant messaging, texts, or collaborative software - the truth remains that for the vast majority of people it is one of the first things they set up on a new phone, tablet or PC. Using a good client then is very important if you want to get the best out of your electronic missives, and there are no shortage of apps on offer across the iOS platform.

Gmail and Yahoo have their own dedicated apps, while the likes of CloudMagic and myMail cater to those with multiple email accounts. Of course for most people the Mail app that Apple includes with every iPhone or iPad is the one to use. It integrates well into the system, has the ability to host multiple email accounts, boasts a unified inbox, and in classic Apple style is easy to use. It might come as a surprise then that one of the most promising alternatives to this ubiquitous client sallies forth from none other than the old enemy itself, Microsoft.

Read:Tips for using Gmail on your iPhone | Microsoft Office for Mac release date

Now, to be fair, Apple and Microsoft did bury the hatchet many years ago, with the latter even investing in the California giant when its coffers weren’t as overflowing as they are now. So the once fierce rivalry has given way to the even fiercer tribalistic spear-waggling between acolytes of Android and iOS...’twas ever thus.

Microsoft on the other hand has been on something of a charm offensive recently. Realising that mobile is the future of technology the company has released free Office apps for iOS, and is working hard to become a cross platform business rather than the Windows-centric entity of previous years. The upshot of all this is a new email app for iOS, Outlook, which is really rather impressive. So is it worth a spot in your dock, or does Apple still hold that spot? In this comparison review we’ll compare the two to see which is the best one for you 

Read: 7 lessons Apple could learn from Microsoft (yeah, you read that right)

Outlook for iOS 8 Vs Apple Mail: Interface and general design

Design: Since the release of Windows 8 Microsoft has been using a new design language that feels modern and sparse. In some ways it’s reminiscent of Google’s simplistic, clean approach, one which is very easy on the eye. The new Outlook app is a very good example of how this refined approach can look quite at home on the iOS platform, and bears a passing resemblance to Apple’s own Mail client.

Support: Outlook features support for a number of recognised email services, including Exchange, Outlook.com, iCloud, Gmail, and Yahoo, all of which share a unified inbox when set up. This means that you don’t have to jump between different account to see any new email, as it is all controlled from one single inbox. This is the same as Apple’s Mail app, and a feature that makes using both offerings much easier than some of their competitors.

Inbox layout: One noticeable differential on Outlook is how the inbox is arranged. Across the top of the left hand column where the list of emails is displayed you’ll see three options - Focused, Other, and Quick Filter. The first of these acts as a kind of priority filter that only allows through emails that the app thinks are important to you. Think of it as a gentle spam filter that doesn’t actually discard your non-important mail, these are kept in the Other section, but instead draws your attention to things that need replies or at least your attention in the short term. The app learns over time which mails or contacts you regards as significant, and there is always the manual option of moving a message in or out of the Focused filter to aid the app’s education.

The last option - Quick Filter - gives you the option to only display emails that are  Unread, Flagged, or have Files attached. It’s a fast and helpful feature, but is restricted to either the Focused or Other sections. In future versions we would like to see an option that includes both at the same time, but for now it’s still a very good addition for quickly searching your inbox.

By contrast Apple Mail is a straightforward design that features the same two column layout with just the search bar at the top of the left hand column. Both apps have options to display the various mailboxes that make up the inbox; this is useful if you use tags to sort your mail - say for example on Gmail - as you can navigate to these within a couple of taps.

Apple has stuck with its tried and tested menu tree, but somehow it seems cluttered, or at least somewhat scruffy when compared to the elegant font and layout that Microsoft has chosen for Outlook. It’s a little thing, after all both show very similar results, but it’s noticeable that Outlook feels more modern and polished in this area.

Viewing emails: Reading emails is something that Apple Mail gets right, as on the iPad version of Outlook we were unable to find a way to view messages in full screen mode, instead the left hand column always remained on screen. While we can understand this in landscape mode, in portrait it really isn’t ideal, as it needlessly condenses the display space.  Attempting to increase the message by double tapping or swiping the left column away just accidentally triggers the swipe controls for archiving or scheduling emails, or rather confusingly moves you through to the next email on the list.

Apple Mail is a different affair where turning an iPad into portrait mode automatically gives you a full screen display, and swiping in from the left or right of the screen makes the list column appear or disappear. All this gives the text centre stage, which is preferable for longer messages, and seems an odd omission on Outlook.

Navigation: A significant choice that Microsoft has got right is that of navigation, or rather the placement of some of the important navigation controls. In iOS 8 Apple has consistently put controls along the top of the screen, which while aesthetically pleasing can make life difficult when using larger displays such as that on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Outlook is laid out slightly differently. While there are still several control options found in the top right corner, the Reply, Reply All, and Forward options all appear at the bottom of an email, which makes accessing them quick and easy. There are also constant icons to move you between Mail, Calendar, Files, People, and Settings, which we’ll address a little later in the review.

