Microsoft strikes back with Hotmail for Android

Hotmail makes its debut on Android -- and adds new features to deal with spam and "gray mail"

In a move that could help Hotmail take back email market share lost to Gmail, Microsoft has announced not only significant improvements to its email service, but also a brand-spanking new native Hotmail client for Android that incorporates the Redmond-born ActiveSync technology.

The decision to invest in a native Hotmail app for Android might, at first blush, seem beneficial to both Microsoft and Google, as it provides Android users another reason to forgo adopting the Windows Phone platform. Still, the Big Redmond Machine has a vested interest in seeing Android succeed; Microsoft is raking in cash from Android licenses, thanks to agreements with an array of hardware makers. Plus, each Android device sold means one fewer iPhone sold.

Notably, Microsoft didn't do the heavy lifting in developing the Hotmail client for Android; rather, it turned to its partner Seven Networks to build the app, which delivers push-enabled access to the user inbox, contact list, and calendars, and it's available free of charge in the Android Market. Until now, Android users have had to access their Hotmail accounts via their mobile Web browsers.

Seven, by the way, is a Microsoft partner with a long track of building carrier-email clients that hook into Hotmail and leverage Microsoft's MSP protocol. What's more, Seven serves as an intermediary between Microsoft and carriers, delivering Hotmail access to operator service portals.

The unveiling of Hotmail for Android coincides with Microsoft's major (and arguably long-overdue) revamp of Hotmail. Microsoft Hotmail Group Program Manager Dick Craddock blogged about some of the key changes, many of which target "gray mail" -- newsletters, offers, or notifications users may have once subscribed to (intentionally or otherwise) but either don't want or have trouble managing. Craddock noted that Microsoft has managed to reduce spam levels to less than 3 percent in Hotmail, but users have continued to be overwhelmed with gray mail.

Those improvements include:

  • A feature called Schedule Cleanup that can automatically archive or delete message from selected senders based on criteria such as the age of each message ("Delete after 3 days, 10 days, 30 days, or 60 days") or the number of messages from a given sender in your inbox ("Only retain the newest deal from Groupon in my inbox")
  • A tool called Sweep that lets you unsubscribe from a particular sender and deletes all messages in your inbox from that sender with a single click
  • Flags to select and pin important messages at the top of your inbox
  • The ability to create custom categories for archiving particular groups of messages

This story, "Microsoft takes it to Google with Hotmail revamp and Android client," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.