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So you’re on the train trying to read your emails. Getting ready for work is taking longer than expected. You’re in your car thinking about what’s new in your inbox and what’s in store for you today. These are common moments in the daily life of busy professionals that could be filled with more meaningful or productive activities. Time is precious, at home and at work, and taking the time to stay on top of your personal communications and commitments may be time better spent doing other things.
Microsoft AI has made great progress driving innovation for companies. And we are well on our way helping people change the world for Good. How can AI help people get time back in their day so they can focus on spending time with the people in their lives that matter most? AI in Microsoft 365 is leading the approach to put people at the center and use intelligent, personalized experiences to transform your productivity.
Today we are very excited to introduce Play My Emails in Outlook for iOS that utilizes Cortana, your personal productivity assistant, to catch up on what’s new in your inbox so you can get time back in your day. With an intelligent read out of your emails, natural language interaction with Cortana and a user interface designed for people on the move, you can stay organized, on top of what matters and get back to living life outside your inbox.
Outlook for iOS and Android is an integrated email and calendar app that now provides a unique way to interact with your inbox using AI with a personal assistant. This represents a significant shift in the way you manage your email and time management. Outlook, together with Cortana and Microsoft 365 delivers innovation in your inbox with personalized productivity experiences. Play My Emails is the first Cortana feature to be an integral part of the Office 365 core experience. This means that it is the first Cortana-related capability where Cortana has met specific requirements set out in the Office 365 section of the Microsoft Trust Center and the Online Service Terms (OST).
You can choose how you’d like to listen to your new emails with masculine and feminine voices for Cortana. Play My Emails is rolling out with a new masculine voice option.
Play My Emails is starting to roll out today to customers in the United States in Outlook for iOS following later in Outlook for Android. So when you’re in transit, multi-tasking or driving to where you need to get to next, catch up and act on emails even when your hands are busy with other things. Check it out!
Now let’s dive into the details:
Designed for mobile experiences
The new user experience is optimized for people on the move and ideal when connected to an audio device. Play My Emails has a simplified user experience with large visual assets and touch targets that provide context about your emails at a glance. You can use one finger to swipe to the next message or act on a message, or use voice commands for touch-free email triage. The experience provides images of the people who sent you the emails in a bright and bold way so you can quickly identify the sender, or don’t look at all – just listen!
Play my emails delivers a seamless experience with Bluetooth-enabled wireless or wired audio devices such as headphones or your car audio. When you reply and provide a quick response to an email, the mic on your phone is used. It’s helpful to know that the controls on headphones with playback options such as Forward or Back can also be used to skip to new messages in your inbox. The microphone on our iPhone will only engage when you say “Hey Cortana” during the playback of your emails and when Cortana finishes reading out an email and listens for voice commands.
Following our initial launch of Play My Emails in Outlook for iOS, we plan to add functionality specifically designed for the new Surface Earbuds. In addition to the immersive sound offered by the Earbuds to listen to your emails, we’re bringing the software capabilities into Outlook to simplify the set up for Bluetooth Low Energy that offers increased battery life and enhanced voice input via the Surface Earbuds microphone.
Not just text-to-speech, it’s AI
What makes Play My Emails transformational is the intelligent technology that is used to read out your emails. Let’s watch this video so you can learn how Cortana personalizes the experience by keeping you in the center of the conversation.
Play My Emails starts with a summary – how many emails are new in your Focused Inbox in the last 24 hours and are there changes to your day? It’s helpful to know out of the gate if you’ll have time to listen to all your new emails as Cortana estimates the time it will take to read them out to you.
Based on Outlook’s integrated Calendar, Cortana first reads out messages that help you stay organized such as updates to scheduled events. Perhaps more importantly, Cortana also identifies if you now have a conflict in your schedule due to the changes that may have just landed in your inbox.
Keeping you at the center of the experience means that Cortana knows where you are in time and relative to when your inbox was updated with each message. The readout does not just provide you with the email timestamp however. Your personal assistant let’s you know how long ago, whether just a few minutes ago, about an hour ago, you received each email “An hour ago, you received an email from…”
With information from Microsoft Graph, Cortana identifies the sender of each email in relationship to you, such as your manager, or if was sent to a distribution list and how many people are included in the recipient list. You see, this experience is not just a readout of the text in your inbox, it about how the intelligent technology gives more context that is relevant to you. Cortana synthesizes the information in the message header and meta data and marries it with the insights about you and information from apps and services that power Office 365. This provides a more meaningful and contextual readout.
The Play My Emails experience is like having a conversation with your personal assistant. If you have a series of messages that are part of a conversation but arrive in your inbox at disparate times, Cortana stitches them together in a logical sequence and reads them out to you in a way that gives you the full context of the conversation in one connected experience. This helps you get caught up on the whole thread in a way that feels natural.
And a conversation with your personal productivity assistant should be just that, a two way, private conversation. As mentioned, the microphone on your iPhone is only used when you’re using Play My Emails. You can say “Hey Cortana” to interrupt the readout and provide simple commands or reply to a message with a short, dictated response.
You don’t need to lose time if the content of a message is full of graphical information, or is a long one and you don’t have time or the inclination to hear it out. Conversely, if emails contain information you should be aware of such as an attachment, links, embedded files or bulleted lists, Cortana will let you know which emails are better read on a screen or you can chose to act on important ones straight away. You can flag for later, skip or archive emails just like you can with your customizable swipe options in your Outlook inbox. Most of the swipe options available in Outlook for iOS Settings are supported and mirrored in the Play My Emails interface so swiping left or right to triage your email when using Play My Emails is consistent and takes advantage of your muscle memory.
