Highly anticipated email client Mailbox hit the app store two days ago. Launching with a wait list, Mailbox had over 500,000 people waiting to use it within hours of it's release. I reserved my copy a few days after the app was originally announced a few months ago so. When booting up the app, I was lucky to find that I was only the 15,000th in line to see what all the fuss was about. Now, I've paid my dues. I've served my time in the Mailbox queue and it was worth it.
Mailbox aims to transform your inbox and help you keep things neat and tidy. As someone familiar with more traditional email systems, one of the things that stood out to me right away was that new mail and read mail are sorted separately. In Mailbox, you either have new mail or archived mail. And while archived mail is still readily accessible, Mailbox is designed to discourage you from archiving anything that still needs your attention. To some, this may be an uncomfortable break from tradition. But after the initial hump, it actually becomes incredibly useful. Instead of reading an email and leaving it in your inbox for latter attention, a simple swipe will hide the message for later reading. Mailbox will prompt you for a time such as "tomorrow" or "this weekend" (specific dates can be chosen from a sub menu). After selecting one, the message leaves your inbox until the specified time. The principle behind this and the app in general is to turn your inbox into, well, an inbox and not an overflowing pile of mail you may or may not later need, but rather a simple place to check and see what you need to attend to. Granted, I don't receive as many emails as some, but as a fan of minimalism, this felt like how my email should be but never has been before.
Gestures, where have you been all my life? I've flirted with Gmail, I spent some time with Sparrow, even Apple's Mail added... one? But good grief, Mailbox! Swipe to return to your inbox, swipe to select a folder, swipe to archive, delete, save, sort, the list goes on. Just about everything short of actually typing your messages can be done without the aid of on screen buttons. The buttons exist but Mailbox thinks you don't need them and for the most part, you probably don't want them. Mailbox does some very interesting things with its gesture system. Your inbox is presented in a swipe based list which will be familiar to fans of the productivity app Clear. Swiping left or right on a message will either archive it or prepare a reminder, but long swiping will either delete or move it to a folder. Swiping at the bottom of the inbox will preform the requested action for all of your mail, eliminating mass sorting (which has felt unmastered in just about every app up to this point). Remembering which swipe corresponds to what action is a little confusing at first, but it won't take much time to get used to it and when you do, it is hard to go back.
The interface is just beautiful. Primarily a sterile white, Mailbox provides excellent contrast with grey menus and brightly colored icons. I've found that I want to be more productive simply because it is a joy to swipe messages into my archive. But if that isn't enough, Mailbox provides a hidden image that can only been seen when you "zero" your inbox. The image rotates daily and, while its nothing life changing, it's fun to get a little reward for finishing your work. My only complaint about the aesthetic of the app is that the menu bar feels a little farther down on the screen then in the mail app. Mind you, this is a trick created by the color difference between the menu bar and the status bar, but it feels a little strange either way. Speaking of which, why don't more developers make use of the ability to change the color of the status bar?
As far as general functionality goes, Mailbox has everything I've come to expect. Push notifications come in for new mail and for reminders you've previously set. On several occasions, I've noticed push notifications coming in for Mailbox full minutes before Mail. Adding multiple accounts is a breeze as is changing default accounts and using aliases. All of the timers for reading mail later are fully customizable, allowing you to set when "this evening" is in your day. Mailbox will even differentiate times based on days of the week. For example, I can say that "tomorrow morning" is 6:00am on a Monday but 9:00am on a Saturday. There really isn't anything I'd say needs to be improved in terms of general functionality. Using Mailbox feels great and everything you want in an email client is just a few intuitive swipes away.
I try not to fault applications for things they don't include, only for things they do include but implement poorly. That said, it is a real shame that an app this fantastic only works with Gmail. Most everyone is using Gmail already these days and Google's API is definitely the easiest to implement and use but if your like me and route your Gmail through iCloud you're out of luck. In order to use mailbox I'm currently running my Gmail to iCloud and then forwarding back to Gmail through a rule set. This is no fault of the app itself, but it would be nice to see additional services supported in the future.
I plan to keep using Mailbox for all the foreseeable future. I'd love to see it brought to iPad because there really just isn't anything that does quite what Mailbox does. It's actual changes in functionality are few but they do honestly alter the way you'll perceive your inbox. I'm always hoping to replace even the best apps I have with better and prettier alternatives and that's just what Mailbox has done. It would do Apple well to just buy Orchestra Studios and steal their interface design but until then, we have Mailbox. And hey, it might even make me change my registered address on all those hundreds... and hundreds...of accounts I have. Well on you, Orchestra.
Review written by Samuel Strickland