by Jimmy Marks
I downloaded the Mailbox app after months of waiting for its release. To my surprise, when I got the app, there was a wait list more than a quarter of a million people deep. I didn't know what stunned me more - the line in front of me or the line that eventually queued up behind me. When I finally got my "reservation" "filled", I was ahead of more than 800,000 hopefuls, waiting for their own launch day.
Mailbox gained notoriety for the use of this reservation system, deployed to help keep their servers from crashing outright due to the enormous scale. I found this interesting from a technology standpoint and annoying from a user's standpoint. I'm Veruca Salt when it comes to apps and technology - "I want it NOW!"
After a three week wait (at a rate, I decided, of around 448 accounts activated every hour), I finally got my shot.
First and foremost - this is a beautiful app. Clean, cool, easy-to-use...icons that make sense and actions that are easy to do. The app did a good job training me in the basics, right up front. Want to save an email in your "all mail" folder? Swipe right. Want to delete an email? Swipe right and hold. Swipe left and hold to move that email into a curated category from a selected list. Swipe left quickly and you get a block of options for "snoozing" that email.
The "snooze" feature was what drew me to the app in the first place. I get so many emails at home AND at work and I know certain messages need full attention that don't receive it. So what do I do?
I swipe and choose a time frame to deal with that message. That night? A week from today? "Someday"? A specific date and time? It's up to me.
The long-hand version of this is setting a calendar reminder, but as a victim of Outlook, I can tell you that Mailbox's approach is much better. Who wants to open three windows and get pestered by twenty different automated reminders going off on the day something's due? I'll always prefer the "set it and forget it" approach.
Another great moment came when I closed the app to view the home screen on my phone and saw a "new messages" bubble above the icon. 3,600 new messages?!? I went back into the app to see what I had to do about marking all those messages as "unread".
But something amazing happened. The app informed me that the messages weren't unread emails - they were conversations in my Gmail inbox. Their way of dealing with it? Move those conversations to the "all mail" folder, a Gmail feature that I wish more mail providers would adopt. Why?
According to the principals of "Inbox Zero", the inbox is a place where messages should be read and then acted upon, either by archiving, replying, or deleting. Mailbox uses the Gmail setup of inbox and archive to help you get to zero quickly and begin developing good habits. What's funny is that, in five years of reading about and striving toward Inbox Zero, I'd never even considered using the archive in that way. Mailbox made it easy and sent all my old email to the archive. Done and done.
When that happened, I got a friendly little "congrats!" message from the app. Woo! Positive reinforcement! Now let's just hope I keep my inbox that neat and tidy.
Things I Wish Were Different
Well, for starters, Mailbox only bothers with Gmail accounts. Have two Gmail accounts? Great. Have a Gmail AND an Exchange account? Tough, Gmail only. And my Exchange account could sorely use this kind of streamlining. On their website (linked above), Mailbox's creators say they hope to roll out "premium features" that users would paid for in a few months. If they said I had to pay $25 to roll in my Exchange account, I'd gladly do just that.
Another thing: I have several email addresses that I manage using my Gmail account as a catchall. As best I can tell, Mailbox doesn't allow me to send from these addresses. Sure, the emails still come in, but I can't choose to send from any other alias, which stinks on ice. I'm sure they'll get to it with time, but the sooner the better for my taste.
Mailbox can't handle Gmail's labels, but you can create lists based on your current labels (All Things Digital seems to think it's a bit tedious, I haven't really bothered with it yet.). You also don't get your Priority Inbox, but I've never used that anyway, so...no harm, no foul.
If I had to put together a wishlist of what Mailbox should do next, it would be:
- Multi-source Integration (for Yahoo, Exchange, AOL, Outlook, etc.)
- An iPad app (so that you can finally justify buying an iPad as a second monitor/workspace on-the-go)
- Ability to send and receive emails from different addresses as you can through Gmail
- A few articles popped out at me as I did my research on Mailbox. This "Terms & Conditions" piece over at Digital Trends reads through, what else, the terms and conditions agreement for Mailbox. Their rating? Pretty good, if you only look at the app and not Gmail's side of it.
- Most of the reviews I've read follow this one from Gizmag: great app, but that wait is a killer. My take? Yeah, it was a long wait, but worth it. And once you're on the other side of that wait, why gripe about it anymore?
I think with a little more time and a little more money, Mailbox will turn into the go-to email client for folks with hundreds of emails to contend with every day. I love it already and I'm only using it one inbox. A zeroed-out, ready-to-rock inbox, that is.
But until everyone can get it at once? Waiters gonna wait, haters gonna hate.