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

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.

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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."

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