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What Were They Thinking? Help in Microsoft’s OWA App

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Microsoft just released an Outlook app for iOS called OWA. I was pretty excited about the possibility – both as an Outlook and iPhone user and also from a user assistance perspective. From the personal side, the app seems to work great. It gives me full integration between Office 365 on my laptop and phone. The UA side is pretty disappointing though.

When you’re in the Mail section of the app, you can find Help by tapping the More Actions (three dots) Tap “help” and you get… well you get a big mess.

OWA email more actions

First of all, you get Help for the Outlook Web app on Office.microsoft.com that was designed for traditional desktop browser viewing. The amount of content is far too dense for mobile viewing and it uses screen captures from the desktop view. And the procedures don’t match what you need to do on the phone app.

OWA Help 1

OWA Help 2

Secondly, the Outlook Web app doesn’t use a responsive design. The content does not change size and orientation for the smaller screen it is displayed on. It is not even possible to view the full width of the content. There was obviously no thought or testing involved in this. It is amazing that an app this prominent could be released with such a major flaw. This result is a lot of swiping, pinching, and zooming to find your way through the information. Microsoft has responsive design web sites, so it’s not like their new to this.

And when you go to the Outlook Web app help, you get bounced out of the native app into the Safari browser. This is always a bad idea. It never works well to force the user to juggle two apps on a mobile phone. When people go to Help, they are already at a frustration point. Introducing more complexity is not what they are looking for. Embedding the relevant content into the view of the main app is always a better choice.

I can’t think that the Help was anything but a last minute after thought. Even if that was the case, this is a really awful example of mobile user assistance.

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