Outlook for iOS 8 Vs Apple Mail: Swipe gestures

Being able to swipe emails into the trash or archive them for later reading is a handy feature, and one that is an essential part of any modern email client. Thankfully both Apple Mail and Outlook feature a variety of gestures to make regular tasks that little bit easier.

Apple Mail has an advantage in one area as the left swipe reveals a set of options which include Flag, Archive, and More. Tap on the latter and you’ll see an extended list which includes Reply, Mark as Unread, Move to Junk, and the Notify Me option which is useful if you are working with others on a project and want to see when others reply to the email. Swiping right opens the Mark as Unread option, although these can all be changed in the Settings app.

Outlook approaches swiping a little differently. Rather than opening options, the swipes are executed immediately. Again you can define which commands are attached to each swipe, although this is done via the internal app settings rather than laboriously having to navigate out to Apple’s Settings app. Mostly the options are the same, which the exception of an incredibly useful Schedule setting. Say you receive an email that you know you need to respond to later. You can of course flag it (but that relies on you checking your Flagged folder to remind yourself) or leave it unread, which is a clumsy but usable solution.

With the Schedule option on Outlook you can have the app resend the email in a few hours, later that evening, tomorrow morning, or at a specific time of your choosing, so it arrives again when you’re free to give it the attention it deserves. This is an excellent feature and one we hope will appear in Apple Mail before too long.

Outlook for iOS 8 Vs Apple Mail : Attachments

Attaching documents, files, or images to emails on mobile devices can be a frustrating experience.

In Apple Mail you’re able to add an image or video from your camera roll or iCloud photos by holding your finger down on the main panel of an email until the option appears.

To add links to files from services such as Google Drive or Dropbox you have to go to the apps, create a link to a files, then paste it into the email, and repeat this for each file you want to share. It’s all usable, but it’s far from ideal.

Outlook simplifies this entire process by allowing users to link their online storage accounts directly to the email app. OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box are supported, all of which can be accessed by tapping the Files option at the bottom of the screen.

You can also see a preview image of each file displayed in the main pane, making it easier to check whether this is the one you want to send. Simply attach or share the file and a new email is created, one into which you can add additional files by tapping the attach icon that appears on the right side of the screen. From this menu you can also access the camera or your Photo library. It all works very well, and certainly makes Apple Mail look old and clunky in the process.

Outlook for iOS 8 vs Apple Mail: Contacts and Calendars

Another interesting design choice from Microsoft is the inclusion of the Contacts and Calendar app within Outlook. While Apple keeps these areas separated into three apps, Outlook gives you easy access via the icons at the bottom of the screen. This means you can quickly check your calendar to see if a date is free before you send an email, all without leaving the app.

The contacts section, or People as it’s labelled, also has a few nice touches, one being that you can tap an option to quickly see all recent emails for anyone on your list. Both are solid additions to the email and general organisational experience on iOS, ones we would hope to see Apple emulate.

Of course Outlook doesn’t integrate into the OS in the same way that Mail can, mainly due to the restrictions that Apple places upon third-party apps. So hitting the Share button anywhere in iOS won’t bring up the Outlook option as of yet, and the details in contacts can’t be altered in the Microsoft app as they are read-only, whereas the Apple app gives you full access.

Outlook for iOS 8 Vs Apple Mail: Security

While the name Microsoft might engender a sense of Enterprise level security, we’ve seen reports that suggest that Outlook is best treated as a consumer level product, at least for the time being. ActiveSync protocols seem to be bypassable, and there are also questions about how sensitive information like a recipients email credentials are accessed by Microsoft servers. In most cases this will not be an issue for normal users, but if you use your device for work, then it would be best to talk to your IT department before you sign in to the app with your business account.

Read our previews of the Office for Mac 2016 previews:

Excel for Mac 2016 preview

PowerPoint for Mac 2016 preview

Outlook for Mac 2016 preview

Word for Mac 2016 preview

OUR VERDICT

In many ways Outlook is a very impressive mail app that builds on the previous success of Accompli - the app that Microsoft acquired and rebranded as Outlook. The scheduling feature is very useful, and the way attachments are handled truly is a real step up. We also like how the calendar and contacts are integrated into the app, although until you can edit the information fully it’s still only a hint at how things could be. There are some problems though, with the lack of a full screen view for emails being the most puzzling, plus little things like not being able to set up Out-of-office replies directly from the app like you can in Apple Mail.

In contrast Apple’s own offering is still a stable and solid choice that is already a very familiar setting for the majority of iOS users. We can’t help thinking though that it’s beginning to look a little rough around the edges, and the features that Outlook brings to the table only increases the sense that Mail is now lagging behind in terms of being a truly modern email solution. For many users we think these additional options will make switching to Outlook a very pleasing experience, and might just make Apple up its game.

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