Mailbox is an iPhone app from Orchestra, Inc. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, but at present downloading the app does not allow immediate access — instead, it places the user into a queue. Orchestra has been very transparent about the reasons for choosing to launch the app like this, and is keeping users regularly updated on progress. The team has also recently joined forces with Dropbox to help with the challenges of scaling their service and getting it into the hands of as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
The Mailbox app itself, once the user has reached the front of the queue, is a slick email client designed as a replacement for the default iPhone mail app with one important caveat: at present, it only supports GMail (and Google Apps) accounts. Orchestra’s intention is to support other platforms over time, but has not given a timescale or any indication of when they will start implementing this. Given the popularity of GMail, however, it seems like a good place to begin rolling out their service, and a good place to ensure they can satisfy demand a bit at a time.
The intention behind Mailbox is to help users get to the elusive “inbox zero” by encouraging them to file messages appropriately. A simple gestural interface allows users to perform several simple functions with each message — a swipe to the right archives the message; a swipe further to the right deletes it altogether; a swipe to the left “snoozes” the message to re-emerge at a custom period in the future; a swipe further to the left allows users to add it to a custom list. All of these functions correspond to their equivalents in GMail’s standard interface: archived messages go into All Mail; deleted messages go into Trash; “snoozed” or listed messages are filed under a Mailbox label with subdivisions. When using GMail via the Web, if the user files messages under any of Mailbox’s special labels, the changes will be reflected in the app when they next open it. There is one minor exception to this: filing a message under “Later” via the Web defaults to it being “snoozed” for the three-month “Someday” setting, since the snooze period is a proprietary feature of Mailbox rather than something built in to GMail.
The app includes a number of fun little features designed to reward users for engaging with it. Reaching “inbox zero” rewards players with a photograph from Instagram and the ability to brag about their “achievement” via Facebook or Twitter. Those struggling with an overflowing inbox can also take advantage of a “help me get to zero” button that automatically archives everything, everything but starred messages or everything but unread messages. This is a quick and efficient method of clearing out the inbox, and is marginally more efficient than attempting to do the same thing via GMail’s Web interface. The app also features push notifications for new messages, helping users to spot and respond to (or file) incoming messages quickly and easily.
On the whole, Mailbox is a solid, good-looking and easy to use app and were it not for the lack of support of non-Google mail accounts, would be an excellent (and free) replacement for the default iOS app. At present, this issue combined with the necessity of queueing to get in in the first place means that Mailbox should be treated as a “work in progress” app — but if the current state of the app once you’re in is anything to go by, the future looks very bright for this lightweight, streamlined and easy to use mail client.