Some people may prefer the Outlook progressive web app to the Outlook mobile app for iOS and Android, and there are pros and cons. Let’s look at the lightweight web app for mobile devices.
A progressive web app is a website that looks like a mobile phone app when it is visited in a browser on a phone. URL boxes and buttons may disappear leaving just the web page, which is carefully designed to fit on a small phone screen and mimic a mobile app.
When a progressive web app (PWA) is being used, you can easily think that you are using a real app, when it is really just a cleverly crafted website. Even if there is a true mobile app, you might prefer the web app for several reasons.
There is nothing to install. There is no app and it is just a website, so no storage is required for it. For example, the Outlook app for the iPhone is 316.7 MB in the iOS App Store the last time I checked. The PWA is nothing. It’s a website you access in Safari. It is a similar story on Android phones too and the app is big, but the PWA is almost nothing.
No background usage. Some apps that run in the background can use a lot of battery power. I don’t know how much the Outlook app uses, but the Outlook PWA does not use any battery power at all when it is not running. It’s just a website in Safari that only uses battery power when you actually visit it and use it.
PWAs are getting better. The popularity of progressive web apps is increasing and more websites are improving their PWAs on mobile devices. Phones and mobile browsers are also becoming more powerful and better at running web content.
Outlook PWA, the Outlook app alternative
If you have not tried Outlook in a browser on your phone, you may be surprised how good it is. It does almost everything you need and in a mobile browser.
The one thing it cannot do is show notifications when it is not in use. For example, you will not see a notification that an email has arrived, you actually have to open Outlook PWA to see what’s new in your inbox. The same is true of calendar events and you have to open Outlook PWA Calendar to see appointments and events.
Despite a few minor inconveniences, after trying Outlook PWA, you may prefer it to the mobile app. so how do you actually use it? Just go to outlook.com in a browser on your phone, such as Safari on the iPhone and Chrome on Android phones. Other browsers will work of course.
Install Outlook PWA
Although I said that PWAs do not need installing, that is not quite true. You do have to install something and it is more like a souped-up bookmark than an app. On my Android phone the Outlook app is using 301 MB of storage, but the PWA is using just 0.2 MB, which is almost nothing. That is a huge saving in storage.
Open Chrome on Android or Safari on iOS and go to outlook.com. If you have been before, you will be straight into your inbox, but if it your first visit, you will need to login.
You may see a notice at the bottom of the screen asking if you want to add it to the home screen. Go ahead and add it.
If you don’t see a message, in Safari on an iPhone press the Share/Actions button at the bottom of the screen, pull up the menu and press Add to Home Screen. In Chrome on an Android phone press the three dots at the top to open the menu and then tap Install App.
In both cases, you get an icon on the home screen and you can do it for both Outlook Mail and Outlook Contacts. You can, of course, switch between Mail and Contacts within the app, but it is useful adding separate icons. If your home screen is full, the icon will be on the next available screen.
After creating the home screen icons, quit Chrome or Safari. Now simply tap the new home screen icons to open Outlook Email or Outlook Calendar. Opening them from the icon hides the browser so that the PWA looks like a regular app. It is excellent and unless you compare the real app with the PWA, you probably would not realize you were using the web app.
Progressive Web Apps, PWAs, are almost as good as regular apps. However, they save storage space and battery life. This makes them especially good for budget phones or old phones where storage and battery life may be limited.
You cannot rely on a PWA to notify you of an appointment or important email because they do not run in the background. Just remember to check manually occasionally.