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Google aims to lure Microsoft Outlook users with biggest Gmail redesign

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The redesigned Gmail will also “nudge” the user to follow up and respond to messages with quick reminders that appear next to email messages.

SAN FRANCISCO — Alphabet, Inc.’s Google unveiled on Wednesday its first Gmail redesign since 2013, capping what the company says was an expensive overhaul two years in the making to adopt security and offline functionality and better resemble Microsoft Outlook.

It is Google’s most extensive update to software in its G Suite workplace bundle since accelerating efforts to steal business from Microsoft Corp.’s dominant Office workplace software suite. Previously, G Suite added instant-messaging and spreadsheet features.

With Gmail, Google said it restructured e-mail storage databases, unified three dueling systems for syncing messages across devices and upgraded computers underpinning the service. That shift to Google’s self-developed Tensor processing chips enables smart-assistant features such as “suggested replies” to messages and “nudges” to respond to forgotten e-mails.

“This is an entire rewrite of our flagship, most-used product,” said Jacob Bank, product manager lead for Gmail, which 1.4 billion people use each month.

Unreliable offline access to e-mail has long discouraged would-be customers, while recent high-profile corporate data breaches have increased their desire to lock down e-mail. Analysts estimate G Suite generated about $2 billion in revenue last year, 10 times behind Office.

Google declined to specify costs associated with the redesign. But parent Alphabet reported Monday that first-quarter capital expenditures nearly tripled year over year to $7.3 billion.

Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat told analysts that half of the spending resulted from hardware purchases to support expanding use of machine learning, which describes automated programs that can, among other things, identify spam and predict which e-mails users would find most important.

SECURITY AND SMARTS
Google’s Bank said the overhaul was required primarily to provide offline access to up to 90 days of e-mails for users who turn on the feature.

The changes also fulfill another top demand of business executives — message expiration.

Users who enable a “confidential” option when sending an e-mail can time-limit its access to recipients and also require they enter a one-time passcode sent to their phones to read it.

The new setting does not override corporate e-mail retention policies or present new obstacles to law enforcement.

“Nudges” and a higher bar for new-mail notifications round out Google’s revised sales pitch. The company estimated that nudges will lead 8% of business users each week to remember to follow-up on something important.

Cosmetic changes bring Gmail’s website in line with Office by placing Google’s calendar, tasks and note-taking services within the same page as e-mails.

Bank said testers have advanced from “neutral to positive to very positive” on the new look. — Reuters