I have an unbridled obsession with finding the perfect Mail client app. This is a bad obsession to have, because the perfect Mail client just doesn't exist. And it doesn't look like it will for a long, long time; no one wants to make it.
Nevertheless, every now and then some foolhardy startup comes along and takes a stab. The most recent entry in the realm of the Mail client is called Mailbox.
I don't want to spend much time talking about Mailbox's much discussed queueing system for new users. While you can download Mailbox now, today, for free, the app requires that you reserve a spot in line. And it's a long line. I reserved my spot weeks ago and am only now trying the app for the first time. Mailbox says it's adding users gradually to ease the load on its servers. Maybe that's true — they're certainly having some problems right now — or maybe there's some clever marketing going on — or maybe a little of both — but suffice to say, you should be prepared to wait a while before you'll actually get to use the app.
Also, while we're on the topic of the limitations of this new app, be aware that Mailbox currently only works with Gmail, and it's only made for iPhone.
The ultimate goal of Mailbox is getting your Inbox down to zero. I suppose if this is really important to you, then the app might be worth waiting for. But if it's really that important to you, you've probably already done it. It's not that hard. If you really want to get your Inbox down to zero, simply select all your messages in Gmail's browser client and hit the Archive button. If there are messages that require a response, respond to them.
I'm also not sure I really see the point. The zero-mail Inbox just isn't that big a deal to me. Having zero mail in my Inbox doesn't actually mean I've gotten anything done, it just means I'm not looking at it right now. While this does have its benefits, I'm not sure it's worth disrupting my particular workflow by adding a unique and additional mail client that exists solely on my phone.
Swipes and Snoozes
In Mailbox you file messages away, either to Gmail's archive, or to a sort of "Remind Me Later" area (which exists in Gmail as a group of Mailbox-specific labels), via the use of swipe gestures: swipe right to archive, swipe left to "Snooze" a message for later.
I must say, I do love the gestures. They're fun, beautiful and easy to get the hang of. And I love the ability to file things away for later. But that's really all Mailbox offers. Frankly, archiving a large number of messages can already be done easier and faster using Gmail in the browser — just batch select and hit Archive. And individual Gmail messages can already be archived with a swipe in Apple's iOS Mail client.
So we're left with snoozing messages as the primary useful feature of yet another email client app that now exists only on my iPhone. This means that every time I want to use this feature I have to get out my iPhone and launch a separate app. Wouldn't it just be easier to leave that handful of messages that you want to be reminded of in your Inbox? Or, if you need time-delimeted reminders, use iOS's Reminders app, or Calendar?
To Do Lists
Mailbox rests on the presumption that people use email as a sort of to do list. And that's true. But Mailbox overlooks the rather crucial fact that people use mail for other things as well. One unintended use of email is as a file transfer application. I see people try to send large files via email all the time. And some mail apps have even tried tackling this problem using services like Dropbox, but Mailbox doesn't. And, of course, email's primary function is reading and writing email messages, but Mailbox's mail composing window is fairly paltry and unappealing, offering little in the way of innovation. Mailbox is essentially a novel mail filing app, not well suited to writing or any of the myriad other ways we use email beyond its original intents.
While Mailbox goes some distance to simplifying mail management on one hand — and it does so in some novel and even enjoyable ways — overall it complicates the whole process by adding an additional layer to the management of mail while offering very little else in return. If Mailbox existed in a vacuum, if it were your only Mail client, it might be acceptable. But it's not. And it can't be, at least not in its current, rather limited form. If you use Mailbox, you'll still need to go to more full-featured clients for richer composing and mail management features. And those clients will now be populated with Mailbox's folders, yet be completely unaware of Mailbox's behaviors.
Mailbox is another outlier in a world where what we really need is better integration. That's been my quest: an email client to rule them all. One email application that does everything — writing, reading, file transfers, to do lists, and everything else including saving my ass — perfectly across all platforms. Mailbox is not that app.