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Microsoft updating look, features in Outlook for macOS

An improved search function, additional customization options and a newly revised aesthetic are among the Outlook for macOS improvements planned by Microsoft.

Microsoft has revamped Outlook for Mac to deliver productivity-enhancing features like improved search. Simultaneously, the company has made design changes that bring the software in line with the macOS aesthetic.

Microsoft said the Outlook update, available in October, takes design cues from the latestmacOS, Big Sur. New features include better search, more calendar management options and additional customization settings.

The program will support Office 365, Outlook.com and Google accounts. Support for iCloud and IMAP will not be available at launch but will come soon, Microsoft said at the Ignite conference last week.

With these improvements, Microsoft is looking to provide users with tools to boost their performance while fitting in with the macOS feel.

"You don't go to a Mac to have a non-Mac experience," Forrester Research analyst Andrew Hewitt said.

Gartner analyst Craig Roth said the improvements bring the Mac Outlook up to par with the PC version, instead of breaking new ground.

"In a lot of cases, what has been announced as new to Mac users is something that PC users have been using for a while," he said.

Better search, improved calendar management

Microsoft said the new version of Outlook would use an improved search engine to provide faster and better results. Users can filter email searches by keyword, message importance and attachments. Also, natural language in the search bar will yield more relevant results than before, Microsoft said.

Clicking on the search bar at the top of Outlook will bring up recent search history and a list of frequently contacted people. When searching for people, clicking on their image will call up further information about them, like how to reach them and their place in an organizational chart, Microsoft said.

A responsive and accurate search tool is beneficial for productivity, Hewitt said.

One of the highest predictors of burnout in the workplace is the inability to find task-critical information.
Andrew HewittAnalyst, Forrester Research

"One of the highest predictors of burnout in the workplace is the inability to find task-critical information," he said. The frustration in taking too much time to find such data can lower employee productivity.

Roth said the natural-language search is still in its early stages, and its usefulness will depend on its accuracy. If it works well, it might lead to better voice commands later.

Microsoft added features to the calendar as well. Outlook will organize its calendars differently, with separate groups for Microsoft 365 calendars and those owned by workers and shared with them. When setting up meetings, workers will see recommendations for the times that work best for all participants. Clicking on an already-scheduled session will yield emails and files relevant to it.

Aesthetics and emphasizing relevant data

Microsoft said the look of Big Sur shaped the appearance of Outlook for Mac. The program has rounded corners for its window and uses light backgrounds to contrast better against text. It now uses minimalist icons for such things as the inbox and mail files.

Outlook for Mac will put relevant information front and center for users, Microsoft said. A My Day pane in the main mail screen will display a worker's agenda and two-week calendar. Another feature will place most-frequently contacted individuals in one place, making it more convenient to email them or chat with them on Teams.

Placing such information in an easy-to-access place will help workers focus on the task at hand, which is critical to employee productivity, Hewitt said.

The new version of Outlook includes customization options. Workers can arrange folders and accounts to their liking, dragging and dropping those panes to create a pleasing layout. Users will have the option of placing such programs as Zoom, DocuSign and Salesforce on the toolbar and accessing them from the inbox.

Other customization options will let users decide if they want to see more message text or more messages on the screen. Workers can put aside emails and have them reappear later as unread.

Microsoft has shown a concerted effort to improve Mac productivity at this year's Ignite, Hewitt said. In addition to the new Outlook, the company also updated its Endpoint Manager to better handle macOS devices and iPads. Microsoft's focus on Apple products reflects its intent to provide all enterprise customers with services equal to those on Windows devices.

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