A recent discussion among MVPs and Microsoft reminded me of a question I was asked back when Outlook for iOS and Android were first released – is the Outlook app for iOS and Android devices a free app?
It’s a simple answer, but perhaps not one that you were expecting. Yes, the app is free. You can download Outlook from the Apple app store or from the Google Play store and not pay any money for it. However, the usage of the app is governed by the license terms.
You may install and use one copy of the software on an iOS-based device that you own or control for non-commercial use purposes, unless you have commercial use rights under a valid commercial Office 365 subscription or as may be otherwise licensed.
Nobody actually reads licenses… well one person did, that’s why they asked me about it. But I certainly hadn’t read them until this was brought to my attention. Like most people I just assumed back then that a free app was free to use. I ended up asking a Microsoft representative for a plain-language interpretation of the license terms.
Outlook requires an eligible Office 365 commercial subscription for commercial use rights – an Office 365 plan that includes the Office apps… Non-commercial use of Outlook is free (Outlook.com, Gmail.com, etc).
The answer is also now available on the FAQ page for Outlook for iOS/Android:
Q: Is a license required to use Outlook for iOS and Android?
Outlook for iOS and Android is free for consumer usage from the iOS App store and from Google Play. However, commercial users require an Office 365 subscription that includes the Office applications: either Business, Business Premium, Enterprise E3, E5, ProPlus, or the corresponding versions of those plans for Government or Education. If you only have an Exchange Online license (without Office) or an Exchange on-premises (Exchange Server) license, you are not allowed to use the app.
So is it free? For personal use, yes. For commercial use, no, a license is required.
This becomes a problem for companies who are trying to minimize their license spend, for example by using Enterprise E1 licenses to provide email to users who don’t typically need the full suite of Office apps as well. Mobile access to that email is an obvious use case, and the “free” Outlook app provides that… except they’re not actually licensed for Outlook as an E1 user. This is the type of little nit-picky license stuff that irritates people, especially when it’s not easily discoverable by way of actual enforcement (Exchange Online doesn’t block Outlook for non-licensed users). One customer said to me it would be like Microsoft charging extra for the Teams desktop or mobile app for E1 users. I don’t think that’s an accurate analogy, but I understand the frustration.
Why the desire to use the Outlook app instead of native mail apps? For one thing, Outlook is a better user experience in my opinion. But from a security perspective, the Outlook app supports Intune MAM policies.
So what can you do about it? Not much, other than pay up to ensure your license compliance. Taking the basic online pricing (i.e. no volume or enterprise or reseller pricing), an E1 + Office 365 ProPlus license is $20, or an E3 license is $20… so take your pick. If the only benefit is the user experience, that additional cost might not be acceptable. If you’ve got security requirements that Outlook helps you meet, then the cost is perhaps more justifiable.