Microsoft's recent acquisition of Acompli, a mobile email app maker, is expected to provide Outlook capabilities that can compete with recent email client updates from Google and IBM.
Longer term, the move could add to Microsoft's key advantages over competitors within the market for cloud-based collaboration tools.
"One of Microsoft's greatest strengths is their ability to deeply integrate messaging and collaboration into their Office applications, OneDrive file sharing and Dynamics enterprise software," Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky said in an email.
Microsoft announced Monday that it had acquired the mobile email client startup and planned to bring its technology "together with work currently in progress by the Outlook team," the company said in a blog post. Microsoft did not say how much it paid for Acompli, but The New York Times reported that it was about $200 million.
The Acompli app brings multiple Web mail services, such as Google Gmail and Yahoo Mail, under one mobile client. Reviewers have praised the app's built-in intelligence for prioritizing email so users see the most important messages first.
Acompli, which launched only 18 months ago, had been talking to Microsoft about integrating Office 365 into the young company's product, while also continuing to support email and file services from Apple, Dropbox, Google and Box.
"Those conversations led to today, where we have decided the opportunity to join forces in pursuit of a better, faster, more powerful email experience is something we can do better as one company," Javier Soltero, chief executive of Acompli, said in a blog post.
This year, Google introduced a Gmail update that enables people running the app on an Android-powered mobile device to save attachments directly to Google Drive, the company's cloud-based storage service.
Google also introduced a feature that automatically turns an email into a calendar event when a message contains dates, times and other details related to activities like booking a flight, buying concert tickets or making a hotel reservation.
Last month, IBM launched Verse, the company's first Web-based email service marketed directly to end users. The service combines email with collaboration and social-media tools.
Acquiring Acompli will help keep Microsoft competitive with Google and IBM, and fits nicely into Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella's strategy of running the company's software across Android and Apple iOS devices. Last month, Microsoft made Office available at no charge for the iPad and iPhone and planned to eventually do the same for Android tablets and smartphones.
Microsoft needs to continue working on integrating its software with other platforms, as well as integrating more of its own products.
"Microsoft should be working to unify the multiple communication tools they have, including Outlook, Skype and Yammer," Lepofsky said.
As it stands, competitors in the collaboration market, including Unify and Cisco, which recently released tools called Circuit and Project Squared, respectively, are behind Microsoft in capabilities, Lepofsky said.
"Unify and Cisco's new clients provide strong voice and video features, but are quite behind Microsoft in terms of the social/collaboration features that are available in Yammer," he said.
Securing mobile email clients through sandboxing
Tips for choosing the right unified communications and collaboration tools
What enterprise users need most in mobile collaboration tools