AOL unveils Alto: a web-based email client with an emphasis on aesthetics and organization

A cleanly organized inbox may be a holy grail that's seemingly out of reach, but AOL (which happens to be our parent company) has unveiled a web-based e-mail client dubbed Alto to help cut through clutter. Instead of signing up for a brand-new email address, users log into the service with an existing Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL or iCloud account and can use Alto to organize, send and receive messages. In addition to the traditional list view of received emails, Alto takes a cue from analog letters and automatically sorts mail into stacks depending on whether they contain attachments, photos, daily deals, notifications from social networks and bulletins from retailers. Users can customize and hide existing piles or even create new stacks based on key words, recipients, senders and other parameters.

Have more than one email account that needs its contents wrangled into order? No problem. Alto can handle up to five accounts per user. If you're intrigued by the cloud-based client, you can take a gander at the gallery of screenshots below or head past the break for more details in the press release. Alto is currently accepting users on a first come, first serve basis in a limited preview, so hit the source link if you feel inclined to take it for a spin.

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Alto: AOL's web-based email client

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[Disclosure: Engadget is part of the AOL family]

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AOL Releases Alto for Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail & .Mac

New cloud-based email application uses smart stacks to bring visual relief to overloaded inboxes

Palo Alto, California, October 18, 2012 -- AOL Inc., the company that originally brought email to the mass market, is opening the doors today on a limited preview for their new cloud-based email product, Alto. Designed to be used with existing email accounts, including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, .Mac and .me accounts, this new, free email platform reimagines the email experience from the ground up with a focus on combatting inbox fatigue. Alto blends powerful organizational features and an elegant, clear user experience to provide users with visual relief from inboxes overloaded with a constant flow of daily deals, newsletters, social notifications, and more. The ultimate goal of Alto is to put the user back in control of their email experience.

The basis for this new product is 'organization by design,' using a new tool called "stacks" that automatically pull out and organize important pieces of a user's inbox for easy access and quick viewing. Users can also drag and drop individual emails to create their own stacks based on sender, recipients, key words, and more. Alto does not require a new email address – users can simply enter credentials for their Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, or .Mac address and start using Alto. Alto also allows users to bring together and access multiple email accounts to organize all of their inboxes in a single, web-accessible workspace.

"We built Alto for people who believe, as we do, that organization is beautiful, who are overloaded with email and aren't happy with the status quo of existing email experiences," said Joshua Ramirez, Senior Director of Product for AOL Mail. "The way we use email has changed radically over the years, but the core email application experience hasn't. We've taken a deep look at how people use email now, and designed an application around that reality."

"When you sort through physical mail, you put it into stacks because it's a natural way to decide what's important, what's junk, and what to save for later. We wanted to recreate that experience with Alto, but make it intelligent and automatic, to easily deal with the hundreds of emails we get every day," continued Ramirez.

Alto provides users with a visual story of their email inboxes using a variety of innovative features designed to make it easy to sort through and find what is really important. Some key features include:

Stacks – Alto automatically creates stacks, giving users an easy, intelligent, and dynamic way to deal with inbox clutter. These stacks are built around the important pieces of a user's email, are intuitively designed, and simple to use.

Alto is pre-loaded with stacks built to automatically surface photos, attachments, and social notifications, retailers and daily deals

Users can drag and drop emails to create customized stacks that automatically update as new emails arrive in each stack.

Photos – All photos that users send and receive through any of their email accounts are automatically sorted into a dedicated photo stack. Users can easily look through long buried photos or instantly see new ones as they arrive. Photos can be sorted by sender, date, and inbox, or shared right from Alto to Facebook or Twitter.

Attachments – Email attachments are automatically added to their own stack letting users sort through documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and PDF's. With thumbnail previews of full documents and presentations, there's no more scanning through endless message lists hunting for paper clips. Users can even view these documents from within Alto – no downloading or additional applications are needed.

People – Individual contacts are shown with rich information allowing you to see previous email exchanges, photos, and attachments. Users can also connect Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to automatically see the latest social updates of their contacts and people they have in common.

Search – Alto gives users a real-time visual search experience, providing a faster and more contextual way to let users find exactly what they need. As users search, they'll see instant results categorized by matching emails, contacts, photos, and attachments.

Daily Deals and Retailers - Alto automatically sorts your daily deal emails and specials from retailers into their own stacks. Different views from within stacks allow for seamless window shopping, letting users page through their stacks of retail offers or quickly sort through the junk and get to great deals. Turn on 'skip the inbox' and stacks clear these emails out of your message list leaving room for what matters.

Ramirez concluded "Alto brings together some truly fresh thinking about online communication with the depth of experience that you'd expect from the company that's been offering consumer email longer than anyone else in the market."

Alto is available in limited preview today, accepting new users on a first come, first serve basis. New users can sign up for a free account at www.altomail.com.

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AOL unveils Alto: a web-based email client with an emphasis on aesthetics and organization