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Microsoft beefs up Outlook apps for iOS, Android

Updates to the Outlook apps tweak swipe gestures on the Android version and improve security for Exchange users in both versions.

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Microsoft has made changes to threads, swiping and security in its Outlook apps. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft has polished up its Outlook apps for iOS and Android just two weeks after their debut.

In a blog post Tuesday, Microsoft's Office 365 Team outlined the features available in an update to the mobile email apps. Some of the new features and changes affect only the iOS app or the Android app, while others affect both versions.

The Outlook apps -- rebranded versions of the Accompli e-mail app that Microsoft bought in December -- are the latest steps in Microsoft's push toward a greater presence in the mobile world.

In the past, Microsoft was shy about releasing its apps onto competing mobile platforms, such as iOS and Android. But CEO Satya Nadella has made it his mission to focus on the cloud and mobile markets as key areas for growth.

In one change, the mobile version of Outlook now handles IMAP, an email protocol supported by many major email providers, including AOL and Comcast. IMAP stores your emails on the server until you delete them, allowing you to access your latest messages from different devices and mail clients.

By default, Outlook sorts your email into conversation threads, so you can follow all related messages. But if you'd rather see each email individually, you can now change the setting. Simply tap the Settings icon, scroll down to the option for Organize Mail by Thread and turn it off. This feature isn't yet available for the Outlook app for Android, but Microsoft said it expects to bring it to Google's mobile OS soon.

Microsoft also now lets you customize swipe gestures on the Android flavor of Outlook just as you can on the iOS version. By swiping a specific email to the right or left, you can quickly delete it, archive it, move it, flag it, schedule it or mark it as read or unread. A setting called Swipe Options lets you choose which action to assign to a right or left swipe.

You can also now change the folders targeted in swipe gestures. In the past, Outlook asked you which folder you wanted to use when you archived or scheduled an email. Now you can set a default folder, so that Outlook will no longer prompt you.

Those of you who use Outlook with Exchange servers, which typically means business users and enterprise customers, will find more solid security in the update.

If your company uses Exchange ActiveSync to sync your email and other items and requires a password for the synchronization, Outlook will now prompt you to set up a passcode on your mobile device. Until that passcode is established, you won't be able to access your email. That sounds like a hassle, but it's designed to protect your email. Devices running iOS 8.0 or later come with built-in encryption. Outlook uses your passcode to encrypt all the data stored on your device.

And for Android users in the business world, Outlook can now enforce policies regarding the length and complexity of your password as well as the number of attempts someone can bypass the screen before your device is wiped.