Outlook for iOS Can Finally Snooze, But Some Interesting Features Remain Unavailable Outside the U.S.

Do Not Disturb Feature Now Enabled for Office 365 and Outlook.com Accounts

Some news from Microsoft reveals that Outlook for iOS now supports the Do Not Disturb feature that its Android counterpart has had since July 2018. The delay in bringing the feature to iOS is curious and is perhaps associated with some difficulties manipulating the Apple notification service, something that Teams managed with its Quiet Hours feature in November. Microsoft says that Do Not Disturb can be set for Outlook for iOS by any Office 365 or Outlook.com account.

The idea is similar: to set times when you don’t want notifications for an app to arrive on your device. In the case of Outlook, a reasonable set of options are available to disable notifications indefinitely, for an hour, until the next day, for for some predefined periods like the work day or weekends (Figure 1).

Setting Do Not Disturb for Outlook for iOS
Figure 1: Setting Do Not Disturb for Outlook for iOS

Setting Do No Disturb for Outlook

Setting Do Not Disturb is straightforward. Go to the Home menu to view the set of accounts configured for Outlook. Now select which account for which you want to set Do Not Disturb. Or, if you want to set Do Not Disturb for all accounts, click the Home icon. Now select the alarm bell icon to define the notification block period. In Figure 2, you can see that three accounts are configured for Outlook and all the accounts are set to Do Not Disturb.

Do Not Disturb is set
Figure 2: Do Not Disturb Settings

Click the alarm bell to change or disable the settings. For example, you might decide to silence some accounts and keep others active when you expect some high-priority messages to arrive.

Play My Emails and Time to Leave Both Need Cortana

Outlook mobile has been on a roll in terms of introducing new features recently. However, it’s not good that some of the more interesting features in Outlook are currently confined to the U.S. with no information available when they might become available elsewhere. Play My Emails, which allows Office 365 users to have their email read to them and to respond with voice commands, and Time to Leave, which prompts users when they need to leave their current location to be on time for a meeting, are both only available in the U.S. Or, as Microsoft says in the original announcement about Time to Leave in December 2017, markets where “Cortana is available.”

Microsoft made a big thing of the Play My Emails feature at the Ignite 2019 Conference. Customers were offered the chance to ride an exercise bike while processing their inbox, an activity that raised several thousand dollars for charity. A more normal example might be to process messages while driving into work, in countries where this kind of mobile usage is allowed. Duly impressed (with the technology, not the exercise), I asked the Outlook team why my account didn’t support the feature (Figure 3) only to discover that Play My Emails requires Cortana to be available in the Office 365 datacenter region hosting your mailbox. The three accounts listed here are an Office 365 account, an Outlook.com account, and a shared mailbox.

Play My Emails doesn't work outside the U.S.
Figure 3: Play My Emails doesn’t work outside the U.S.

The same underlying problem appears to block the ability of non-U.S. Outlook accounts to be notified by Time to Leave, a service also powered by the elusive Cortana.

Configuring iOS to be in the U.S. or setting the location for your Office 365 account to be in the U.S. isn’t enough to trick Cortana that she can process your email or help you get to meetings on time. The availability of the features is dependent on where your mailbox runs. In my case, it’s the Western Europe datacenter region where the active copy of my mailbox might be in Dublin, Amsterdam, Vienna, or Helsinki, depending on how Exchange Online feels like on the day in question.

It’s great to see new technology coming through in mobile devices, but it’s sad when Microsoft’s vaunted campaign to make increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is incapable of supporting features outside the U.S. Much as it pains me to say this, there is a world outside Redmond…


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