In the beginning
The genesis for this capability came from the opportunity to explore how to design for things we cannot see. Microsoft embarked on a user-centric research project to find out what goes on behind the scenes for people who are sight impaired. Either figuratively or literally, how do you get oriented, through voice, when you might not have visual landmarks? So if you are visually impaired or even situationally blind, for example when you’re walking or driving or otherwise distracted, what is input is required to accomplish tasks such as reading your email. Through this research Microsoft learned the essence of what input or information is important to get to what is truly meaningful. This project involved volunteers from the school of the blind so we could learn the tactics when translating their needs to voice enabled capabilities.
Outlook is all about helping you organize your life, stay in control of your day and on top of what matters. Using intelligent technology to get things done fast and with reduced the effort so you can get time back in your day and spend it with people that matter most to you. That includes getting time back when you need to stay on top of your personal communications and commitments. Cortana is your personal productivity assistant now built into Outlook. This represents a significant shift in how you interact with your inbox.
Play My Emails is starting to roll out today and may take several weeks to reach all US customers. Once it’s available to you, please share with us what you think. This is a significant step in our journey and we plan to bring more voice capabilities and enable deeper conversations between you and Outlook. Looking forward, we expect to expand specific time management scenarios, include more emails and enable additional actions in your conversations with Cortana. In the meantime, learn about other exciting Microsoft 365 AI innovations and other announcements we’re making at our Microsoft Ignite 2019 Outlook sessions.
As always, your continued feedback is so important and always appreciated. Please keep telling us what you think through our in-app feedback or in our UserVoice channel.
Frequently asked questions
- How do I start to use Play My Emails?
If you’re connected to an audio device (wired or Bluetooth), select the ▶ Play icon in the notification that appears at the bottom of the screen. Otherwise, open Outlook, swipe right from the left side of the screen to open the side menu, then select the ▶ Play icon.
- Which emails will Cortana read?
First, Cortana will read out any changes to your schedule that will occur over the next 24 hours. After that, it will read out the 30 most recent unread emails that you've received in the past 24 hours. For conversations within a single email thread, the oldest message will be read first. If you’ve enabled Focused Inbox, only emails in the Focused Inbox will be read.
- Will my emails be marked as read after Cortana reads them out to me?
By default, emails are marked as read. You can use the voice command “Mark as unread” or use a custom swipe option to mark an individual message as unread.
To customize how your messages are marked:
1. OpenOutlook mobile Settings
2. Select Play My Emails
3. Under Mark Emails As, select Unread or Read
- What voice commands are supported with Play My Emails?
At the end of each message, Cortana listens for voice commands. Or, at any time, you can say “Hey Cortana” or tap the mic button and take following actions:
Reply, Next, Previous, Skip, Pause, Resume, Archive, Flag this email, Unflag this email, Mark as read, Mark as unread, Delete, Exit, Send Feedback
- Can I reply to email messages?
Yes. By default, your response will be sent to all recipients of the email thread. If you only want to respond to the original sender, reply "No" when Cortana asks if you're ready to send your response. Cortana will then offer to reply only to the original sender. Cortana does not incorporate dictated punctuation into spoken messages.
- What actions can I take by touching the screen?
1. Tap the play/pause button, or the sender’s account photo, to pause or resume reading emails.
2. Swipe left for the next message or right for the previous one.
3. Touch the microphone to invoke Cortana and provide a voice command.
4. The icons on the left and right of the play/pause button align with your custom swipe options configured in Outlook settings.
- Can I use playback controls from my connected Bluetooth device?
Some Bluetooth devices support the following controls: Next or previous email, Pause or resume readout, Speak with Cortana, Volume control
- How do I stop seeing the Play My Emails notification when I open Outlook mobile?
You can temporarily dismiss the notification by selecting the Close button. You can also toggle it on or off in Settings:
1. Open Outlook mobile Settings
2. Select Play My Emails
3. Turn the toggle on or off for each account
- How do I adjust my steering wheel controls for my in-car Bluetooth audio system?
Open Outlook mobile Settings
1. Select Play My Emails
2. Go to Steering Wheel Controls
3. You can choose between Previous Email, Next Email, or Invoke Cortana
- How do I change Cortana’svoice?
Open Outlook mobile Settings
1. Select Play My Emails
2. Select Cortana’s Voice
3. Select either Voice 1 – Feminine or Voice 2 - Masculine
- How can I use Siri to start Play My Emails?
Go to Outlook mobile Settings
1. Select Siri Shortcuts
2. Select Play My Emails
3. Tap the red button to record your Siri Shortcut
When you want to use Play My Emails with Siri, invoke Siri and use the phrase you set up, such as "Read my emails."
- What does it mean when Cortana says “This is a long one” during email readout?
Cortana will preface email messages that take 30 seconds to one minute to read with, "It's a long one." If it will take more than one minute, Cortana will say, "It's a really long one."
- Does Play My Emails work with CarPlay or Android Auto?
Play My Emails does not currently have specific support on CarPlay or Android Auto. However, much like any other audio app, basic playback controls (play, pause, previous, next) will show up on CarPlay when Play My Emails is in use on a connected iPhone.
- Can I change the speed Cortana reads my emails?
Speed changes are not currently an option in Play My Emails.