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Gartner Analyst Profiles Office 365 Products and Mobility Support

Analyst and consulting firm Gartner offered a snapshot on Wednesday of the various Office 365 services and Office apps that Microsoft currently offers, especially with regard to mobile support.

The presentation by Mark Cortner, a research director with Gartner Inc., specifically examined the state of Office mobile support from the enterprise perspective. Microsoft has a somewhat confusing mix of products when it comes to mobile Office access. For instance, the Office mobile capabilities that are available will vary depending the device used (tablet or smartphone), the operating system (Android, iOS or Windows) and the kind of mobile app used (native app or browser-based app).

Cortner stressed that the current mobile Office experience isn't uniform. There can be feature gaps depending on the OS platform used. Browser support may vary.

Office Products
Mobile access to Office applications can be enabled by subscribing to various Office 365 online services, including Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online. Microsoft also offers OneDrive for Business cloud-based storage and Yammer enterprise social networking services, which typically get bundled with other Office 365 service offerings.

Office 365 Professional Plus is the typical suite of applications purchased through an Office 365 subscription. Office 365 Pro Plus includes Access, Excel, Lync, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher and Word. These applications aren't accessed through Microsoft's cloud. Instead, Microsoft's click-to-run streaming technology installs the bits locally on a device. The mobile support available to Office 365 Pro Plus subscribers currently exists just on the Windows desktop OS platform, according to Cortner's presentation. It isn't available for OS platforms such as Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

Cortner's overview of mobile support focused on the following Microsoft products:

  • Office 365 Pro Plus: the full suite available through Office 365 subscriptions
  • Office Online: browser-based versions of Excel, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word, formerly known as "Office Web Apps." They're included as part of Office 365 subscriptions
  • Office for iPad: native apps built for iOS 6.0 or higher
  • Office for Android preview: native apps built for Android "KitKat" 4.4 for tablets or Android 4.0 for smartphones
  • Office Mobile: a suite of Office apps (Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, SharePoint Workspace and Word) built for Android, iOS and Windows Phone smartphones

Office Online
Office Online apps are run from a Web browser and have different mobile capabilities, depending on the OS platform supported. They have "limited" mobile capabilities on Android smartphones, iPhones and Windows Phones. They have "moderate" mobile capabilities on iPads and Windows devices, according to Cortner.  

Office Native Apps
The native apps include Office for Android and Office for iPad. While Cortner didn't mention it, Microsoft is also building native "universal" Office apps for Windows 10, although they currently are at the preview stage.

Office for Android has "strong" mobile capabilities on tablets (there's no support for Android smartphones yet), according to Cortner. These apps are still at the "preview" stage.

Office for iPad also has "strong" mobile capabilities (no iOS smartphone support available yet). Cortner's presentation stressed that these native apps are "more robust" than Office Online apps, but they are less robust than the apps that are available through Office 365 subscriptions or the Office 2013 suite. He flatly stated that Office for iPad business users "must" have an Office 365 subscription to create and edit files, which is something that has been assumed, although Microsoft hasn't stated it in plain language.

Microsoft's Outlook for iOS and Android native apps are different from the company's Outlook Web Apps. The native apps are based on technology from Microsoft's Acompli acquisition. The Outlook for iOS and Android native apps are missing some capabilities, though. They can't sync contacts, for instance. They do enable remote app-level wipes, which also removes any associated data from the cloud.

Office Mobile
Office Mobile apps are for smartphones only. These apps were rated by Cortner as having "moderate" mobile capabilities for Android smartphones, iPhones and Windows Phones. Office Mobile apps permit the user to view or edit existing Excel, Word and PowerPoint files. No Office 365 subscription is needed to use them, he added.

Mobile Apps for Online Services
Cortner also profiled mobile apps used with various Office 365 online services, such as SharePoint Online and Lync Online (which Microsoft plans to rename "Skype for Business" this year), as well as Exchange Online. He said that the first Office 365 service that most of Gartner's customers consume is Exchange Online. The service uses the Exchange ActiveSync protocol, which offers "rudimentary" mobile device management capabilities for IT pros, in addition to synchronizing e-mail and calendar apps. ActiveSync provides some level of IT control and governance, but not across all devices and OS platforms. He added that ActiveSync can be used to enforce remote device wipe for mobile devices, but it's indiscriminate, resulting in a complete wipe of the device (it wipes out personal content as well as business content).

The Outlook Web App can be used with the Exchange Online service, providing access to e-mail, calendar, contacts and tasks. It works across iOS, Android and Windows devices. The Outlook Web App does not support an offline mode on smartphones and tablets. It has other limitations, as well, such as limited folder support and there's no search capability. The Outlook Web App is not as rich as the as the desktop Outlook product, Cortner explained.

SharePoint Online has "strong" mobile support on Android-based browsers, as well as Internet Explorer and Safari browsers. It isn't supported on Chrome and Firefox browsers. The SharePoint Newsfeed app, which is getting supplanted by Microsoft's Yammer product, has "moderate" mobile capabilities on iOS and Windows devices, but it isn't supported on Android devices.

Yammer is supported across all devices and platforms, but there's also a Yammer Now mobile messaging app that has "strong" support only on the iOS platform. Yammer Now lacks support on Android and Windows.

Microsoft's Lync Online client apps have "strong" mobile support across all OS platforms and devices, according to Cortner's presentation. He likely means the full desktop client that comes with Office 365 plans. Microsoft has other Lync apps, which are described in this TechNet article . For instance, there's a Lync Web App client, but it's just supported on Windows and Macintosh OSes, according to that article.

More To Come
Cortner stressed that Microsoft's mobile apps have been rapidly changing, with multiple updates to different apps arriving on a monthly basis. Microsoft has focused a great deal on building out mobile capabilities for its Office 365 products, as enabled via Azure cloud services.

More Office 365 mobile device management improvements are yet to come. According to Cortner's presentation, "Microsoft has announced MDM [mobile device management] capabilities within Office 365 to be available in Q1 2015," including things like "device level PIN lock, jailbreak detection, and selective wipe."

The presentation, "Office 365 and Mobile Productivity: Capabilities and Constraints," is currently available on demand (Gartner sign-up required). It can be accessed at this page.

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