Betting that users expect more from their inboxes than a place to store their emails, Microsoft is revamping its web-based email service, Outlook.com.
Visitors who participate in the new Outlook.com beta can expect a smarter inbox, courtesy of "advances in programming, design and artificial intelligence" according to Microsoft. The company is currently rolling out a "beta toggle" that will appear for more users over time.
In the beta, Outlook.com generates Quick Suggestions in a separate pane as users type their emails, offering ways to embed information on nearby restaurants, flights and other items based on the context of the message.
Microsoft has also added new features for users whose preferred method of sharing photos is email.
"An improved photo experience puts all the pictures sent or received in your email in one place and makes it easier to share them with others. The new modern conversation style makes it easier to manage and preview photos and attachments," stated Microsoft representatives in a blog post.
New personalization options allow users to bookmark their favorite folders and contacts. Borrowing from chat programs, Outlook.com now makes it easier to add some flair to their email conversations with new emoji and GIF search functionality.
In general, users should expect snappier performance all around. By basing the new Outlook.com experience on a responsive web development framework, Microsoft's developers were able to deliver an improved search feature and create a more intuitive and eye-pleasing way of managing one's inbox, claims the software maker.
For now, Microsoft is focused on Outlook.com inbox. Redesigned calendar and people (contacts) views are in the works and should appear in the coming months.
As with most betas, some features aren't quite ready for prime time. For example, add-ins aren't currently supported. Beta users needn't worry that they're stuck with an incomplete product. They can always switch back to the traditional Outlook.com experience by clicking the beta toggle back to its original position.
Rival Google has also been making waves in the web mail scene lately.
Years after Microsoft bashed the search and online services giant for scanning Gmail users' emails for advertising purposes in its "Scroogled" campaign, Google announced earlier this summer that it was ending the practice, aligning its consumer and enterprise Gmail services.
"G Suite's Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalization, and Google has decided to follow suit later this year in our free consumer Gmail service. Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change," said Diane Greene, senior vice president of Google Cloud, in a June 23 announcement. "This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products."
In May, the company added new anti-phishing features to Gmail for enterprise users. The service's new machine-learning capabilities combined with warnings that pop up when users click on suspicious links are intended to help users avoid becoming victims of online scammers.