In this era of texting and instant messaging you might not be emailing many long, heartfelt letters to your best friend from college. I certainly don't. But I'm still drowning in a sea of less personal correspondence: Receipts. Bill payments. Flight confirmations. Even with apps like Gmail sorting these assorted messages into tidy little folders, it's pretty easy to lose track of the things I might need to know. Alto, the email app from AOL (Engadget's parent company), is attempting to fix inboxes like mine with its new feature, Alto Dashboard. Out today, the dashboard places the most important bits front and center and lets you act on them, without ever leaving the app.
Alto Dashboard should look familiar to anyone who's ever availed themselves of the cards in Google Now: Important bits of information like upcoming flights, hotel reservations and package tracking are given their own slides, arranged in chronological order with all the most important details displayed out front. You can glean the relevant data at a glance, or tap on each card to access the entire message.
Alto's function as a keeper of info is way to raise it above a sea of similar apps, part of a larger trend of programs like Facebook Messenger branching out past their core functions and adding more and more functionality to varying degrees of usefulness. And, while the Alto Dashboard is distinctive and useful, it's also strongly reminiscent of how TripIt can trawl your email for flight and hotel reservations and then bundle all that information into a single trip file.
Alto will capture all the same info, like car rentals and theater tickets, and put it all on your timeline. What it doesn't do yet is group them together, like "trip to Chicago" or "Saturday with mom." But the team at Alto has plans to add that eventually, which would definitely make filing expense reports easier.
Where Alto Dashboard differs from Google Now or TripIt is not just how everything is contained within the app itself, but how the information can be acted on. The improved dashboard will not only remind you about your Hamilton tickets or pull up directions; you can actually call an Uber to take you there. You aren't limited to a specific app for each task either: You can choose what maps program to use, or maybe choose Lyft instead. You can even send receipts to Expensify, though each item will have to be sent individually for now.
When you just need your email to just be email, the Alto app still helps you out with its existing "stacks" feature, which functions similar to the tabs in Gmail. Your messages are sorted by subject using the same algorithms that determine what shows up in your dashboard. There are preset stacks for shopping, travel and finance, but most useful are the ones that keep track of all the photos and files you've been sent -- no need to keep them on your device, and you won't have to scramble to find a photo attached to an email you got two years past.
I'm a weirdo who still keeps my AOL account around but, even if you kicked your aol.com address to the curb ages ago, you can still use Alto; it also works with Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, iCloud and Exchange, or any other IMAP email provider. Everything can be viewed in one dashboard, so you have both your business and leisure events organized into one stream to create a fuller picture of your days and weeks. Alto and its new dashboard are available today on iOS, Android and the web.
*Verizon owns AOL, Engadget's parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.