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The new Outlook Mobile for iOS Inbox. Microsoft Photo)
Jon Friedman. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft’s Outlook mobile app for iOS is the latest product from the tech giant to get a new look.

The company unveiled some new design features and functions Wednesday, bringing the version of its email client for iPhones closer in line with the Android app while adding some extra goodies. The most immediately noticeable change is the addition of the Outlook flagship blue to the header on the inbox, which Microsoft says makes the app stand out from other mobile inboxes.

All of the new features fit under three key umbrellas according to Jon Friedman, chief designer of Microsoft Office: fast and focused experiences, providing information without requiring a lot of action and getting even the smallest details right.

“You should be able to accomplish your goal by doing micro-tasks in a matter of seconds, not minutes,” Friedman said. “And so that shifted the way we thought about designing for mobile. For us, it’s critical to design experiences that have less typing and less taps, where we bring key context to you at any given moment at a glance and help you focus on things you do most.”

The new RSVP features on Outlook Mobile for iOS. Microsoft Photo)

Most of the changes are subtle, and they are designed to take advantage of iOS capabilities and make the app look more modern, said Miles Fitzgerald, principal product design manager at Microsoft. The goal is to make the app feel natural, even if users can’t put their finger on why.

  • The addition of avatars for contacts helps personalize messages, and a big icon for shifting between the “Focused Inbox” option of priority messages and everything else makes toggling easier.
  • Calendar is more deeply integrated, with a new RSVP experience, where users can see their entire day, showing what is before and after an event and the ability accept or decline in a single window.
  • There are numerous customization options when swiping left or right on messages. Microsoft is taking advantage of “haptic feedback” capabilities on iOS, so swiping a message feels like going over a little bump. That makes it possible to swipe while not looking at the phone.
  • And those little details? A few examples include the “Inbox” header shrinking as you scroll through messages to give more space to emails. And a little icon on the bottom right of the calendar flips like a physical calendar as users cross between days.
(MIcrosoft GIF)

Just last week, Microsoft showed off new logos for signature Office programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. That came a few months after Microsoft overhauled the ribbon — the bar of commands at the top of the page — across Office. It took the ribbon down from three lines to two, updated icons and added more color.

Miles Fitzgerald. (Microsoft Photo)

Without a mobile operating system of its own, Microsoft’s resources have gone toward building versions of its top apps that work well on iOS and Android. Friedman says Microsoft has brought in a stable of mobile-focused designers as part of this push.

Fitzgerald is one of them. He’s been with the company for two years working on mobile design for Outlook. His mobile design experience includes stints at Spotify and Adobe.

“Mobile has unique design opportunities and constraints,” said Friedman. “Phones live in our purses, they live in our pockets. There is a proximity and immediacy that means we have to be intentional about our mobile first approach to design.”

Friedman continued: “We did a bunch of extensive research, and one of the things we found is that on average, a person spends about 22 seconds on a task on their phone, and yet they are in and out of their phone all day long. We made it a major design point that we needed to make Outlook Mobile for iOS incredible in less than 22 seconds.”

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