Inky Is a Different, Semi-Simple Approach to Email

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?

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Setting Things Up is Slightly Complicated

The screen that appears every time you start the app, not just when setting it up.

The screen that appears every time you start the app, not just when setting it up.

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

The welcome email from Inky.

The welcome email from Inky.

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.

Writing an email in Inky.

Writing an email in Inky.

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

Apparently, Inky's team offers no support.

Apparently, Inky’s team offers no support.

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.

It's simple: Macs have smooth scrolling and Inky doesn't.

It’s simple: Macs have smooth scrolling and Inky doesn’t.

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

Windowed mode really squeezes things.

Windowed mode really squeezes things.

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

The app wants to help, but it gets complicated.

The app wants to help, but it gets complicated.

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.


Summary

Promising to make email simpler, Inky tries very hard but comes out short with a good deal of bugs and irritations. Simply, it lacks the personality you'd hope to find in an app with its icon. For free, though, it might be worth a try.

6
  • Reagan Knopp

    Does it have keyboard shortcuts?

    • http://www.inky.com Dave Baggett

      Yes, and you can configure the keyboard shortcuts to mimic other popular mail clients.

      - The Inky Team

  • http://www.inky.com Dave Baggett

    Thanks for reviewing Inky. We appreciate the coverage, the candid approach, and your willingness to feature the app in so many screenshots.

    The good news is that we’ll continue to work hard on Inky, make it better, and hopefully address your concerns.

    With respect to setup, Inky actually goes farther than any other mail client to “discover” your mail servers. But you obviously hit some bugs that made either gmail.com or me.com harder than a single-click. We’ll look into that.

    – The Inky Team

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Dave,

      I understand that it’s a new product and hopefully the review wasn’t too critical. The little things here and there just made the experience less than desirable is all, but I’m sure you’ll get it ironed out.

      • http://inky.com Dave Baggett

        Jacob: no worries. We actually thrive on criticism. Email is a difficult space for a lot of reasons and we’re used to that.

        My pitch on Inky is: use it for a week before you give up on it. It needs more polish — yours is literally the first public mention of the product anywhere — but it already has many deeply innovative and powerful features: e.g., it automatically sorts all your email by relevance *to you*. It has better auto-complete than any other mail client. It has a set of experimental views we’re playing with which automatically folder things like social notifications and daily deals. It has letter-at-a-time search of your inbox.

        Our team background is video games (Crash Bandicoot), search (ITA Software), machine learning, and natural language. We’ll continue to work on the design and OS integration to make Inky more like other native apps you love, but our vision is a fully cloud-enabled app that runs on all screens and actually *understands* what your mail is about.

        We have a ways to go, but you can be sure we’ll get there.

        - The Inky Team

      • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

        Dave,

        I’m glad it was okay. I look forward to future builds of the product and hopefully it improves a lot of the months.

        Crash Bandicoot was one of my favorite childhood games. I remember playing it on an original PlayStation for hours trying to get one level perfect. Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.thehappybike.com Thomas Bruhl

    I agree, design is not an innovation (and the opposite is what many email software producers think) and it is even quite badly executed here.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      O! It’s not nearly as ugly as some apps I’ve come across. It is also not a spectacle.

  • Rene

    Any alternatives? Bought Sparrow, but as it is obviously not updated anymore Im looking for a better option

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      I’m still using Sparrow myself, and don’t plan to switch yet. Really hoping .Mail ends up being a viable alternate…

      • Nathan

        I’ve been waiting for .Mail to release. Excited to try it out.

      • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

        I’m sure it will — we just have to wait.

  • Nate

    Can you change the icon? It doesn’t look like an email client, also are there any other good mac email (gmail) clients?

  • Lizz Durante

    Hi Jacob, I enjoyed your article. I am an Inky Mail convert. I have multiple accounts (gmail, yahoo, network solutions and I have several comcast accounts.) The Inky program found all of these accounts immediately without any prompting from me. I like the ability to move easily between accounts. Also with Inky I get access to all of my contacts in one directory. I appreciate the clean look and now I am experimenting with the different views to see which works best for me. Regards.

  • davduf

    Wow… Email is SO important that any new ways to use ant to rethink it is VERY welcome.

    Thank you so much to the Inky Team.

  • sheryl

    Meh. I don’t think this looks Windows 8-y. I don’t think it looks OS X-y either though. I think I’m one of few people that doesn’t like when every app has a uniform look. Idk. I get bored.

    I don’t think Inky looks bad, but I don’t think I’ll be trying it. I don’t wanna log in every time I open it.

  • http://www.rosecitysoftware.com larrymcj

    The GOOD: I’m a veteran web developer and geek, and I thought I’d seen all the possible email client concepts ever conceived…until Inky. I’m also an email junkie…have my own domain, plus a couple of other accounts like my business email, iCloud, etc. and I can’t believe Inky has been so quietly launched…I simply now can’t live without it. It is an amazing app that in less than 24 hours, has completely changed how I will interact with my email in the future.

    I honestly can’t see how anyone could not fall in love with this product. Even if you think the concept is not for you, or you only have one email address…still give Inky a spin because its interface completely blows away all others. And it’s intuitiveness in learning what’s important in your inbox and what isn’t, is mind-boggling.

    The BAD: I’m sure there is much to be added to Inky in the future, but the one thing I can’t believe they left out is the ability to select a default email account (for composing email) when multiple accounts are aggregated by Inky. It just arbitrarily selects (unfortunately) the one email account I’ve included, but don’t use the most as the default account from which to send email.

  • Chris K

    Inky is horrible. It is incredibly SLOW, so I deleted it after using it only 5 minutes. :P

    Inky is not a native OSX app so it’s just really bad. Also, when there are updates you have to download a completely new app and replace the old one which is ridonculous.

    Don’t use it. I’m still trying to remove the ink: You are not allowed to delete your account either. Stupid and insecure. Thank goodness I didn’t move my email to their servers.

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