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Microsoft's Email Boss on How Email Is So Not Dead Yet

Microsoft has gone from a few hundred thousand iOS and Android users running Outlook to 30 million a month.

K Quin Paek for Re/code

In a world of ubiquitous texting, WeChat and Facebook Messenger, Javier Soltero is trying to ensure that email retains its central place in the world of communications.

Soltero, who sold his startup Acompli to Microsoft for $200 million in January, is now heading up all of Outlook for the software maker and says he is enjoying his broader mission: To prove that email is very much alive.

On Wednesday, the company is announcing a new version of Outlook for the iPhone and revealing that it now has 30 million active users of Outlook on iOS and Android.

“It’s been a real testament to this brand,” said Soltero, who noted that the iPhone email program had only a few hundred thousand users before it was acquired by Microsoft last year. The latest version was designed by the team from another acquisition — Sunrise, a calendar app Microsoft also scooped up.

But Soltero gets more animated when talking about the future. There are just so many ways that email in general — and Outlook especially — can do more for those who rely on it, Soltero said.

Soltero is working hard to bring social features such as “Likes” and “@mentions” to email. Companies like Microsoft and Google can also do a much better job of recognizing content within emails and offering up useful suggestions, what Microsoft calls text-entity extraction.

Some early work is there, such as what Google has done in automatically taking plane tickets and turning them into calendar items. Microsoft plans to do the same shortly, and a lot more is possible.

“We’re here to make email awesome,” Soltero said. “The momentum is important.”

Outlook will also get better in other places, such as the company’s Mac version, Soltero said. And his goal is to really reward those that use Outlook on lots of devices, even if they use Gmail or another company as their underlying email service. “There will be more reasons for people to use Outlook, regardless of [their] email provider.”

Perhaps Microsoft’s biggest challenge will be evolving the traditional Windows version.

“One in seven people on the planet use these products,” he said. “You can’t be too drastic.”

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