Mail apps don’t always do everything you want them to do. No matter how many bells and whistles your email client boasts, chances are it falls short in one area or another. That is probably why Microsoft has taken a third-party approach with Outlook, letting developers code add-ins that tie into the app on mobile devices. On Thursday, on the Outlook app’s second anniversary, it is rolling out the first few fruits of its labor.
You will likely recognize the names responsible for the first crop of apps and add-ins. At the new feature’s launch, Outlook will support Evernote, Giphy, Nimble, Trello, and Smartsheet, and several in-house Microsoft creations like Microsoft Translator and Dynamics 365.
Enabling them is a relatively simple affair. Once you have launched the latest version of Outlook on your iOS device of choice, head to the settings menu and tap the Add-Ins menu. You will see a list of potential add-ins and a “plus” symbol to add them. Once an app is enabled, you will be able to invoke it when you are reading an email by tapping the corresponding symbol in the upper-right-hand corner. Microsoft is working on making it possible to use add-ins in other contexts, such as writing emails.
Each has its own behavior “specific to the service that build it,” Microsoft said. Dynamics 365 delivers real-time insights about your business contacts and their organizations to your inbox. Trello lets you add cards straight from Outlook’s inbox, and track changes to existing projects. Microsoft Translator supports 60 different languages. Evernote allows you to clip emails to an Evernote folder. And Giphy lets you reply to an email with a GIF.
Microsoft said it will approve additional add-ins in the near future and said it is opening add-on development to third parties.
Apple’s iOS software already provides a means of sharing information between apps in Extensions, a feature introduced in iOS 8. But Microsoft’s Javier Soltero told Computerworld that it “wasn’t right” for Outlook’s purposes. “In [my] view, Apple’s design is based on a series of events that users don’t typically follow,” he said. “To email a picture, users find the photo in their Photos app, then open the share sheet and send the photo to Outlook for inclusion in an email.” Outlook’s add-ins, by contrast, are based around intents. “You know what you’re going to do — you’re going to send a message, and what you include in that message is the other consideration,” he said.
Add-ins and apps are not available for everyone just yet. You will have to be an Office 365 customer to take advantage but Microsoft said the functionality is rolling out slowly to Outlook.com users. Support for Android will be available soon.
Add-in support for Outlook on iOS follows the beta debut of apps for Windows and Mac.