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Today, Zoom announced the beta launch of Zoom Mail and Calendar, which include the launch of four products: Zoom Mail Client, Zoom Calendar Client, Zoom Mail Service, and Zoom Calendar Service. The additions are intended to centralize and simplify business communications and scheduling, and they are designed to work seamlessly with Zoom Team Chat, Video, and Whiteboard.
It’s a fascinating, logical, unexpected, and complex move that will either turn out to be brilliant or a disaster. I’ve been thinking about this and decided to approach it in an anticipated frequently-asked-questions format.
Question (Q): Does the world need another email and calendar service?
Answer (A): The quick answer is yes. Email has become a punchline, yet email has no signs of disappearing. It’s an essential component of business (and personal) communications.
When email was new, many options were available on the market. I remember when Microsoft moved into email, and many questioned how it could sell something essentially free in UNIX. Microsoft Exchange and Outlook were tremendously successful, and Microsoft successfully adapted email to the cloud. Google’s Gmail is also very popular. It was born in the cloud and adopted broadly by consumers before expanding into a business service now called Google Workspace.
Microsoft and Google currently dominate enterprise email and calendaring and have for some time. Both offer a suite of services that include email, calendar, contacts, productivity apps, messaging, and more. Unfortunately for Zoom and every other UCaaS provider these suites also include options for UCaaS applications — telephony, messaging, and meetings.
Neither Microsoft nor Google have been particularly strong in the UCaaS space until recently. During the pandemic, both companies upped their UCaaS game with rapid improvements over the past few years, especially meetings.
The problem for Zoom and other UCaaS providers is that both Microsoft and Google are now full-fledged competitors. Competitors are a fact of business life, but we aren’t talking about traditional zero-sum sales tactics. Since most businesses have agreements with Microsoft or Google, it’s a matter of convincing customers to purchase a second set of UCaaS applications.
Presumably, Zoom intends to displace rather than complement Microsoft and Google in business accounts, and that means it needs to offer email and calendar services. It already offers contacts, meetings, messaging, and telephony, and there are several available alternatives for office productivity applications.
Q: Is there room for more calendar and email services?
A: Yes. Neither email nor calendar have seen a lot of innovation. I will offer two key pieces of evidence: the basic UI and use of these services have remained largely unchanged for two decades, and most people don’t like themn, especially email. These are critical tools that deserve innovation, yet are highly neglected in part due to lack of serious competition.
Email, like telephony, is interoperable. Messaging apps are mostly closed networks. As a result, our inboxes have become a central repository of all sorts of data, including receipts, dinner reservations, and newsletters. This creates a lot of noise and distractions. Interoperability is both good and bad, and in this case, email and (and telephony) receive a lot of unwanted spam.
Many users are turning to messaging apps because they offer more control. Another option might be to improve email. For example, in Basecamp’s Hey! Email approved contacts go into a priority inbox while other email goes into a separate folder. We can also leverage AI more to sort receipts, newsletters, and other content into separate folders.
Many companies have attempted to improve both email and calendaring. Superhuman is a popular email client for Gmail and Outlook users that promises to increase productivity for $30 per month. It has raised over $100 million in funding as of April 2022. Other companies that want to improve email include Sanebox, Mailbutler, Boomerang, Hiver, and more. Yahoo! Mail and Hey! offer compelling alternative email services.
I find calendar apps particularly frustrating. Almost everyone uses an online calendar, yet it remains very difficult to schedule events. That’s because we generally use our online calendars as if they were still on paper. Yes, we accept instead of writing the appointments, but there’s no intelligence or concept of priority. Why can’t my calendar help me reschedule events when priorities change?
Google and Microsoft have made relatively minor updates to their calendar apps. Recently, they added the ability to indicate in-person or remote when accepting a meeting invite, but little has been done to increase productivity. There’s certainly demand for a better calendar. The ecosystem of calendaring add-ons includes Microsoft Bookings, Doodle, Calendly, WhenIsGood, SavvyCal, SimplyMeet, ScheduleOnce, Clara, Motion, Sidekick, and more.
For years, I've wanted the ability to reserve a few hours for work without booking a specific time. I can be flexible regarding my work schedule. Instead, I must block out a specific time, which unnecessarily complicates scheduling group meetings.
I’ve heard other people say that email and calendar are too mature for new players, but I reject that. Plenty of mature sectors were disrupted by better ideas. Apple’s iPhone is a classic example, but there’s also Dyson. The company tried to convince the vacuum giants that bagless vacuums were the future. After rejection, the company launched its own solution. It’s a similar story with Tesla, and in both cases the giant incumbents end up chasing the new leader.
Watch this No Jitter Shorts video for more insight into Zoomtopia.
Q: Can Zoom find success?
A: That’s to be seen. I have learned not to underestimate Zoom. It was a long shot for the upstart to take on the video giants like Polycom and Cisco. It was another long shot to pull off Zoom Phone as successfully as it did. The company can innovate and iterate very quickly. It seems to have a good understanding of what users like. It has the brand presence and resources to be successful.
There’s no question that email and calendar can be improved, and that Zoom can do it. The question is if users will value a better solution enough to accept the switching costs. Zoom likely isn’t just attempting to lure users over to their email and calendar apps but to convince organizations that they don’t need an enterprise agreement with Microsoft or Google.
Q: What email innovations did Zoom announce?
A: The short answer is not much, but that’s not the point. Zoom has mastered the ready-fire-aim approach to cloud-delivered services. Last March, Zoom launched Contact Center with a limited feature set. Today, during its Zoomtopia keynote, the company boasted it has since added 400 features to Contact Center.
Two features that stand out with these new Zoom services: encryption and scheduling. Zoom Mail users can communicate confidently with end-to-end encryption (E2EE). Most email services offer some encryption but not E2EE. This is a built-in feature, so it does not require that IT staff manage client-side encryption (CSE) keys. Also, an integrated booking feature coordinates the scheduling of appointments for meeting participants.
The clients also offer several features, regardless if they are used with the new Zoom services or configured for Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace accounts. The client is integrated with other Zoom services. For example, users can copy an email message to Zoom Team Chat and see who has joined a meeting from the Zoom Calendar sidebar.
Zoom Mail and Calendar will initially appeal to new organizations that value privacy. The limited differentiators and beta suffix won’t cause mass defections from Microsoft or Google, yet. That could change if Zoom focuses on Mail and Calendar, as it did with Zoom Phone and Contact Center.
There’s certainly a lot of potential here. Email and calendar can use some re-invention, and Zoom understands the importance of user experience. These new services also allow Zoom to enhance the integration of email and calendaring with Zoom’s Meetings, Phone, and Team Chat services.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.