New updates to Windows 10 Mail and Calendar apps aim to help business users better stay on top of their emails and meetings. Microsoft principal group program manager Lynn Ayres unveiled the changes in a blog post on Tuesday, including enhanced mail filtering, mentions, and travel reminders.
"These new features are beginning to roll out to all Mail & Calendar users over the next few weeks for their Outlook.com and Office 365 accounts," Ayres said in the post. "And we're working hard to bring these to accounts from other providers in the future."
Here are the six updates coming to Windows Mail and Calendar.
1. Focused Inbox
The Mail app now divides a user's inbox into two tabs: Focused and Other. Microsoft determines what emails to place in the Focused tab by analyzing the people you interact with most often, as well as the email content, such as a personal message versus a newsletter. The aim is to help users better determine which emails need immediate attention, the post said. However, users can turn the Focused feature off at any time by clicking "Settings," and then "Reading" in the app. Users can also move emails between the two different tabs.
This feature is similar in some ways to Gmail's email categorization system of Primary, Social, and Promotions, which it introduced in 2013. As ZDNet's Liam Tung noted, Focused Inbox will replace Microsoft's Clutter feature, which will no longer be available once the updates roll out.
2. Email mentions
With this update, Microsoft took a note from Twitter: Users can type the @ symbol in the body of an email to call up frequent contacts as well as their full address book. The person whose name is selected is highlighted in blue in the message, indicating that they are being asked to take action. Adding this person in a mention will also add them to the email conversation in the To: line if they were not there already, allowing them to receive a copy of the message without forwarding it separately.
"In addition, mentions helps you be aware of what you've been asked to do," Ayres said in the post. "The @ symbol appears in the message list for the messages you've been mentioned in, so you can see at a glance which emails require your action before you open them." Users can also filter their messages to see only those in which they have been mentioned.
3. Different calendar colors for events
In the Calendar app, Microsoft added the ability to categorize events in a number of different colors to better organize them. Ayres noted in the post that this was the top requested calendar feature from users. While helpful, Microsoft is a bit late to the game: Google has offered a similar feature in Gmail since 2011.
4. Interesting Calendars
The new Interesting Calendars feature allows users to track non-work events, such as a sports team's calendar or a TV schedule. This update is powered by Bing, and is currently focused on US events, but will eventually include schedules more tailored to specific regions, the post said.
5. Travel reservations and package deliveries
Microsoft previously added travel reservations and package delivery details from emails to users' calendars automatically. "Now, we are adding simplified summary cards in your inbox and calendar enabling you to quickly get to travel reservations and package delivery details, check in for flights or change hotels and rental car reservations or track the latest packages delivery status at the touch of a button, and stay on top of these events with reliable reminders," Ayres wrote in the post. This feature is on by default, she noted, though users can configure it from the "Events in Email" settings in their web account.
6. Calendar invites
Microsoft made a number of small updates to the Calendar invites feature, the post stated, including:
- Location suggestions from Bing, giving a user the ability to add an address to an invitation quickly
- The option to add Skype for online meetings
- A scheduling assistant for Office 365 accounts
- A "people picker" that allows users to quickly browse and select contacts to invite
The updates also allow users to access the Windows 10 People app in one click, if they want more information on someone listed on a calendar invite. "These updates build on the other recently rolled out features and improvements in the Mail & Calendar apps including the ability to pop out emails from the inbox and to drag and drop calendar events, support for *.eml email and *.ics calendar event formats, and integration with Windows 10 taskbar calendar so you can easily glance at your upcoming appointments," Ayres wrote in the post.
The updates mark another move for Microsoft into the enterprise space, as the company continues encouraging businesses to adopt Windows 10. As TechRepublic writer Nick Heath reported, Microsoft recently released a tool to help businesses check compatibility and resolve issues when upgrading to Windows 10, and has been promoting Windows 10's improved security following the Anniversary Update last summer. It also released Microsoft Teams in November 2016 as a competitor to Slack. However, the company will need to roll out these simple updates faster if it wants Outlook to remain competitive with Gmail and other options.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.