Email’s a tough thing to innovate, because — regardless of how much we complain about it — email is still the simplest way to send messages of any size to anyone on earth. It works. And so, we continue to use it with the apps we have, hoping that favorite apps like Sparrow will live to see another day.
Regardless of how the rest of our digital lives change, email seems destined to mostly stay the same. The best we can hope for, it seems, is tricks that make Mail.app a better email tool, and newer apps like Airmail that attempt to recapture Sparrow’s magic.
There’s one app, though, that’s trying a new approach to email: Unibox. Instead of being about your messages and reaching inbox zero, it’s about the people behind your messages. And now, it’s in public beta so everyone can try it out.
It’s All About Your Conversations
Nearly a decade ago when Gmail was launched with 1Gb of storage space and tags instead of the traditional folders, it was rather apparent that the search giant didn’t intend for us to delete emails. Indeed, with that much storage, why not just let your account fill up with messages, and rely on search to find what you need so you’ll never wish you had saved an email again? But then, if you’re saving everything, surely it should be easy to find all of your conversations with all of your contacts. That, sadly, never has been the case in Gmail’s interface. Regardless of tags and a deep archive of messages, you’ll never get the conversational feel from email that you do from chat.
It’s taken this long, but we finally have a native email app that makes conversations make sense in email: Unibox. Unlike most new email apps today that are designed solely to help you achieve Inbox Zero, Unibox shows all of your recent conversations right in your main view. It takes it even further, stripping everything away except for the name of the other person in the conversation and their contact or Gravatar photo, organized by date sent or received. Select a name, and you’ll see all of the emails in conversation view, one that’s reminiscent what Sparrow and iMessages would look like merged together, complete with keyboard shortcuts for everything important to keep you working fast.
It’s radically different enough that I personally didn’t like it at first, but I’ve finally warmed to the concept thanks to the app’s nice UI and the fact that — as crazy as it sounds — it makes it easier to remember what happened over the past few days in your email.
Now, right now, the default Unibox view only shows messages in your Inbox and Sent folders, which means any conversations you’ve archived or moved to a folder won’t show up by default. You can dive into any of your folders or tags and see the messages there, but — once I got over my initial shock at the lack of Inbox Zero — I happen to think I’d like to have the Unibox view show messages from my entire email accounts, perhaps with a small Sparrow-style colored tag/folder indicator to know where the messages were archived. The settings look like we perhaps might be able to add extra folders (and hopefully archives) to the default Unibox view.
At any rate, I personally think that Unibox is one of the more promising new email apps on the Mac so far this year, especially for anyone wanting a new way to approach email. It’s beautifully minimalist, and unique enough that you won’t find yourself constantly comparing it to other apps. It’s one beta app you should try.
So go sign up for the Unibox open beta, take it for a spin, and let us know what you think. I happen to bet many of you will like it.