You may have heard of Mailbox, an email productivity app that promises to rescue you from your overflowing inbox with its efficient method of email management. The app launched late last week with a long waiting list that's still being processed by the company.
Mailbox is more than an email client; it's a productivity tool. Rather than store all your email in your inbox, Mailbox encourages you to use your inbox as a place to store only those emails that need your immediate attention. Each non-important email should be archived, deleted, added to a list or stored temporarily. This temporary storage feature moves an email out of your inbox for a set period of time and then brings it back into your inbox when it is time to deal with it again.
Mailbox's strategy of "focus on one thing" is a simple concept, but how well does it work in real life? Several of us on the team at TUAW have been using Mailbox for the past few days and will share our thoughts on this new way to tame your inbox.
I don't remember where I first heard this sentiment, but it's true: a geek will always try a new system if s/he things it might be better than what he's currently using. Email is ripe for such experimentation as nearly everyone uses it; yet, as far as I've seen, no one has mastered email productivity.
I've been using Mailbox for about a week, and have found it compelling. The feature that I like the most is also the bit I dislike, and that's the option to put off or "snooze" messages. On one hand it's very useful. If you're on vacation, stuck in a day of meetings or what have you, it's convenient to request to be shown a message at a later time. In fact, it's like creating a reminder: "Oh yeah. Tell me about this again this evening." If you can time that to when you typically sit down to process your inbox, you're good.
The problem is that I've been abusing it. "Eh, I don't want to deal with this now." Delay. "Oh God, really?" Delay.
You can even snooze the entire contents of your inbox with a swipe and a tap. Mailbox then reports that you've achieved "inbox zero," but really you've just pulled a curtain over the box so you can't see what's inside.
That's not the app's fault, really. I'm me avoidance abuser. But I know it's there, and because it is, I'm going to use it.
To start with, let's just say that Mailbox was worth waiting for. I find the ability to perform operations on emails with a swipe to be a time-saver and very easy to get used to. I love how Mailbox enables me to reach "Inbox Zero" very quickly. But there are a couple of things that have soured my experience.
First, I don't want to use different email apps for my iCloud mail and Gmail. Until Mailbox can work with any IMAP mail server, I have to use Mail.app for my busy iCloud account and Mailbox for Gmail. It's annoying to have to monitor two inboxes with two different ways of manipulating messages.
Second, Mailbox only works on one platform -- the iPhone. I work on three different platforms during the course of the day; the iPhone when I'm truly mobile, the Mac when I'm in my office, and the iPad while relaxing. I want a consistent experience on all three platforms. Right now I may read an email on the Mac, then have to either put it into a file or do something else with it to get it out of my Mailbox inbox. I just want to touch email once, not multiple times depending on what device I'm using.
Finally, the default settings for notification are annoying as hell. After an hour of having Mailbox buzz my iPhone every single time an email arrived, I changed the setting so that only "snoozed" email would alert me. Sure, it's easy to change the setting, but this should be something that is set up during the first use of the app.
I'll continue to use Mailbox on my iPhone, but I'll be a lot happier when I it becomes a cross-platform system that works with all of the email servers I regularly use.
I feel like Mailbox is a bit of a tease right now. It's good on my iPhone. VERY good. But if I'm on my iPad, or my Mac, I don't get the same experience, and it's frustrating to only have the option of this sort of setup exclusively on my iPhone. I don't know how the processing would work on the Mac side, but I don't care, I just want to have the same experience everywhere.
Dave pointed out being an avoidance abuser, and I'm guilty of that too, but since Mailbox is still a novel experience, I haven't been doing a lot of needless snoozing of messages.
I did notice the stampede to the beta (since there were screenshots of everybody's place in line all over my Instagram feed), so I think the Mailbox folks are really on to something, and people clearly want in on it. I hope the next "killer feature" they implement is support for more platforms, because the second they do I probably won't look back.
I am an email junkie. I have several email accounts for work, one account just for personal conversations, one for online shopping, one for my social networks and a handful of spam accounts I use for signing up for new services. I get a ton of email and hate having to go through each and every message. I would love to bulk delete my inbox, but I am afraid of accidentally deleting a critical email.
When Mailbox was announced, I jumped all over it because of its promise to deliver an efficient way to handle incoming messages. I setup the service with one of my moderate use accounts to see how the Mailbox method of email management worked for me. I wasn't ready (and am still not ready) to turn over my important work accounts to the service.
Thus far, Mailbox has been wonderful at helping me easily separate the wheat from the chaff in an account that gets about 30-40 messages each day. A push notification alerts me when I get a new email and I can immediately process it to get it out of my inbox. I like the idea of getting everything out of the way and working with only those important emails in my inbox. It keeps me focused and minimizes the chances that I will overlook an important email.
I especially appreciate the temporary storage option as I get a lot of email that doesn't need my attention right now, but needs my attention in the near future. For those emails, I can set them to reappear in my inbox at a designated time. I don't have to set an alert or star a message. All I have to do is put the messages to the side and process them when they reappear. For me, this is a key feature that'll keep me interested in Mailbox for the foreseeable future.
There are some downsides to Mailbox, though. At launch, the app only supports Gmail, so I still have to use iOS mail for my IMAP accounts. Having to use two email clients is not very efficient. Another big detractor is the lack of an OS X app. I spend a lot of time on my computer and there is a huge disconnect between Postbox on the Mac and Mailbox on my iPhone. Right now, I feel like I am wasting a lot of time processing my email in both places. Until Mailbox gets an OS X client, I will only use it for my side email account and will continue to evaluate how well it helps me maintain my current inbox zero status.
In the end, I give Mailbox app a thumbs-up for its streamlined email management and look forward to future improvements. Once there is an OS X app and support for IMAP, then I will consider becoming a full-time user of the service.
My frustrations run along the same lines as Steve's. It's a great system if you're just processing email through the iPhone. But, this is a case where I argue that a desktop program was needed first. Say, a marriage of Mailbox and Postbox.
Like Steve, I have to use separate email clients to handle work email (Microsoft Exchange) and personal/TUAW email (Gmail) because of app limitations. Furthermore, I use Evernote and OmniFocus in conjunction with my regular email clients. Usually, when I bring up an email on my Mac, I either send it to Evernote if it's material I want to archive or OmniFocus if it's part of a project I need to do. I would love an option to pull up an email on my phone in Mailbox and have an option be "send to Evernote" or "send to OmniFocus." That way, I don't have to snooze the email and go reprocess it later on the Mac. I can set up a list for these tasks, but I still need to process these emails again at a later point.
If I do send it to a list via Mailbox, I have to go hunt down the email again once I get back to my desktop. If you're using the native web client for Gmail, you can easily see the lists that Mailbox has created for you. However, you don't have the reminder that the email is sitting in those folders, which could be useful when you're on your Mac.
I think Mailbox is great if you have an iPhone, and your workflow isn't tied to other apps. It'll be even better when it can be used on the iPad and maybe a desktop.