Big changes come to Microsoft Outlook for iPhone — and the PC version is next

Acompli Javier Soltero
Microsoft CVP of Outlook Javier Soltero Acompli

Microsoft Outlook for iOS and Android is already a pretty great app, helping you sift through your email and calendar quickly and easily.

And today, it’s getting even better, with a fresh new look, courtesy of the talent Microsoft snapped up in its acquisition of calendar app Sunrise.

The new design is live for iPhone users now, and will roll out to Android users in the next few weeks.

This redesign actually represents the first real team-up between two of Microsoft’s most high-profile acquisitions: Outlook for iOS, itself is based on Acompli, which Microsoft bought in late 2o14, and Sunrise, which joined Team Microsoft in early 2015.

Outlook for iOS new design 1
The new Outlook for iOS design. Microsoft

The bad news for Sunrise fans is that this redesign also marks that app’s death knell. Once all of Sunrise’s best features are fully integrated into Outlook on mobile over the coming months, “Sunrise will be sunsetted,” as Microsoft Corporate VP of Outlook Javier Soltero tells Business Insider.

The good news, at least for Outlook fans, is that this is the first step towards something bigger. And it starts what Soltero says is a six-month timeframe for big changes to hit the desktop version of Outlook, essentially the standard in the workplace.

Outlook is good

To commemorate the redesign, Soltero shared some usage statistics. In the eight months or so since Outlook for iOS launched, it’s accrued almost 30 million active users, and hit 1.2 unique sessions — as in, times people opened the app — per month.

“This product didn’t exist as either Acompli or Outlook two and a half years ago, but here we are,” says Soltero.

It’s also the “inflection point” where Microsoft and competitors meet, Soltero says, since plenty of people use Exchange with external services like Google’s Gmail or Yahoo Mail.

Outlook for iOS new design 2
The new Outlook for iOS design. Microsoft

When Soltero first joined Microsoft, he was only in charge of the Outlook for mobile. But largely due to the success of that app, Soltero now leads up development of all versions of Outlook.

The fact that Outlook has won over so many iPhone and Android users in such a short time is why this redesign is so important, says Soltero. Email and calendars are two of the things you need the most, both in your personal and professional life, Soltero says, so it matters how quickly you can get to things, read things, and reply to things.

And with Sunrise integrated with Outlook in a slick user interface, Soltero says the company has a foundation on which to build even further.

“The soul of Outlook”

“A muscle we’re developing at Microsoft is determining the soul or essence of these products, and developing accordingly,” Soltero says.

According to Soltero, “the soul of Outlook is a bundled experience,” meaning that a lot of the benefit comes from having your calendar and email in one place.

But you have to draw the line somewhere, Soltero says.

For all versions of Outlook, the four core pillars are email, calendar, people, and files, he says. Anything that lets you collaborate or communicate around those things can stay; the rest have no place in Outlook..

That’s why Sunrise is getting deeply integrated with Outlook for Mobile, but why fellow Microsoft acquisition Wunderlist, which provides to-do list functionalities, is being left as a standalone app.

Outlook for iOS new design 3
The new Outlook for iOS design. Microsoft

And email is the “critical piece” that ties it all together, Soltero says. As a free and open standard, it provides a lot of context within and without a user’s tightknit social or work circles that newbies like Slack can’t, since it relies on intra-office communication, Soltero says.

“Big steps in the world of Outlook”

But while Outlook for mobile and even Outlook for Mac are still relatively fresh, Soltero says that the Windows version of Outlook — still the most popular, thanks to Microsoft Office’s enterprise ubiquity — has inherited a lot of baggage.

Outlook has slowly become more and more complicated as it bolsters its feature set. There are so many ways, both built-in and custom, to view, sort, send, and receive email and calendars in Outlook, that it’s become a bear to learn for anyone who hasn’t been using it for years.

Outlook for iOS new design 4

Soltero says that his team is going to “scrape off” some of those features and refocus Outlook on those four pillars. And while he’s very clear that the eventual Outlook for Windows won’t look exactly like the mobile versions, he says that he wants all of the slickness and ease of Outlook for iOS to come back home to the desktop.

“That’s where this new era in Outlook begins for me,” Soltero says.

The easy part is actually figuring out how to show people the email they want to see, if only because Microsoft has access to so much data, Soltero says. Microsoft will never sort the inbox by a Facebook-style algorithm, he says, because that’s “kind of sacred,” and nobody actually wants that.

But Outlook can (and does) at least highlight your most important messages, and “put the things that really matter front and center,” Soltero says.

The hard part is, again, the user experience. Outlook has to meet the needs of those power users who have been using it for years. But it also needs to be straightforward enough to appeal to people who don’t need the sheer, complicated e-mailing system that Outlook offers.

Microsoft Outlook
The original Outlook for iOS design. Devan Joseph

“That’s a tough one,” Soltero says.

And while Soltero can’t provide exact dates, he says that the next six months will see “big steps in the world of Outlook,” especially for PC.

“The opportunity is to make email awesome,” says Soltero.

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