Email might be the one thing most of us use on our iPhones/iPads more than anything else. Apple has steadily improved the built in Mail app over the years but it can still be a little clunky. Mailbox is an alternative to Mail that can make managing your email more enjoyable. Or at least help make it less of a chore.
The promise of Mailbox is that it can help clear the clutter out of your Inbox. To do this, the app’s designers have come up with some innovative shortcuts, using swipe gestures, and a process for temporarily hiding mail you’re not ready to deal with that it refers to as snoozing.
First lets talk about those swipes. Tapping a message in your Inbox and swiping to the left or the right processes that email in one quick step. If you see a message that you know can be Archived just quickly swipe it to the right and, poof, it’s gone from your Inbox.
Using Apple’s built in Mail app requires an extra step to accomplish the same task. On Mail you can swipe to the right to bring up an Archive button, but then you need to click on that button to complete the action. While it may seem like a minor difference, it’s the kind of touch that can save you (and your fingers) a lot of time as you go through your Inbox. Just think for a moment how many “Yup”, “Thanks” or “Great” emails you receive. Now just imagine flinging those away with a simple swipe, rather than a swipe and a tap.
Above, Mailbox on the left and Apple’s Mail on the right.
But swiping in Mailbox can actually accomplish much more than just Archiving your email. Swiping to the left on an email allows you to snooze it for a later time. When you snooze a particular message Mailbox temporarily removes it from your Inbox until a later specified time, presumably when you will be be better able to act on it. For instance, a friend may send you directions to their home for dinner later in the week. Why keep that in your Inbox all week? Just snooze it and have it reappear an hour before the dinner. Or, an email arrives in the morning that requires a discussion with your team later in the day. Snooze it for later.
Because so many of us just let email accumulate in our Inboxes, leaving thousands of friend requests, shipping notifications and e-cards piling up along with truly important email, it becomes a chore determining how best to handle the triage. With Mailbox, the goal is to quickly reduce your Inbox to what is immediately actionable.
While swipes and snoozes are the two signature features of Mailbox, the app has other small touches that really make a difference. For instance, the search functionality seems far more robust on Mailbox than it does on Apple’s Mail app. Since most of my emails are Archived, I have to first navigate to the Archive or All Mail folder on Mail before performing a search. On Mailbox, it’s smart enough to know I want to search all of my folders, even if I’m currently looking at my Inbox, and it returns results almost as fast as I can type my query.
I do have a few minor quibbles about the app which I’ll address quickly:
- Despite the app’s great looks and striking design, I find the compose window to be irritatingly small, leaving the clutter of the Inbox in the background. Yes, the compose window does expand as you begin to type a message, but it’s a strange design decision. I’d rather each new compose window fill the screen so that I can fully concentrate on my writing.
- Notifications can only be turned on for all of your accounts or none at all. For me that’s nearly a deal breaker as I have a few different email accounts, some more important than others. I would like to be notified when I receive email at my primary account, but I don’t want to be notified each time an email arrives at the junk account I use to subscribe to newsletters and websites. I’m hoping Mailbox adds more granular notification settings in a future update.
- Finally, and this is a big one, Mailbox is only available on iOS devices. Mailbox is essentially a rethink of how you manage your email, and therefor requires a full buy-in on the part of its users. But if you work in an office or in front of a computer all day, it’s a bit strange to switch between your desktop email client and your phone just to process your Inbox. Thankfully, Mailbox has publicly stated that it’s actively working on a desktop version. Frankly, this can’t come soon enough.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by email piling up in your Inbox, Mailbox is a beautiful and superior alternative to Apple’s Mail app. But since I primarily respond to email on my desktop, Mailbox will never be a complete solution for me until there’s a desktop version. And judging by Mailbox’s Twitter feed it seems other users feel the same way. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer.