Orchestra’s Mailbox makes email triage effortless

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I was lucky that the folks at Orchestra intervened and got me into the long-awaited and enormously hyped Mailbox launch, because when I tried to sign up at their website I was informed by their reservation system that there were 433,768 people in line ahead of me. I’m not exaggerating. 433,768.

The app is an attempt to leverage the touch interface of iPhone, and it succeeds. Only available for iPhone, at present, and only connects to Gmail accounts.

I am sure that I will use the app daily, and probably several times a day. It will replace the technique I have used for years to manage my email.

My email pattern of use is inbox triage, which I have been doing for years with Remember the Milk, Todoist, and most recently Asana. As I read email in the inbox, to the degree that I figure out what the email is about, I quickly assign tasks in Asana (or in the other task managers, in earlier times) deferring emails that require thinking, review, or simply aren’t critical. Those emails I archive, so they can be handled later. Note that Asana and the other task managers retain the URL to the emails so they can be fetched later. Some of these tasks I assign specific dates to. Later on, I will pull up the deferred email while working in my task list.

But Mailbox makes this all much simpler. The app has a built-in model of inbox triage, allowing a user to rapidly manage the emails in the inbox, without using an external task management solution. And instead of mousing around on my mac, this is all done with a few rapid gestures on the iPhone.

Here are the gestures:

Swipe right to archive
Long swipe right to trash
Swipe left for later
Long swipe left to lists

The first two gestures are simple, while the last two lead to secondary screens popping up. After swiping left for later, this panel pops up:

This allows the user to quickly set a time for the email to be handled, and then moves the email back into the inbox at that time. For me, this is going to be the major improvement on my current form of inbox triage.

Here’s a screenshot from Mailbox, showing the ‘snoozed’ email:

And in the case of the long swipe left to add the email to a list, Mailbox manages Gmail labels to act like email folders, and the second screen looks like this (note that I added the bottom three lists, while the first three are provided by Mailbox):

Mailbox Lists pop-up

And the icons at in the app’s menu bar enable access to, from left to right, lists, snoozed emails, inbox, archived emails, and email compose.

Here’s the lists screen:

Mailbox Lists navigation

The email editor is minimal, but that’s ok: it’s on an iPhone after all, and I don’t style text in email. (And speaking personally, I am going to be using a wireless keyboard quite a lot soon, on both an iMac and an iPad mini (see Making A Few Big Changes: Going Gonzo And Proximal), and I have read a great deal about thumb typing on the mini, so I may switch over to doing much or all of my email reading AND writing on Mailbox.)

The Bottom Line

Inbox triage has long been a necessary chore, but Mailbox makes it simple and intuitive. My bet is that Mailbox will be an enormous hit, and will become one of the apps that define and confirm the new gestural UX that we are moving into so quickly. Also, I am sure that all other email clients will knock off the principles of email triage à la Mailbox. I envision a browser version of this working PCs in combination with Leap Motion, but it’s killer as is, and for people on iOS devices it will quickly become the default mail client of choice.

By the way, a suggestion to Apple: Here’s something to do with all that money you are sitting on. Buy Mailbox, make it the default client, integrate more closely with iOS, and don’t port it to Android or Windows 8. Before Google buys it.