12 essential Microsoft business apps for the iPhone

As part of Microsoft's "mobile first, cloud first" mission, it has built up a large portfolio of consumer and business apps on every platform. In this roundup, I look at a dozen iOS apps that help IT pros and power users stay productive with an iPhone and Microsoft services.

Topic: Mobility
1 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

A dozen Microsoft apps built for the iPhone

The iPhone 6 and especially the iPhone 6 Plus work extremely well with Microsoft services, especially Office 365.

As far as I'm concerned, Apple's previous flagship phone, the 5S, was just too small to consider using with productivity apps. But the larger screens on the latest Apple phones have enough screen real estate to be genuinely useful.

In this gallery, I've brought together a dozen business-focused apps I have installed on the iPhone 6 Plus I've been using full time for the past month. My list includes a wide range of categories, with all apps available for free on the iTunes App Store.

The traditional Office apps are well represented, in Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote. You can do basic editing without a paid Office subscription, although the combination of these apps with an Office 365 subscription unlocks much more.

On the email side, I've included Acompli, which is the newest Microsoft app thanks to the company's purchase of the startup, announced just days ago.

Office 365 subscriptions work best with Microsoft's OneDrive storage. You can install separate apps for the consumer OneDrive service and OneDrive for Business. Microsoft plans to bring the two services more in sync, so it's possible that by this time next year there will be only a single app able to connect to either or both services.

Lync 2013 is available for iPhones and works especially well for video chats on the larger iPhone screens.

And finally, there are administrative tools designed primarily for IT pros, including a suprisingly good Remote Desktop client.

2 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Acompli Email

App Store listing for Acompli Email

After installing Acompli, I knew within about 10 minutes that it was going to replace every other email client on my iPhone.

Setup is simple, allowing you to connect to a Microsoft (Exchange or Outlook.com), Google (Gmail or Goggle Apps), Apple (iCloud), or Yahoo server for mail and cloud storage services. You can also add independent cloud storage services, such as Dropbox and Box. (There's no way to connect to third-party POP or IMAP mail servers at this point.)

The clean home screen offers unified access to mail, calendars, and contacts from multiple services that don't normally play well together, so Gmail and Exchange can finally get along.

If you have an Office 365 account that includes Exchange email and you own an iPhone or Android device (Acompli Email is available in the Google Play store as well), you need this free app.

One privacy/security caveat: Acompli works its magic by routing data (mail, calendar events, and so on) through its servers. It's all disclosed properly and Acompli has an excellent security policy. But if you are uncomfortable with that arrangement, or if it violates your IT security policies, act accordingly.

3 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft OneNote for iPhone

App Store listing for Microsoft OneNote for iPhone

The one Office app I use more than any other is OneNote, and I'm quite happy with the free iPhone version. It syncs with notebooks on both OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, so I can keep personal stuff and work projects separate but equally organized.

The two screens arranged side by side here show a pair of OneNote features I use regularly.

Whenever I receive a receipt or order confirmation, I can click a button in Outlook to send it to a OneNote notebook. The screen on the left shows the section where I keep details about magazine subscription orders and renewals (including instructions for acessing the tablet versions of those magazines).

On the right, you can see OneNote's search in action, letting me filter thousands of pages down to a handful that include the search term I entered.

4 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft Remote Desktop

App Store listing for Microsoft Remote Desktop

At first glance, the idea of using a sub-6-inch screen to access a full desktop (or server) seems comical. But for checking in on running tasks or performing simple administrative chores, it's big enough. There's a clever little button in the connection bar at the top of the screen that magnifies the screen and adds a little navigation control for zooming around with a flick of the finger.

If you're accusomed to using RDP on larger screens, you'll find this Lilliputian version works surprisingly well.

5 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft Excel

App Store listing for Microsoft Excel

The Excel app for iPhone, likes it Word and PowerPoint counterparts, is downright Spartan compared to the iPad version. You can pinch, pan, and zoom around even large spreadsheets quickly. You can also create new worksheets from templates, perform basic editing and formatting tasks with existing sheets, and share a worksheet with someone else (or with yourself, using online file storage).

