Microsoft's pre-release OWA for Android arrives for KitKat phones

Microsoft's pre-release OWA for Android arrives for KitKat phones

Summary: Nearly a year after launching OWA for iOS, Microsoft's has published OWA for Android on Google Play but there's no word yet on tablet support.

OWA for Android in action. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has published a pre-release Outlook Web App (OWA) for Android on Google Play to gather feedback and fix bugs before a full release.

As a pre-release edition, the OWA for Android app currently comes with a few support restrictions, including that it requires Android 4.4 or higher and that Mailbox is running on the latest version of Office 365 for business — which means it won't work for mail apps running Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home. Also, the pre-release version is designed for "small" or "normal" Android devices, so no joy for tablet users.

Microsoft announced its native Android OWA app in March this year, following the app’s release for Apple's iPhone and iPad last July. The Android app, at least when Microsoft has completed its pre-release user survey, completes its "OWA for Devices" portfolio.

Microsoft says that the app will have the same features as OWA for iPhone, with a navigation screen that gives easy access to Outlook, Calendar and People. It's also optimised Calendar and People for Android phones.

Users can also configure the app to sync with the device's contacts, allowing contact updates to flow through to the Office 365 mailbox.

Microsoft said it will announce support for on-premise Exchange servers "in the future".

Of course, while Android owners were able to use OWA in the browser, that meant features such as notifications and access to hardware elements including the device's camera or GPS weren't available.

Some of the features Microsoft has listed as coming in the OWA for Android app include:

  • Use OWA for Android to sync Mailbox contacts to your phone. 
  • Contacts' information can be updated from the phone's address book, which will then be synced back to the user's mailbox. 
  • No device administrator setup — a PIN can be set up within the app.
  • In the event a phone is lost or stolen, corporate data can be remotely wiped.

Microsoft said it launched native OWA for Devices to address the "entropy" it was seeing in the way Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) was implemented in third-party devices. This in turn impacted admins who needed to know with certainty how EAS functioned when it synchronised email messages, calendar items, contacts, and other data between servers and mobile devices.

"We were seeing a lot of entropy in the device ecosystem. We would publish a spec for ActiveSync gets implemented and as more and more third parties would pick that up... we saw many more variations," Microsoft software manager Greg Baribault said on Microsoft's Office blog.

"In some cases we saw devices that misrepresent what they were doing. We saw devices that claimed they were device encrypted and in reality they weren’t encrypting.

"So now we own the app, so it's a Microsoft channel from end to end… Now can apply commonly used policies in to that app — can set remote wipe, PIN policies and encryption policies that apply to ActiveSync devices that are connecting and OWA for Devices apps that are connecting."

Read more on OWA

Topics: Mobility, Android, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Not sure.

    I'm unsure why I'd use this when the built in email app and ActiveSync on my Nexus 5 works perfectly well with our Exchange 2013 server.

    It already syncs with my contacts and my calendar. The only advantage I see in OWA is it's prettier and everything is in one place. I can block devices I don't like via Exchange 2013, or quarantine them, which prevents unknown, or users own devices connecting to mailboxes.

    I can see the appeal, but I couldn't justify moving our users to it. Unless I'm missing something here. And in terms of entropy, the only thing I notice is that ActiveSync on my Android tends to pick up changes made in Exchange before Outlook does.
    • Agreed

      Along with numerous other offerings available with exchange support.

      I use Cloud Magic currently, as it handles the internal and external exchange addresses seamlessly.
  • Embrace your software self...

    Just yesterday I was wondering to myself whether Microsoft would release a versin of IE for Android. It's not a crazy as it might seem. Android supports third party browsers (not just skins). I've got Opera, Firefox, Chrome and whatever Samsung includes by default on my Android devices, so why not IE. I'm sure there would be installs.
    • No, please no

      They need to fix IE on WP first, and at the same time fix IE on Windows RT.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • whats wrong with the mail apps?

        whats wrong with the mail apps?
        • I mean IE

          I mean IE
        • On which?

          I could help you out better if you were more specific. Both of them have their own, unique, problems.
          Michael Alan Goff
          • Give us an example of each

            WP and RT
          • One example? Easy. I'll give you two.

            Windows Phone:
            Rendering issues. There's a thread over at WP Central about how there are several sites that aren't rendering right. These aren't sites that don't render on Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro versions, just the WP version. That says there's some difference between the two.

            Some sites have an issue with word-wrap on it. Not on my Android device with Chrome, but on my Lumia 520, so it isn't a site issue per-se.

            Windows RT:
            I turn my Surface off occasionally. This could be because it has to restart for updates or because I feel like it. Either way, when I start up IE again things aren't the way they should be. This is the modern version, of course. It'll open tabs that I already closed, move them around, sometimes not have tabs that I actually had open before I had restarted the Surface (or shut it off).

            Close Modern IE completely. As in pull down, wait for it to flip over, and then open it back up. Viola! All your tabs are now gone, regardless of whether or not you changed the option for it to save your session.
            Michael Alan Goff