At first the idea seemed crazy. Email felt like this massive thing that startups don’t mess with. “This path is paved with corpses,” one friend told us. To be really blunt, we were scared. But as we explored the idea and the capacity of our team to tackle it, we felt emboldened. We realized we could apply everything we had learned about building fast, friendly, mobile collaboration tools to the inbox. We can’t replace email, but we can change how we interact with it.
Mailbox is the latest attempt to try and fix email on the iPhone. It was released on Thursday after months of hyping from some tech journalists, notably M.G. Siegler. Unfortunately, it is not being released all at once, but instead being slowly rolled out to people. When I received the email saying the app was live, I entered in my reservation code and was in the top 15,000. Within 30 minutes, the number behind me in the queue had grown to over 400,000 and was well over 500,000 Friday morning. People have complained about the wait time to get access, but I didn’t have a major problem with it.
My reservation went live for the app Friday evening. You can get a good overview of the app and its functions over at The Verge, but here are my initial thoughts:
- beautifully designed, more appealing than Gmail app
- love how it hides “Original Message” or “begin forwarded message” etc. A simple tap on the message will reveal everything if necessary.
- ability to rearrange messages in the Lists
- can take a picture from the compose window (Mail and Gmail can only attach a photo you have already taken.)
- love being able to defer emails to specific times or generic (“Someday,” “This Evening,” “This Weekend”)
- no labels
- not able to send message under an alias address
- Gmail only, no IMAP support for other accounts
- no “Important” or VIP mailbox
Overall, the app is well-designed and I am going to use it as my default mail app for Gmail. Will stick to using Mail for my IMAP accounts still and see how it goes.
Using Mailbox to Get Things Done (GTD)
The best approach to using Mailbox is to treat it differently than you would a normal email client. Our instinct with email (and other consumable digital interactions like Twitter) is to want to read a message immediately, and respond right away. Our systems tend to get bogged down when we try to decipher between messages that need to be read, need to be responded to, are for information purposes, or none at all.
The most popular way to resolve this issue is to filter the messages down into labels/folders. Messages sent into those folders tend to get forgotten about completely, unless you have worked out a routine to check the labels consistently.
The other way people resolve this issue is by forwarding the email to a GTD/productivity application of some sort (Basecamp, Orchestra, and so on). By sending it to another app, you are telling yourself, “Deal with this later.”
Mailbox resolves this issue by including the GTD controls within the app through the Snooze function. A quick swipe on a message and you get the option to be reminded about the message at a later time or date. There is no need to send it to a GTD app and then set up a reminder afterwards. One step and you are done.
What this allows is the ability to work not in your Inbox, but in your “Snooze” Inbox.
Instead of leaving messages sitting in your Inbox and having that message list continually grow, you can instead focus on what needs to be Today or Tomorrow. With Mailbox, you can turn off the notifications for New Messages and instead be reminded of your Snoozed Messages, which is probably more valuable to people. You will still have to go through your Inbox to quickly categorize things, of course, but this may give some peace of mind to people bogged down a constant influx of email.
I will also have to do better at using Lists to get rid of the newsletters or other lengthy emails to read later at my leisure without having that nagging feeling that I should click on the email right away. I don’t subscribe to many newsletters now, so it is more of an issue with lengthy emails that I really do want to read and respond to at some point.
The catalyst for this post was reading Michael Galpert’s post which includes this great tip:
If you want to use an existing folder in the app you can by simply renaming it in gmail to [mailbox]-folder-name for it to show up in the app.
If you are interested in or currently using Mailbox, I highly suggest reading his full post: Mailbox + Sanebox is the best mobile email app to date
Mailbox seems like it will be a great tool for people who use Gmail regularly. Powerusers will likely still prefer the Gmail app or Sparrow. For everyone else, I would strongly suggest getting in line and experiencing the app for yourself.
It will definitely change how you handle your email.
- Here is Robert Scoble’s apology for all the hype surrounding the launch. In the comments of a VentureBeat article about Mailbox that Scoble linked to was a post by Jason Thibeault, Sometimes Marketing Genius Isn’t About Storytelling. His post is rather critical of Mailbox and how they planned for the waiting list from the beginning since the queuing system is baked into the app. In a world where everything is hyped, it is puzzling as to why people are still annoyed that companies would use these tactics to gain attention. It is pretty much the norm now and it is unlikely to change any time soon. ↩
- The alias allows me to send a message from “[email protected]” in my Gmail account. ↩