Replacing Notify: Searching for the Perfect Menu Bar Mail App

A while ago, when I got my first Mac, I began using Mail for keeping up with my email. It was a very good app and I enjoyed using it, but I didn’t know how I felt about having all of my emails (both important and useless) stored in one app, accessible to anyone who accessed my computer. This wasn’t exactly a problem, until that computer got stolen, and as it wasn’t password-protected, whoever stole it or bought it now had access to a good number of my emails, and I couldn’t really do anything about it but but keep him from receiving my new emails.

A few days later, when I replaced my Macbook, I thought twice about using again after that first panic attack. I stuck with Gmail’s web app until I found a great and very complete app called Notify. Notify was cheap, it sat on my menu bar and it even used Growl to alert me when I got new messages. It was very simple and pretty, too. It allowed me to quickly check on emails without having to leave what I was doing, and even quickly reply to them or delete them and do marvelous things with them. It synced wonderfully with Gmail. It was a dream come true.

But it didn’t last very long. After I installed Lion, I noticed it started acting weird. It still alerted me when I got new mail and it let me access its menu bar interface, but if I tried to read or reply to any of them, the app would become useless, in many ways. I thought it would get updated soon, but as time went by I got anxious. One day I looked up the app and found a blog where the developers said they weren’t going to keep developing it, and that they had just stopped selling it. I understood, but I also needed to replace the luxury life that Notify had gotten me used to. And so began my search…


Google Notifier

The first choice was Google Notifier; an app that I had tried when I was searching for an app like Notify back when I got my new computer. I didn’t remember much about it, but I did remember that there was something about it that I didn’t like. I decided to give it another try and downloaded it again. Well, first off, it comes with Google Calendar activated, which could be useful for some people but is really just annoying for me. Then there’s the notifications: it doesn’t use Growl, so even though they look good, they sort of break the integration of my computer, and they sometimes even overlap with the Growl notifications.

It’s really only a notifier, you can’t do anything with your mail through the app. It could do just fine as a replacement, but there are details about it that I find a bit annoying, and there’s also some missing functionality that I expect from an app like this, like having the ability to read your emails in the menu, and not needing to open up a browser window to do so.

Price: Free

Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later

Developer: Google



Even though Sparrow doesn’t exactly fit in the category of a “menu bar mail app”, it does offer a nice lightweight solution to reading your email, and it has notifications. It also has a “download on demand” setting, which fills my purpose of not keeping email stored on the computer. There’s a nice menu bar icon that alerts you of the number of unread emails, but it doesn’t do anything else other than bring up the Sparrow window.

I could see myself using an app like Sparrow. It really does deliver on “making email fun again”. It’s very pretty, light, and it has this mobile feeling that I enjoy in apps like Reeder for Mac. It’s not exactly like Notify, but sometimes change is good, right?

Price: $9.99

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Sparrow + Growl Plugins

This isn’t for me. But some of you may find it interesting. Back when I used, I came across a few plugins that allowed you to have notifications through Growl, but while working with I don’t remember which one I used as there are a bunch of them, but this is the one the Growl guys recommend. Like I said, it’s not a solution for my needs, but some people will find it very nice, I’m sure.

Price: Free

Requires: Growl


Google Notifr

This is the app that I was the most excited to try out, because it seemed like the most similar to Notify. It’s not bad, except for the fact that it is pretty much the same thing as the original Google Notifier from Google. It actually seems a bit better, as it lets you adjust a few settings like the frequency with which it checks your email, and it uses Growl which is a very big positive point for me. It works exactly like the Google app, it just works as a notifier and a quick access button for opening Gmail in your browser. I like it better than the Google app, but it still doesn’t do enough to be considered a serious alternative to beautiful Notify.

Price: Free

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: James Chen



Mailbox is a Gmail-only menu bar app that I found in the App Store. It differentiates itself from the others because it actually uses Gmail’s mobile version and displays it when you click its icon on the menu bar. It’s great because you can do anything with it, even look at your labels and stuff like that. The downside though, is that it doesn’t display the unread count on the icon, and it also doesn’t support notifications. Close, but not quite there yet.

Price: Free

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Developer: Zentertain



MailTab seemed like a great option at first. It promised everything I was looking for: notifications, ability of reading emails from the menu and Growl notifications. It even uses Gmail’s web version in a very neat way. It seemed like I had finally found what I was looking for, but there’s something wrong with it, something very wrong.

There’s a bug in this version of the app that sort of “breaks” your Gmail account. Something about the app uses a lot of resources, I suppose, and so Google tends to block your account for a while if you use the app, because of “Unusual Usage”. I would have been happy using this app, but until they don’t fix it, I can’t work with it.

Price: Free/Pro for $1.99

Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later


As far as I can tell, there’s nothing like Notify. I really liked that app, everything about it was pleasant and joyful. It just a very detailed and well-thought utility, even the little noise it made when new email arrived was discrete and cool. The thing is though, there’s a lot of “mail notifier” apps out there, some of which I didn’t cover because I felt they were already represented better by another app. If you take a look at the Mac App Store, you are going to find apps like GmailDock and GotMail?, but they are either too expensive (in comparison with other apps that do the same thing for free), or too buggy to really be worthy.

And it’s strange, because I’m not exactly asking for anything extraordinary. Most of these apps have elements that I’m looking for, but none of them gather them all together like Notify did. And so, my search continues. I might try Sparrow for a while and see if I can adapt to it. If not, I’ll wait until MailTab gets updated, if it ever does. If you know any other app that gets the job done, please let me and our readers know! And if you are a Notify developer reading this, please come back!