Outlook design overhaul – Less than a week after Google unveiled changes to its Gmail platform, Microsoft has done the same for Outlook, as the competition for business users heats up.

Google’s recently unveiled Gmail tweaks include better calendar integration and a much-improved security offering; leaving users in no doubt that the email service is now being positioned as an attractive prospect for business account holders.

It seems the move has spurred Microsoft into action, as within just one week it too has gone public with a number of new features and improvements.

Among the new additions are a bill payment reminder service, an improved mobile app and additional calendar features.

The bill reminders will involve Outlook automatically scanning emails for details on payments due. This date will then be added to a user’s calendar, with a reminder being scheduled for two days prior.

Elsewhere, the calendar will also make suggestions for meeting locations, and then use data harvested from Bing to provide additional information. That’s not the only improvement for meetings, as Outlook will soon provide all attendees with the information on who has agreed to go and who has declined – rather than keeping this information solely to the original organiser.

International travellers are also well catered for, with improved time zone support. This feature allows users to set up a calendar entry that begins in one time zone and ends in another – for when they are travelling or simply researching flight details.

Another small tweak but one that could save many blushes is a prompt that pops up for anyone replying to an email into which they were BCC-ed. This alerts users who may not have realised that they were blind copied in, to make sure they really want to reply before they hit ‘send’.

On the mobile app, photographs taken of written information can be easily and effectively cropped to make the details stand out more. This enables a picture taken of writing on a whiteboard, for example, to look much more like a scanned document.

It’s not yet known when users can expect these Outlook design overhaul features to be rolled out, with Microsoft only going so far as to say they are coming “soon”.