How Microsoft rethought its approach to email – PCWorld

Two years ago, Microsoft made a massive shift in the way it approached the email market. In January 2015, the company launched Outlook for iOS and Android, free professional-grade email apps for two platforms that Microsoft previously underserved in that regard.

Outlook for iOS and its Android sibling were special, because they supported Gmail, Yahoo and iCloud email, in addition to Microsoft’s, Office 365 and Exchange email offerings. While connecting to third party email providers isn’t new for Outlook, offering one-click support for different email providers at launch sent a message that this wouldn’t be locked to the Microsoft ecosystem.

The apps sported trendy features like the ability to archive messages or schedule them to reappear in a user’s inbox with the swipe of a finger. Outlook’s marquee functionality on mobile was a Focused Inbox that divided a user’s incoming messages by whether or not the app thought they were important — and it worked shockingly well.

This was a massive divergence from Microsoft’s past approach to offering email apps on platforms that competed with Windows. On iOS and Android, the only apps that bore the Outlook name prior to that launch were bare-bones Outlook Web Access clients. What wasn’t clear at the time was that the launch of Outlook mobile presaged massive changes for Microsoft’s whole email group.

Over the past few years, the Outlook team has focused on a new strategy that revolves around creating a cohesive experience that spans a user’s devices. Staying competitive in the email market is important for Microsoft because it’s facing competition from the likes of G Suite, with its machine-learning enhanced Inbox offering.

“Email has continued to be an integral part of business communications even in the day of messaging and social media,” Patrick Moorhead, a principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, said in an email. “Many companies, including Google, are busy making improvements to email with projects like ‘Inbox’ and it’s important Microsoft stay near the cutting edge of it. They don’t have to lead in it, they just can’t be too far behind.”

Here’s how they got there.

Enter Acompli

Microsoft wasn’t starting from scratch with the new Outlook mobile apps. At launch, they were re-skinned versions and slightly modified versions of Acompli, a mobile email app that Microsoft acquired in late 2014. The acquisition was spearheaded by Executive Vice President Qi Lu, who was in charge of Microsoft’s Applications and Services Group.


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