Microsoft Debuts Smart Email Search App for Windows

The company's new Email Insights app takes cues from web search engines to help users find the email messages they're looking for.

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Microsoft today released Email Insights, a lightweight application for Windows that borrows some of the contextual search capabilities of today's search engines to help users quickly find information stored in their Outlook and Gmail inboxes.

Email Insights is a project from Microsoft Garage, the software giant's experimental app unit. The search companion app features auto-complete functionality and auto-corrects spelling to help users fine-tune their queries. It automatically groups results based on their relevance, so that desired messages appear near the top.

"The idea is to remove the cognitive load of a user while searching," said Suresh Parthasarathy, a senior research developer at Microsoft Research India's Applied Sciences division, in a Feb. 14 announcement. "A user need not remember all the exact keywords or spellings for their queries."

For users who struggle with the correct spellings of their colleagues' names, Email Insights offers help with that too. "Contextual fuzzy name search obviates the need to remember spellings of peoples' names," continued Parthasarathy. "For instance, 'Chris' gets corrected to 'Kris' and 'Philip' gets corrected to 'Philippe,' depending on your inbox."

A tabbed interface allows users to manage multiple searches. The app also supports email commands, enabling users to perform quick tasks such as sending one-line emails.

Microsoft is on a mission to help users tame their inboxes. Last summer, the software giant announced it was bringing Focused Inbox, a popular email organization feature in the iOS and Android versions of the Outlook app, to the desktop and the Outlook.com web client. Focused Inbox analyzes how users engage via email and filters important messages into a separate tab, lowering the risk of missing urgent emails from bosses and colleagues.

Last month, Microsoft reported that there is still work to be done before Focused Inbox is released for the desktop. The feature is expected to be available to all Mac and Outlook.com users by April. A release date for Outlook 2016 on Windows is still undetermined.

Microsoft rival Google has also been devising new ways to enhance the email experience.

In November, the company announced a new Smart Reply feature that lets users reply to emails faster. The feature employs machine learning technologies and natural language processing to prepare three responses. Users simply pick the most appropriate one and move onto the next message.

Smart Reply suggestions get better over time, according to Google Software Engineer Bálint Miklós. "For example, when Smart Reply was tested at Google, a common suggestion in the workplace was 'I love you.' Thanks to Googler feedback, Smart Reply is now SFW [safe for work]," blogged Miklós.

Google also recently overhauled its Gmail app for iOS. Aside from a new look and a more responsive feel, the app includes Undo Send, a feature borrowed from the desktop version of Gmail that gives users a brief opportunity to recall messages they have second thoughts about sending.

The app now generates instant results during email search while typing and offers spelling suggestions. Users can also now swipe on a message to archive or delete it.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...