The Email problem and the myth of the solution
There is too much, it is too difficult to handle, it lacks intuition, it isn’t natural, it wastes time, it’s depressing… The list goes on.
For the past two years products claiming to be the perfect new email client have been all the rage, offering alternative solutions with different priorities.
But lets think about it for a second. What would the perfect email client even feel like?
AOL (you’ve got mail) decided it is Alto,a website that auto-sorts your emails into stacks, kind of like Pinterest with some analytics to match.
Evomail has attempted Email 2.0 by releasing a swipe centric set of apps with an emphasis on improving the back end. They claim to have done this by renovating “the entire house” as opposed to just repainting it.
Then there is Ping, a soon to be released email client that seeks to do with email what smartphones have done with the SMS- turning it into a seamless conversation as opposed to a series of mailboxes on top of each other. Ping is exempt from discussion until it is released.
All of these ‘solutions’ and the countless other options out there, are mostly full of of promise and potential. They address recognised flaws and offer ways to improve upon them.
In terms of how well they deal with the specific problems they are focused on, they have mostly succeeded.
But if we assess these solutions in terms of being the next incarnation of email, then none of them are up to the task. They are simply niche alternatives for people that are actively looking for something different. They may be marketed as Email 2.0 but right now they are not the answer.
1) 3rd party mobile Email apps (Mailbox especially)often don’t integrate well with native desktop clients
2) They do not come packaged with popular email providers (or promoted by them either)
3) For the vast majority of users It is still easier to use existing email clients
In other words, they require intention and effort, not just to sign up but to continue using them.
Think for a moment: Remember how popular Mailbox was? How many of your friends actually still use it?
The point being an external solution may not be the answer at all. Perhaps the best solution to email is within the system itself, whether it is developed through the providers or as a plugin that seamlessly alters the email user experience.
Gmail’s introduction of tabs is a step in this direction. Minimal, efficient and a great way to get rid of the usual clutter that fills it up. It is easily customisable and self-explanatory, thereby helping put filters into the hands of the casual user, a feature normally used by ‘power users’.
At least until a paradigm shifting Email client comes a long, it is arguably better to focus on improvements within and along side the current clients, not because it is easier but because it is a way to start making a wide-reaching difference now.