Microsoft + iPhone

Posted on April 14, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 1 Comment


Just a few years ago, there was a sharp divide between fans of Microsoft and fans of the iPhone. But in this “mobile first, cloud first” world, it’s now possible to combine Apple’s iPhone hardware with Microsoft’s best-in-breed productivity apps and not feel terrible about yourself. Things really have changed, and for the better.

And if you are a Microsoft guy, there are good reasons to choose iPhone over Android … and even over Windows Phone. Microsoft mobile apps generally appear on iPhone before they do so elsewhere, and certain Microsoft mobile apps are only available on iPhone, at least for now. In several cases, you will see finished Microsoft apps appear on iPhone, whereas Android receives a rougher preview release instead. In many ways, iPhone—or iOS more generally—is the place to be if you’re interested in Microsoft’s mobile solutions.

Regardless, this is the no judging zone, guys. Some people simply prefer iPhone to the competition, which I certainly understand given its market-leading content ecosystems. Others are provided with an iPhone at work and don’t have a choice. But it doesn’t matter why: there are hundreds of millions of iPhones out there, and in the fourth quarter of 2014—admittedly an unusual record-breaking period for Apple—iPhone (71.5 million units) outsold Lumia (10.5 million) by almost 7 to 1. So let’s just agree to be pragmatic here, as Microsoft is doing.

While a complete rundown of every Microsoft app on iPhone would likely be out of date within minutes, it’s interesting to at least consider what is available. And looking at my own iPhone 6 Plus, I see the following.

Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Microsoft’s Office apps for iPhone are full-featured and it will be several months before we see anything like this on Windows Phone. These are essentially the same apps that Microsoft ships for iPad and Android tablets, and will later ship for Windows 10 as well.

OneNote. In many ways the original Office app on iOS, OneNote has only gotten better and better over time, and it works seamlessly with notebooks on OneDrive (consumer), SharePoint or Office 365 for business.

Outlook. With the acquisition of Accompli, Microsoft finally has a real Outlook mobile client with integrated email, contacts and calendar management (plus cross-platform cloud storage). This app is so good it will form the basis for Outlook mobile apps on Windows/Phone. And over time it will replace previous Microsoft mobile email apps, like OWA for iPhone, as well.

OneDrive. Now updated to support OneDrive for Business as well, this app has become a crucial part of any Microsoft user’s mobile device strategy, regardless of platform.

Skype. Microsoft’s hugely popular IM, presence and audio/video chat solution is often updated on iOS before it is on Windows.

Lync 2013. This will soon be replaced by a Skype for Business client, but for now it works well with Lync and Skype for Business infrastructure on-premises or in the cloud.

Office Lens. Microsoft recently ported this excellent scanning utility from Windows Phone, and it’s a must-have addition to any mobile toolbox.

Office Sway. Only available in mobile app form on iPhone—elsewhere, including Windows, you need to use the web—Sway is a new way to tell stories online. Assuming you have an iPhone.

Microsoft Remote Desktop. A bread and butter staple for any IT administrator, I rarely actually need this tool. But it’s good to have just in case, and the touch-based pointer is pretty cool.

MSN News, Money, Health & Fitness, Sports, Food & Drink. MSN’s amazing content apps—well, except for Weather, which is still MIA—are available in full-featured form on iPhone. They used to be a key differentiator for Windows Phone.

Xbox Music. The music service I use is available on iPhone, though this one is a curious exception to the rule where the version of this app is much less full-featured than the version on Windows Phone. Were I actually an iPhone user, I’d almost certainly use another service.

Xbox 360 SmartGlass and Xbox One SmartGlass. These great companion apps for Microsoft’s consoles let you remote control your Xbox, including media playback and the web, and access second screen experiences.

Microsoft Health. This is the companion app for Microsoft Band, and it works the same on iPhone as it does on Windows Phone (though Band does support a handful of Windows Phone-specific features, like Cortana integration).

HealthVault. Often confused with Microsoft Health and MSN Health & Fitness, HealthVault is Microsoft’s backend service for connecting your health and fitness data—which can be fed by those other services—to your health care provider. It’s basically a central repository for your health information, and one that has privacy and security features built-in.

Bing Search. While iPhone does let you configure Bing as the search engine in the Safari web browser, the Bing Search app goes further by enabling Bing Rewards support, web site translation, maps, and more. My guess is that this app will morph over time into a Cortana app.

Photosynth. This one is a bit dated, and of course there are numerous similar apps on iPhone. But Photosynth is a cool way to create immersive panoramas that extend in multiple directions.

Beyond these apps, Microsoft has created a number of other mobile apps for Intune, Office 365 and other business services that I don’t need personally, as well as a very small selection of games and children’s offerings. Compared to my own Windows Phone, there are only a few things missing on iPhone, including Xbox Video and a number of useful Lumia camera apps (though admittedly the iPhone is well served in this area),

And there are some high profile apps that I use on Windows Phone that are well served otherwise on iPhone. For example, Microsoft doesn’t make its Authenticator app for iPhone, but the Google Authenticator app works similarly. Google Maps is available on iPhone, too, as is Nokia HERE Maps, which provides offline capabilities and combines the real-time navigation, public transit maps, and route planning that required a few different apps on Windows Phone. And Mix Radio isn’t on iPhone yet, but it’s coming soon.

Long story short, iPhone is a great platform for apps, as we all know. But it’s also a great platform for Microsoft apps—it’s arguably the best mobile platform for Microsoft apps—as well. And that makes it a lot more interesting. And a lot more useful.

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One response to “Microsoft + iPhone”

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