A number of different email clients are available for the Mac, but a new piece of software announced at MacWorld takes a new and different approach. Postbox is a new way to manage online communication, aiming to let you spend less time managing messages and more time getting things done. Built with powerful search and organization features, finding and browsing old messages is a simple process.
A video of the application in action can be seen at a recent presentation, and gives a great overview of what the app is capable of. The system supports all manner of email accounts and formats; IMAP, POP3, SMTP, Mobile Me, Gmail, RSS and Newsgroups. The software is noted to scale well, having been tested on databases of up to 30,000 messages.
The Main Interface
The main interface consists of folders, topics and search tabs. Folders and topics are used for categorizing and managing your email, and search tabs allow you to quickly view your contacts (generated based on all the messages you’ve received), images, attachments and links. Easy searching is central to the application and is given a great deal of attention.
The detail of the interface itself is impressive, feeling very much like a native Mac app. That said, it does feel slightly cluttered at times and there is undoubtedly room for further simplification in its look and feel.
The idea of ‘topics’ adds a different slant to traditional folder organization. These operate in a similar way to tags, and messages can be set to automatically be assigned a topic depending upon their contents or who they are from.
As with many modern mail clients, the facility exists to display email messages in conversation threads. This is done in an accurate and visually appealing way, clearly displaying the details for each message along with a summary of who is involved with the conversation.
The sidebar area in a conversation is something I could see being very useful. It collects all the information which has so far been shared in a message thread: links, addresses, images, attachments — it’s all displayed in one place. This saves a great deal of time navigating back and forth through different messages.
While both Postbox and Mail.app are fantastic at cataloguing mail message content, Postbox takes displaying search results to a new and interesting level; emphasis is placed on context. When searching for a piece of text within a message, for instance, results show the matching results with a multi sentence abstract around it. Messages retain their original thread information, and searching for images shows all the related message information.
With full integration to web services such as Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and Delicious, sharing information received via email is remarkably simple. Right clicking a link, for instance, brings up a context menu of useful export options:
Getting content from various web services into a new message is just as simple — the sidebar lets you pull in information directly from search engines, reference sources, and social media sites. Integration with Google is present through the application, though for now there doesn’t seem to be any link to this being a revenue stream for the developers (as is the case with applications such as Firefox).
After trying Postbox I would seriously consider it as an alternative to the standard Mail.app shipping with OS X. It takes a step forward in terms of features, offering far greater functionality than Apple’s basic email client. That said, I do enjoy the simple interface of Mail.app and there are a number of minor bugs which will need ironing out before the release of Postbox.
Postbox is currently in Beta stage, and you’re able to register your details to be notified of new developments. This can all be done through the Postbox site.
What are your thoughts on the application. Do you feel that it will prove to be a solid competitor to Mail.app, or are people more likely to continue the gradual move towards web-based email services? I’m sure Apple will be watching the development of this application carefully, and I would not be surprised if several of the features it offers make an appearance in a future version of Mail.app.