Microsoft has released a big update to OneDrive for iOS, bringing several significant user-facing features as well as a full rewrite of the app under the hood to improve performance. According to the release notes for the update, all the new features are being progressively rolled out over the next couple days, so you may not see them right away. They are also all, at least for now, exclusive to Office 365 subscribers, and it is unclear if that will change in the future or not.
The first new feature of note is offline folders. OneDrive has offered offline files for a while now, but the ability to save entire folders offline has been painfully absent. I expect this feature will make a lot of users very happy.
Earlier this year OneDrive added a scanning tool, but it was very basic and rudimentary, requiring scanned documents to be a single page only; there were also no editing options whatsoever for scanned pages. The latest version of the app remedies these issues by introducing multi-page scanning along with tools to crop, rotate, or delete scanned pages.
The final two changes to OneDrive center around improving file sharing. One of those improvements is that you can now give someone temporary access to a file by creating a shared link with an expiration date of your choosing. The other improvement is found in the app’s ‘Shared’ tab, where users with a work or school account will see a new ‘Discover’ section. This section features an assortment of documents personalized for you based on who you work with and what projects you’re working on together.
Microsoft Outlook for iOS was updated today with several new features, and Microsoft announced that another significant update would be coming soon.
The new feature that appeals to me most is quick reply, which makes the act of replying to an email resemble that of replying to a message in services like Slack or iMessage. At the bottom of each email there’s now a quick reply box you can tap in to begin crafting your response. No need for a separate compose window to appear, taking you out of the conversation; the full conversation is still in view, and you can scroll through it as you wish. I believe compose windows are largely unnecessary friction points that contribute to email’s poor reputation, so while a quick reply box may seem like a small change, for me at least it helps make email easier to deal with. One additional nicety included in the new reply interface is the ability to @mention to call out specific recipients.
Threaded messages in Outlook are now all uncollapsed by default, saving the extra taps previously needed to expand collapsed messages. Now when you open a threaded email you’ll be automatically navigated to the most recent message, so there’s no more need to scroll the full thread before finding what you’re looking for.
Outlook’s sidebar menu now includes a persistent column listing all of your different accounts, making it easier than ever to switch between different accounts. The updated menu also brings more convenient access to folders than was previously available.
These changes are rolling out progressively to all users, so you may not see them immediately.
One other upcoming change Microsoft announced today is that search will soon receive a major upgrade. Outlook’s main navigation tabs will be updated to include only Mail, Search, and Calendar; search’s more prominent placement in the app will be justified due to it including more than just email results – you’ll also find results for people, files, and intelligent information about things like upcoming flights or package deliveries. An exact release date for the new search features wasn’t announced, but Microsoft says it is coming soon.
Microsoft To-Do is the official successor to Wunderlist, the popular task management app acquired by Microsoft in mid-2015. Microsoft unveiled To-Do today in Preview, which is essentially a public beta. The service is built on Office 365 technologies, but according to ZDNet it is available to anyone with a Microsoft account; Office 365 is not required.
To-Do launches today on several major platforms, including iPhone, Android, Windows, and the web. Unfortunately iPad and Mac versions are not available at this time, but Microsoft says those apps will be available in the coming months.
After spending some time with To-Do on iPhone, my initial impressions are that it's a beautiful, simple task management tool that very much feels like a worthy successor to Wunderlist.
Touch Bar support for Microsoft Office was announced last fall at Apple’s MacBook Pro event and on Microsoft’s blog. Those features are beginning to appear in some of the apps in Microsoft’s Office suite through Office Insider, a public beta program that anyone can join. Touch Bar support is currently available in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and is expected to be added to Outlook and Skype later. Although the features are currently only available through the Office Insider program, they should be available to other users later this year. I updated to the latest Office beta and tried its new Touch Bar features.
In Word, Touch Bar support includes formatting, style application, and table editing buttons. A 'Focus Mode' has also been added to Word that eliminates all menus, controls and status bars from the app, leaving nothing but the document you are drafting on a black background. Focus Mode highlights one of the best use cases for the Touch Bar. By moving commonly-used controls onto the Touch Bar you get the best of both worlds: an uncluttered minimal writing environment in an app historically known for just the opposite, but with commonly used formatting tools close at hand.
Excel includes formatting buttons similar to Word but adds styling options specific to spreadsheets and quick access to common chart types. The style buttons are particularly nice because the Touch Bar's OLED display allows the buttons to provide a full-color preview of the formatting that they apply. Excel also shows equation search results in on the Touch Bar as you begin typing one into a cell.
PowerPoint users get a series of mini slide images in the Touch Bar in presentation mode that make it easy to jump to a specific part of a presentation. PowerPoint also includes buttons for adding slides, tables, and shapes. Word, Excel, and Powerpoint have a button that lets you access recent documents from the Touch Bar too.
The Touch Bar is a natural fit for the feature-rich apps in Microsoft’s Office Suite. It feels like there is even more that Microsoft can do with it in each app, but it’s still early in the testing phase, so I wouldn’t be surprised if more Touch Bar functions are added in the coming weeks. If you are interested in testing Office's Touch Bar support, you can sign up for the Office Insider program here.
