By Jim Karpen on Fri, 02/08/2013
Here's the good news: Mailbox is an extraordinary new free app for effectively managing your inbox. But the bad news is, it only works with Gmail, and downloading the app simply puts you on a waiting list as its developers gradually roll it out. (There are already several hundred thousand eager iPhone users lined up ahead of you.)
Why is the app creating such a buzz? It completely rethinks the way you use your iPhone to manage your typical deluge of emails. After reading the description on Macworld, I realized I indeed need this. Mailbox, whose developers include the son of senior Apple VP Eddy Cue, lets you use simple gestures in the list view to archive or delete emails, to "snooze" them for later viewing, or file them away in a "list," which is like a folder. The video below gives you a quick and clear idea of how it works.
A short swipe to the right archives the message, with the message turning green to indicate it understands your intention to archive. A longer swipe to the right turns the message red, indicating it will be sent to the trash. Since the app uses IMAP, any changes you make are also made in your Gmail account online. I spend a lot of time plowing through my inbox on my iPad, and I could immediately see that this is faster and more fluid. Tapping the trash can in Apple's Mail just always seems a little slow and cumbersome when I'm deleting messages. I even find Android's list view more convenient, in which I tap a check box next to each message I want to delete and then trash them all at one time.
In addition to archiving and deleting, gestures to the left let you snooze the message or move it to a list. A short left swipe turns the message green and gives you a range of default snooze options: later today, this evening, tomorrow, this weekend, next week, in a month, or someday. You can define "someday" as a particular period of months. And you can precisely define the other intervals too. For example, you can specify "later today" to mean in three hours. The grid of options that pops up also includes a button you can tap to specify a particular date and time. A long swipe left moves the message to a predefined list you've created, such as "Items To Buy." You can create as many lists as you want, and any changes are then also reflected in your Gmail account. You also can tap and hold messages to move them up or down in your inbox.
The vision behind Mailbox is to make it easier to clear your inbox so messages don't just keep piling up. It does this in an intuitive, quick, and fluid fashion, which is likely the reason the app is getting so much attention.
The app has many other appealing features as well. While I've emphasized the gestures in list view to quickly deal with your messages, you also can invoke these actions if you've opened a message simply by tapping the related icons. The Macworld review says that when composing an email, it's much easier to add a photo using Mailbox compared to Apple's Mail. The app also has a number of different and convenient views, including threaded conversations you can quickly expand and a view that shows all of Mailbox's features in a list.
The developers say Mailbox will eventually be compatible with other IMAP email services. But it's not clear to me whether it will work with iCloud.
Overall, I really like the direction this app is taking in regard to email management. This is the way mail apps should work: simple, quick gestures that help you get through the welter of email you face daily. The app is receiving a lot of praise, but the reviews in the App Store are trashing it — only because people don't want to wait to begin using it.