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Mailbox: Should you believe the hype?

Posted by Ian McKee on 18th April 2013

Now that 2013’s Most Hyped App is available to all, there are going to be a lot more people considering whether to start using it. I’ve been using it for over a couple of months, so what better time to share my thoughts?

Mobile first, gesture based UI

It sounds obvious, as Mailbox is currently an iPhone only app, but the mobile interface is so key to the UI. It’s the demonstration of this in the pre-launch video that generated all the hype, and it is a very satisfying feeling to swipe away messages to read later, archive or add to lists – swatting them away like so many electronic flies. In a world where the likes of Facebook are talking about having a “mobile first” approach, Mailbox is really taking advantage of the way we interact with touchscreen mobile devices.

The immediate issue though, is mobile first is all very well, but we currently have no desktop second. Or even a tablet version. I can see the gesture based interaction translating well to tablet, but as increasingly important as mobile is for email, particularly in the case of business use desktop is still hugely important and it remains to be seen how well Mailbox’s big USP can be implemented on desktop.

Inbox zero

Everything in Mailbox is geared towards getting your inbox to naught. The fancy gesture based UI is meant to do exactly that, as is the big ‘help me get to zero’ button. So what if having no messages in your inbox is not how you like to manage your email?

I use my Gmail account’s inbox (Mailbox only works with Gmail) as pretty much a giant depository of everything. Pre-Mailbox, I had never archived anything in my inbox. As it’s a personal account, I find there’s no great need for managing with much efficiency. I reply to the emails I need to but the vast majority of messages are order confirmations, social network notifications and newsletters. So really, this way that Mailbox is trying to force me to use my email isn’t much use to me.

The other issue is that the gesture UI is almost too satisfying. I want to swipe away everything, and there is very little emphasis on actually replying to anything. If I was to use the app for work emails I can imagine it becoming very tempting to just keep putting off everything by swiping away to reply later. Managing email requires discipline, and I worry that Mailbox leads to requiring more discipline, not less.

Downtime and waiting lists

Lots has been made of the waiting list Mailbox has (until now) been enforcing before users get to access the app. It’s primary purpose, to avoid server overload leading to downtime, failed. But ultimately this was a precaution taken due to huge demand; Mailbox has been a victim of its own success.

As a tech PR person, this seems to be quite a nice problem to have; so much hype around an app that it’s had trouble dealing with all the interest. And now the app’s been bought up by one of Silicon Valley’s most reliable cloud based companies, I’m not too worried about its future in this regard.

Down to business

What I do wonder, however, is how useful Mailbox can really be for the business user. I’ve explained how I use my personal Gmail account, and why that limits Mailbox’s uses, and the concerns I have about the temptations it would lead to if I were to use it for work. But I would love to try using it for work.

Which begs the question, when will Mailbox go beyond Gmail? As much as it has long been the free email provider of choice for the tech and media elite, Gmail has only relatively recently edged Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail for top email provider, and that is disregarding the huge enterprise email market.

I, like I imagine the majority of people, still do the majority of working through work email on desktop, and my point about how well Mailbox could translate to that platform is not necessarily a cynical criticism. I would love a built out version where gestures on my MacBook’s trackpad or Magic Mouse were utilised.  The question is, how much use can Mailbox really be beyond the tech and media early adopters before this, not to mention Android and tablet versions, is implemented?

Ian McKee

Ian started out his career working in travel PR, working for tourist boards, airlines and hotel groups. Whilst there he carved out a position as a digital communications expert, managing social media, SEO and email marketing campaigns for clients.