Microsoft goes all in with Android apps for business

Over the past few years, Microsoft has embraced the Android operating system with surprising enthusiasm. Most of the company's 100+ apps in the Google Play Store are aimed at its business customers. Here's an overview of what you'll find for your Android phone.

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This story was originally published in March 2016. It has been extensively updated to reflect changes in Microsoft's lineup of Android apps. This revision was published March 26, 2018.

Microsoft's huge investment in software for the Android operating system shouldn't be surprising, especially in the Satya Nadella era. And yet it's still a bit of a shock to search for "Microsoft Corporation" in the Google Play Store and see just how extensive its lineup of Android apps is.

You certainly couldn't say that three years ago. When I surveyed the Microsoft app landscape in early 2015, I found some serious gaps on the Android front. The only option for working with Office files was the weak Office Mobile app, for example, and Outlook was still known by its old name, Acompli.

Within a year, that had changed dramatically, as Microsoft bulked up its collection to 85 apps.
On that expanded list were some certified heavyweights, including the entire Office suite, with Word, Excel, Outlook, and company boasting more than 10 million downloads apiece in less than a year.

Since then, Microsoft's app lineup has grown to 105 apps, and the core Office apps - Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote - are all certified hits with more than 100 million downloads each. At least 14 more Microsoft apps have racked up more than 1 million downloads.

Even more impressive is how frequently those apps have been updated in the past year.

For the past two years, I've been using a wide range of Microsoft apps and services on Android, and have watched their evolution in real time. These are serious productivity apps.

For this post and accompanying gallery (to be updated later this week), I've assembled an inventory of interesting business-class apps from Microsoft. I've left out some consumer-focused stalwarts, including the Microsoft Solitaire Collection and the Xbox app, an indispensable after-hours tool that has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

If your work life revolves around Microsoft services and Android hardware, here's a field guide to help you find the best apps coming out of Redmond. (To see the full assortment of apps, visit Microsoft's page at the Google Play Store.)

OneDrive

Ironically, the iOS and Android apps beat their Windows counterparts to the punch with a key feature. You can connect the OneDrive apps to personal and business accounts, then switch between those files as easily as you would switch between accounts in an email app.

When this app debuted it was downright crude. Today, on a large enough display, it's extremely capable and easy to navigate. You can browse files, photos, or recently changed files and view details about a file or folder with a tap. An easily accessible toolbar button lets you quickly mark a file or folder to be always available offline.

I used the photo sharing features of OneDrive to share screenshots from my phone to the gallery that accompanies this article, a process that took only a few taps. This aspect of the app is probably the one that compares least favorably to Google Photos, but the improvement is impressive.

Office

Three short years ago, getting any serious work done with Office documents on an Android smartphone was difficult, because only the weak Office Mobile app was available. Today, there are full-strength Office apps, available for the platform, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. (Skype for Business is also available for business subscribers.)

You probably wouldn't want to create a doctoral dissertation in one of these apps, but for reading and light editing they're extremely effective. And just as with the desktop Office apps on Windows and OS X, the consistent interface makes it easy to switch between apps while remaining productive.

Outlook ranks as the most improved member of the Office app family. I have it connected to two Exchange accounts as well as a free Outlook.com account, and it does a fine job of managing email, calendars, and contacts.

The swipe actions are customizable, and the Focused Inbox feature is uncannily accurate at sorting important mail from stuff I don't really care about. My only complaint is that there's no fine-grained control over sync intervals.

The newest member of the app family is Microsoft To-Do, which offers acceptable functionality but hasn't yet 0fulfilled its promise to incorporate the functionality of Wunderlist, which Microsoft bought three years ago.

Enterprise Office 365 subscribers will want to look carefully at Microsoft Teams and Microsoft StaffHub, both of which are useful additions but still evolving.

But the real sleeper of Office on a smartphone is the Office Lens app, which lets you treat your smartphone camera as if it were a scanner. It's optimized to capture content from whiteboards, printed documents, business cards, and ordinary photos and save it in any of a half-dozen formats.

Utilities

Microsoft's lineup of Android apps includes a surprising number of utilities designed to make the Android experience better. The newest and most successful by far (more than 10 million downloads) is Microsoft Launcher. As a replacement for the default launcher on an Android device, it includes all the features you would expect, including multiple home screens, widgets, and a plethora of customization options.

The most prominent addition to that launcher is Cortana, which is also available as a standalone app. After three years of evolution it's become very useful indeed and is a worthy replacement if you're concerned that saying "OK Google" is turning over too much information to Google's machine.

And someone at Microsoft loves alternative keyboards. Microsoft has a special keyboard for use with Excel, and another called the Hub keyboard, which adds an Office 365 search bar to the top of the input panel. But the big kahuna is SwiftKey, acquired two years ago and recently updated to include a host of useful features. As far as I am concerned, this is the premier alternative keyboard for both Android and iOS.

For IT pros

If you're a sysadmin running Microsoft Intune or supporting Dynamics CRM, you'll find a half-dozen Android apps for each of those products. There's also a serviceable Office 365 Admin tool that could stand some beefing up.

One app that has a place of honor on my home screen is Microsoft Authenticator, which supports two-factor authentication for Microsoft Accounts, Azure Active Directory, Office 365, and third-party apps. Even if you prefer a different 2FA app, such as Google Authenticator, this one is worth having for its one-tap approvals for Microsoft services.

Finally, there's Microsoft Edge, available as an alternative browser on Android and iOS smartphones (and recently released as a beta for iPad). If you're among the small but loyal clan of Edge users, its ability to sync bookmarks and passwords will be welcome.

OK, Android users, which of your favorite apps did I miss? Leave your comments and nominations in the comments below.

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