I was intrigued when I was asked to review the “revolutionary” new Mailbox app, which professes to be a whole new email experience.
I was even more intrigued when I wasn’t able to test it right away.
The developers of the new app, which is essentially a new Gmail client for iOS and Android, are making the app available solely via a reservations system.
This means that there is a waiting list to use it.
When I signed up there were around half a million people in the line ahead of me.
Mailbox is designed to “put email in its place,” courtesy of a simple touch and swipe based interface. The developer’s marketing material talks about getting down to “inbox zero” – i.e. an email inbox that is organized in such a way that it regularly has nothing in it at all.
Now, I should make something clear at this point: I am an “inbox zero” kind of guy anyway. I have a huge, nested set of email folders that holds information going back many years. At any one time I only ever have a few emails in my actual inbox. I am meticulous in filing everything away.
But, I do know that in this respect, I am a rare breed. Years of IT work has shown me that a clear, empty inbox is a rarity indeed, perhaps limited to those with tendencies towards OCD….
Still, this background information is highly relevant, because what the Mailbox app essentially seeks to do is enforce the kind of mailbox management I’ve always done onto all of those people with inboxes that contain thousands of messages.
It does so by introducing a slick interface that’s highly simplified and, admittedly, pleasing to use.
When an email appears, you can swipe it briefly left to snooze it so it disappears until you want to see it again. Alternatively, a long left swipe allows you to add the mail to a “list,” which is essentially an email folder. By default Mailbox gives you “lists” for “to watch,” “to read,” and “to buy,” but you can add more of your own.
Here's a quick video of the app in action.
Other than simple buttons at the top of the app to compose a new mail, check your snoozed items, and look in your archive (which essentially contains everything else in one big list) that is it. I must admit that, at this point, I started to think “what’s the point?” especially as the one thing I couldn’t do was file emails away into the organized folder structure I’d had for years.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m going to be up-front at this point and say that I intend to remove the app from my iPhone as soon as I’ve finished typing this review. I have no need for it. But, to leave my review there would be missing out a very important point – in fact, the key point of the whole app:
I don’t need it, because I already do what the app is designed to encourage people to do. For all those that don’t, however, this could finally begin to teach them that they don’t need to leave everything sitting in their inbox for weeks, months or even years on end.
As an IT professional, I’ve been trying to make people understand this for many frustrating years. People don’t leave every single piece of paper that passes through their life in one huge stack – so I’ve never understood why individuals do it with email.
So, for this reason alone, the Mailbox app gets a big “thumbs up” from me, and, it seems, from much of the technical community too. While I was waiting in the queue for my go to use it, the company behind Mailbox was purchased by Dropbox for an estimated $100 million.
That’s quite a tidy sum for teaching people how to use their email properly. I would have done it for much less – but nobody ever wanted to listen…
Ben Taylor has worked with computers since the days of 5.25" floppy disks and flickery green-screen monitors. Since 2005, he has run his own successful UK IT consultancy. He now continues to manage his business from Portugal, where he spreads his time between private IT work and writing for a number of companies and publications.
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