When Google acquired Sparrow, the most popular Mac email client of the day, back in July, it seemed all hope for email on OS X was lost. People thought they’d have to resort to Apple’s stale Mail app because Sparrow’s support may end. Mail all that bad, but it really isn’t the simplest thing out there and trying to do little things is often arduous. So that gave independent developers another chance to do something big: build a great new mail app for the Mac.
It all started with .Mail, or the “Dot Mail App” as some have referred to it. This appeared to be the most beautiful mail client ever on a Mac, but it was only a mockup at the time it was first shown off. It’s now in development, but it’s still a ways off, so people are constantly searching for a Sparrow alternative. An interesting little app by the name of Inky came across my desk the other day and it looked promising. After all, who doesn’t want to try out an app that has an icon nearly identical to Pearl from Finding Nemo?
Setting Things Up is Slightly Complicated
Anyone who has used Sparrow knows it has the easiest setup process of any email app ever. Alas, Inky’s setup is not such an easy task. It begins with a sign-in screen, and since you probably don’t have an account, you’ll have to create one. Like Mail Pilot and TweetDeck, this app is an account hosting service more than an email client at first. This seems unnecessary, but the developers insist.
Once you’ve created an account — simply a username and password, thankfully — you must log in to your email. Things can get tricky here. Instead of automatically setting up the incoming and outgoing mail servers for you like every other email client does — when you’re using a large service like @me.com and @gmail.com — this app makes you go through a manual server input process. It can “guess” the server’s address for you, but that’s still one step too far for an app that’s goal is to be simple. When you’re all done with that, it offers to take you on a tour of the app and you’re finally ready to check your email.
Focused on Three Elements: Composing, Reading, and Sending to Contacts
It has become the main goal of every app lately to be simple. Whether it’s an iTunes alternative or a journaling app. Simplicity is a good direction for apps to take since users will be pleased that they’re easy to use, but sometimes users respond harshly, asserting that their intelligence has been insulted. Yet still, the minimalist developers continue their efforts.
Inky isn’t one of the most simple email clients out there, but it does have a clear focus, which is good. The app’s main concentration is on writing emails, checking your inbox and reading emails, and browsing your contacts. In a way, it doubles as a contacts app, if that has any value. Interestingly, the contacts function isn’t like you’d expect: it includes all the people you’ve contacted via email (with all the accounts in Inky), not all the people in your Mac’s Contacts app. In fact, there are no Mac contacts at all, just people you’ve emailed.
The Little Things
As always, there are the small parts of apps that get to you. Inky has quite a few of these, even though the app says it’s in version 1.0. (Interestingly, the Web site says it’s in beta. Maybe the developers are not sure what stage the app is in yet.) Through the usual testing procedures, I’ve found all of Inky’s experience-affecting issues.
Unnaturally Fast Scrolling
Spotify is one of those apps that doesn’t fit well with others on a Mac. Some say it’s because the user interface is ugly, but the most annoying factor I’ve encountered is its lack of bounce-back scrolling, that fun new feature Apple included in OS X Lion. Without such functionality, the app feels like a piece of legacy coding. The scrolling jumps from here to there without any real personality and smoothness. It’s incoherent.
Inky has this problem as well, but it’s far worse than Spotify. Its speed is not unlike that of a first person shooter, just with more verbosity. If you want to scroll down just a bit, that’s not possible. You must go at least 25 pixels — that’s the least I could get it to move. This isn’t smooth scrolling like OS X has, it’s jittery madness. Scrolling is one of the most important aspects of an email client, and it’s usually one you don’t need to talk about because it’s a given, but here it’s been tweaked out of functioning properly.
Lastly, while I’m on the topic of scrolling, there’s the matter of the scrollbar itself. Now this is an interesting bit. It’s as if the developers thought they’d add a Windows 8 scrollbar to an OS X app. Maybe it was just something to keep the experience similar on both platforms. The only problem is, this is not Windows 8, and there’s also no touchscreen Mac on the market, so it looks and feels out of place.
No Fullscreen Mode
I personally don’t use fullscreen apps a lot, but some people prefer them for focused productivity. Apple’s default email application, properly enough titled Mail and included with OS X, for instance, has a great fullscreen mode that really uses your whole display. Some people like to throw around the window, which is fine, but fullscreen allows you to focus on an email using your whole screen — no status bar or anything.
Unfortunately, Inky doesn’t support fullscreen mode. This is probably because it’s a beta and the feature may be added in the future. Regardless, it won’t be a complete mail client until this is added. Right now, things feel restricted and the main window has to be maximized in order to read basic emails. In its default form, the app’s email preview screen — or reader: whatever they want to call it — is a diminutive 400 pixels wide. You may as well be receiving mobile-optimized emails to use it. “Of course, you can always double click the email,” I thought. But no, that does nothing.
A Good Effort; Far From Success
Inky tries to impress, almost too hard in some areas. The problem is the app’s presentation: it feels like a Web app in a window — like a Fluid app. That’s simply poor development. Nearly everything about it reminds me of Mail Pilot, a Kickstarter app that is available in the browser. Even the settings screen feels like a jumpy Web page rather than a native app.
I wanted to like this app, but it’s hard to do that, even objectively. Its user interface isn’t a bother, nor is its core functionality. But if you want to move on to what the app is really about, there’s nothing to be found. It’s an uninspired squared Windows 8-esque design placed in an OS X window frame — it just doesn’t work. If the whole app felt like it was built for Apple’s OS, that’d be one thing, but it’s so very far from it.