To see just how badly people want a better way to deal with their email, all you have to do is look back a few months to the launch of Mailbox, the clever iPhone client that emphasizes triage over full-on engagement. In the weeks after its debut, nearly a million users put their name down on the app’s waiting list--yes, that’s a waiting list…for an iPhone app--to see if novel features like swipe-based sorting and email snooze could bring a measure of sanity to their inbox routines. Judging by the sterling App Store ratings from some 30,000 users, for many, it seems to have done the trick.
Though Mailbox was designed as a smartphone-first experience, Gentry Underwood, the Ideo alum behind the app, has been clear from the start that his team’s ultimate aim was to bring a better approach to email to all platforms. Today, they’re taking the first step in that direction with the Mailbox iPad app.
The new app, the first release since Mailbox was acquired by Dropbox, in March, is a straightforward update for the tablet’s larger screen. The main view splits the screen into thirds, showing your inbox in the center column. Swiping messages shuttles them off to various inbox destinations; a long drag to the right sends a message to the trash, for example; a short flick to the left lets you schedule it to pop up in your inbox later that afternoon, or next week, or on a date of your choosing.
With the extra room to stretch out in, you can now see a full message while keeping the inbox on the screen, but for the most part, things will be familiar to users of the iPhone app. And that was very deliberate. "We tried to resist the urge to take that real estate and make a more complex product," Underwood says.
That consistency between the new iPad app and the original one for the iPhone can be seen as proof, in a sense, that Underwood’s original thesis was right: Users don’t need a miniaturized desktop client on their phones so much as a new set of tools entirely, an experience designed specifically for processing their daily flood of incoming messages.
Some users have clamored for certain new features--support for Gmail labels is a big one, Underwood says--though the team has been wary to oblige. "Sometimes giving people more control--even though it might feel good in the short run--sets up a situation where you end up eroding the core benefit," he explains.
That said, the core benefit for the smartphone app is the speed with which it lets you sort your mail, part of which means setting messages aside to deal with later, on a bigger screen. That triage-first approach might not be quite as much of a draw on the iPad, where the bigger keyboard makes actual composition less of a hassle, and it certainly won’t make sense on a desktop client, which Gentry says is still very much part of the plan for the future.
Good thing, then, that there are plenty of other problems Mailbox can tackle besides triage. One that’s common to smartphones and tablets is the general issue of attachments--a handoff that’s become especially awkward with the rise of the discrete app model. Thankfully for us, Mailbox’s new home at Dropbox puts them in a unique position to figure that mess out too.