6 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft Word

App Store listing for Microsoft Word

You probably shouldn't even think about writing a novel using Word on an iPhone. But if you're comfortable working on the small screen, you could do exactly that. Word for iPhone has a broad enough toolbox of input and formatting tools as well as the ability to add comments and share your work as an attachment or a link.

The latest version of Word adds support for Dropbox in addition to OneDrive.

7 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft PowerPoint

App Store listing for Microsoft PowerPoint

The Rodney Dangerfield of Office apps gets almost no respect, but there's one practical use case for PowerPoint on a phone. If you can connect or beam your phone to a larger monitor, you can project an entire presentation from the palm of your hand.

In a pinch, you can create, edit, and deliver an entire presentation using only an iPhone. And even if you have a larger device to handle the actual projecting, the phone can be an ideal size for reviewing or rehearsing a presentation while you wait.

8 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet


App Store listing for OneDrive

With an Office 365 Home or Personal subscription, you get unlimited cloud storage via the consumer version of OneDrive. As on other platforms, the iPhone app includes an option to automatically upload all your photos to OneDrive as a Camera Roll backup in case your phone is iost or stolen.

In fact, all the screenshots I've used in this gallery were snapped on an iPhone 6 Plus, uploaded to OneDrive automatically, and then cropped and edited on a Windows desktop PC.

9 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

OneDrive for Business

App Store listing for OneDrive for Business

On paper, OneDrive for Business is equivalent to its counsin, the consumer OneDrive service. With Office 365 Business and Enterprise subscriptions, you get unlimited personal storage in the OneDrive for Business cloud. But it's slightly more complicated than that, thanks to the roots of this service (which dates back to Ray Ozzie's Groove).

This application offers straightforward, no-frills access to that personal storage. But given Microsoft's plans to bring the two OneDrives closer together, there's a good chance we'll have a single sync client for both services by this time next year.

10 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Office 365 Admin

App Store listing for Office 365 Admin

I can almost hear the sigh of disappointment every time an Office 365 administrator spots this item in the App Store and discovers that it doesn't do what its name might suggest.

No you can't perform administrative tasks with an Office 365 account from this app. Instead, it offers quick access to the dashboard for Office 365 services. If you manage or support an Office 365 deployment, it's always a good idea to check for wider outages when you get a complaint. Knowing that a problem is occurring in the datacenter can save you from unnecessary troubleshooting.

11 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft Azure Multi-Factor Authentication

App Store listing for Multi-Factor Authentication

Office 365 Enterprise accounts include multi-factor authentication as a security measure to minimize the risk of phishing attacks and social engineering. If you've turned on this security feature for your Office 365 accounts, use this app to generate secure codes for authentication.

Note that Office 365 Small Business, Home, and Personal subscriptions don't support two-factor authentication. A free Microsoft account (used to access Outlook.com, OneDrive, and other consumer-focused services) supports two-factor authentication, but uses a different Authenticator app.

For more on how this security works, see

12 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet


App Store listing for Yammer

It's hard to explain how Yammer works, but you can think of it as a very focused blend of Facebook and LinkedIn for groups built around work. It has the social media features you expect, including the capability to chat with co-workers, create and participate in message threads, and share content. But all of that is in the context of groups set up by an Office 365 administrator.

The Yammer app for iPhone (and an accompanying Yannor Now messaging app) offer a good, albeit limited window into what your professional network is up to.

13 of 13 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Lync 2013 for iPhone

App Store listing for Lync 2013 for iPhone

Lync might be the best kept secret in all of Office 365, a unified communications app with text messaging, audio and video call support, and screen-sharing. For companies that choose Office 365, it's roughly equivalent to Google Hangouts.

Next year, Microsoft is rebranding Lync as Skpe for Business. With clients  for every serious mobile and desktop platform and a more familiar brand name, it's not likely to be a secret for much longer.

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