Mailbox is a new app for the iPhone. It is one in a growing series of attempts to re-think what email is about. I have written about this previously here. What these new email solutions are doing is recognising that your inbox is really one big to-do list and trying to restructure how you deal with email according to that model.
Mailbox has received a ton of attention partly because they ripped off the USPTO by establishing a visible queue in order to use the app. Download the app and you will be put at the back of the queue behind some 700,000 people. But the anticipation factor has created buzz.
I had pre-registered so I was at pretty much the front of the queue. I have used the app for about a week and so have a sense of its potential.
Basically, Mailbox works as advertised. You get an inbox with all the usual inbox features but it actually is nicely laid out especially for viewing email conversations (yes, this is also Gmail only). In addition to replying and forwarding there are five things you can do with an email. You can delete it, archive it, save it to a to-do category (like things to buy or whatever you choose to say) or you can have it disappear only to reappear at a specified time. This last one is the nicest feature. If you get an email on the weekend that you can’t deal with until next week, you can tell the app that and the email will only reappear (with a reminder) in the next week. It doesn’t have the functionality that existing in Mailpilot that also allows you to watch for a follow-up or response so it is a little more limited in that regard.
That said, the design is excellent. Basically, Mailbox has introduced new gestures that I am sure will be replicated in many apps. For an email you have four actions above (all accessed via a short or long swipe left or right). The fifth action is to do nothing but it is so easy to do something that the app is trying for you not to do that. I do wonder what would happen if you need an action to do nothing and one of the other actions became a default. Anyhow, these new gestures are intuitive and are complemented graphically so you really can’t go wrong. If it were on more than the iPhone I could imagine this becoming my default mail app. For the moment, I do use it but it is cognitively taxing as a decision which is something I would prefer to avoid.
I think we are early days on all this but I also think that this evolution of email is one that will stay. I suspect we will see it in Apple’s mail apps soon enough as well as those from Microsoft and Google. That’s in some ways too bad for these start-up pioneers who really deserve much credit for shaking things up. Hopefully they will be acquired in the mix.