Microsoft today is introducing a new application aimed at reducing the time it takes to check and respond to email while on your smartphone. With Send, as the app is called, the idea is to make email perform more like instant messaging, as it does away with more formal email constructs – like the subject line, for example – in favor of quicker, shorter messages that you can dash off in seconds.
This is not the first time a company has reimagined mobile email as more of a mobile messaging client, or a text messaging-like service. A startup called Hop attempted this as well, with an app it first launched back in 2013. Another startup called MailTime also previously participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield this past September.
The concept is intriguing, but has so far failed to resonate with a large number of consumers who, today, often simply abandon email for simple communications and instead use mobile messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or even just SMS or iMessage.
But Microsoft argues that there’s still a place for this sort of short-form messaging within email, too, noting how you may need to quickly send a co-worker a message like: “don’t send the presentation yet!” or “let’s chat in 10,” for example. Send could also be used for simple back-and-forth conversations, like “are you in the office today?” / “No.”
Send is the latest app to arrive out of Microsoft Garage, Microsoft’s internal initiative that lets employees and teams turn ideas into real-world projects, many of which have been cross-platform mobile applications. Microsoft Garage works something like an incubator within the company, as the projects that emerge are really just concepts looking to see if they can achieve product-market fit.
That said, Send’s development isn’t stopping today with its iPhone release. Microsoft says that it will arrive soon for Windows Phone and Android.
It also only works at launch for those with Office 365 business and school email accounts, but the plan is to make the app more broadly available in the months ahead.
At present, however, Send connects to a user’s Office 365 business or school email account in order to find your most frequent and recent contacts, and then puts these right on its homescreen. You can tap on any of these contacts to start a conversation, or you can swipe on them and choose a built-in “quick reply” like “on my way,” or “I’ll get back to you.”
This is one of the app’s more clever features, and something that differentiates it from competitors who have been largely focused on revamping email’s user interface for mobile so it worked and felt more like instant messaging, without thinking about how else email messaging could be sped up.
But Send has also thought about its user interface, and how it can seem more like a texting app. It shows a typing indicator so you know when a contact is responding, for example. Also, Send doesn’t show you all your emails, only the ones you started in the app, which makes it far more usable than some alternatives.
In addition, while other IM-like email clients have targeted a broader consumer base, Send is initially focused on business users. It will even include IT controls in a later release, notes Microsoft.
Send is available now as a free download from iTunes.