Microsoft has added a new group scheduling tool for Office 365 subscribers and users of the latest version of Exchange. Microsoft's Outlook blog explains how it works:
Once you’ve created an event from your calendar and added your coworkers to the People field, tap the date picker. Times that work for everyone show in white, yellow indicates availability for one or more people in the group, and red indicates times with no availability. Next, tap the time picker and just drag and drop until it turns green—indicating everyone is available at that time.
After you have found a time that works for everyone and fill out any additional information about your event tapping the checkmark sends an invitation to each invitee and saves the event to your calendar.
Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:
Microsoft was quick to optimize its Office suite of apps for the iPad Pro and Apple's Pencil stylus, but the company held off on any inking support in Office for iPhone. Starting today, Microsoft is updating Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for iPhone to include a new drawing tab option. Just like the Windows and iPad variants, Office on iPhone will now let you use your finger to write, draw, and highlight documents.
Another great update for Word, Excel and PowerPoint on iOS.
Because space is limited on an iPhone screen, these drawing features are a little hidden. So in order to access these drawing features on the iPhone you'll need to tap the icon on the top navigational bar that looks like an A with a pencil cutting through it. That will trigger a pop-up on the bottom half of the screen. From there, on the top-left of the pop-up should be a drop-down menu, tap that and choose "Draw".
Back in April, Microsoft jumped into web service automation with the introduction of Flow, a business-oriented, Zapier and IFTTT-like service for creating workflows that connects disparate web services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, Mailchimp, GitHub, Twitter, SharePoint, and Salesforce. Yesterday, Microsoft released an iOS app called Microsoft Flow that, according to the Microsoft blog, allows users to ‘manage, track, and explore your automated workflows anytime and anywhere.’
I have spent a little time with the Microsoft Flow app and it works as advertised, but is limited. Unlike IFTTT's iOS app, Flow does not let you create workflows, though Microsoft says that feature is will be added in the coming months. In addition, the complex workflows that are possible in Zapier are not possible with Flow. For now, Flow is limited to doing things like turning workflows on and off, reviewing history reports of workflows that have run, receiving workflow push notifications, and evaluating error messages for workflows that fail.
Flow has a long way to go before it approaches the power of Zapier or its app has the depth of IFTTT's, but it’s good to see Microsoft bring Flow to mobile devices and remains a service worth watching.
Microsoft Flow is available on the App Store as a free download.
Microsoft has entered the web automation space with Flow, a new service currently in public preview that aims to connect multiple web apps together. Microsoft describes Flow as a way to "create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, collect data, and more".
From the Microsoft blog:
Microsoft Flow makes it easy to mash-up two or more different services. Today, Microsoft Flow is publicly available as a preview, at no cost. We have connections to 35+ different services, including both Microsoft services like OneDrive and SharePoint, and public software services like Slack, Twitter and Salesforce.com, with more being added every week.
I took Flow for a quick spin today, and it looks, for now, like a less powerful, less intuitive Zapier targeted at business users. You can create multi-step flows with more than two apps, but Flow lacks the rich editor of Zapier; in my tests, the web interface crashed often on the iPad (I guess that's why they call it a preview); and, in general, 35 supported services pales in comparison to the hundreds of options offered by Zapier.
Still, it's good to see Microsoft joining this area and it makes sense for the new, cloud-oriented Microsoft to offer this kind of solution. Flow doesn't have the consumer features of IFTTT (such as support for home automation devices and iOS apps) or the power of Zapier (which I like and use every day), but I'll keep an eye on it.
Microsoft is on a roll with iOS keyboards. Just over two weeks ago, Microsoft’s Garage project released Hub, which has tight integrations with Office 365. Today, Microsoft Garage released another keyboard called Word Flow, which is based on the Windows Phone keyboard from Windows Phone 8.1. According to The Verge, Microsoft had promised a public beta period for Word Flow, but skipped that step.
There are multiple options for interacting with Word Flow. Once installed, you can use it in one-handed mode where the keyboard can be displayed in an arc on the left or right side of the keyboard area. Alternatively, you can use a traditional keyboard layout.
In either case, Word Flow accepts both swiping and tapping input and has a strong predictive algorithm that anticipates the words you intend to type. In my limited tests, the one-handed mode was helpful for typing on my iPhone 6s Plus one handed and the predictive input was solid, though it didn’t seem to recognize its own name, failing to capitalize ‘flow’ in the screenshots above. Of course, for the predictive feature to work, you need to grant Word Flow full access to your keyboard input, which not everyone will be comfortable doing.
Word Flow also lets you set backgrounds behind your keyboard, including ones that are built into the app or your own photos. Personally, I think the backgrounds are ugly and distracting, but fortunately you can use Word Flow without a background.
Microsoft Word Flow is available on the App Store for free.
Update: Microsoft Word Flow is a US English keyboard and is only available in the US App Store.