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Microsoft Outlook's mobile app just added Sunrise's best features

Microsoft Outlook's mobile app just added Sunrise's best features


The urge to merge

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When it acquired calendar app Sunrise, Microsoft promised that its features would eventually come to Outlook. That moment arrives today with a big update to Outlook on Android and iOS that delivers several of Sunrise's best features to the Outlook calendar. That likely won't satisfy hardcore Sunrise users still upset the app is going away — and after a last-minute stay of execution on August 31st, Sunrise is finally dying today. But the new features in Outlook are robust enough that most users will want to give the calendar another look.

Outlook has received an infusion of Sunrise's design focus, adding event icons to your agenda that match the keywords. "Coffee" shows up as a coffee cup, "Bike ride" shows up as a bicycle, and so on. When creating an event, you can begin typing the address and Outlook will autocomplete it and add a map. Tap on it and you can get directions from Apple Maps or Google Maps, depending on your preference.

Outlook also borrowed elements of the Sunrise date and time pickers. You can now tap an empty time in your calendar and a dialogue will pop up with the time and date prepopulated. You can also shorten or lengthen the meeting by dragging handles up or down. And if any attendees have already RSVP'd, they'll receive a message about the changes.

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Outlook has also added "interesting calendars" — a feed of important dates, such sporting events, that has long existed in Gmail. And you can now also now use your phone to create a Skype for Business meeting, whatever that is. In coming weeks you'll be able to edit recurring meetings from your phone as well, the company said.

Last month I wrote about why the dream of an excellent calendar app is dead. In short, most people don't use them, and the people who do use them are overwhelmingly satisfied with their phones' default option. That has led tech companies to invest far less in calendars than they have in other productivity tools, such as maps.

At the time, I called Outlook a mediocre calendar. In part that's because it's positioned as a second-class experience — a tab within an email app, rather than a fully featured experience unto itself. Today's updates took a bit to make it feel more like a true peer to email, rather than its kid brother.

In an interview, Microsoft's Javier Soltero said a combined email and calendar client would ultimately prove more powerful than a suite of separate apps. "We haven't fully explored or exhausted the interplay between email and calendar," said Soltero, who runs Outlook. "When we truly feel like we have drained the swamp on the range of things that make the email and calendar experience, especially on mobile, dramatically more powerful and sophisticated, then we can reconsider this. By that point we'll have proved that Outlook isn't just bundling this for convenience — that there's a real rhyme and reason to why these things belong together on a phone."

I'd love to see him get there. Soltero has given more thought to productivity apps than almost anyone I know, and the insights he brought to Acompli — which Microsoft acquired in, and later transformed into the Outlook mobile client — resulted in a singularly powerful email app. Here's hoping his team can bring a similar creativity to the calendar.