The one Mailbox feature nobody else has copied yet

Dropbox announced that they’re closing down the Mailbox app they acquired two years ago. That made me sadder than when Google shuttered the Sparrow iOS email app.

I started using Mailbox shortly after it came out, and never looked back. It had its flaws, but their focus on helping the user quickly reach inbox zero led to three killer features:

  1. Swipe Actions: Long and short swipes left and right for different actions like archive, delete, and delay. These weren’t perfect, because they also had a swipe-from-left-edge action that would reveal the ‘basement’ instead of the delete action I wanted, but Mailbox was the first of its kind to implement swipes in this way, and the interaction was delightful just like the to-do app Clear.
  2. Snooze: One way Mailbox helped people get to inbox zero was by making it fast and easy to make an email go away and come back at a certain time. Either vague times like totight or tomorrow, or specific dates.
  3. Never tell me the number: Mailbox had an option to have the badge app icon show ‘1’ whenever there was any number of new emails waiting. I don’t want my email to get my attention, or make me worry. but I do want to know when I have email. I turned off all email notifications except for the badge app icon on Mailbox. But when that number is greater than 1, it stresses me out more the larger it gets. The number 1 tells me that there is one thing waiting for my time: checking email. All I want to know is whether it’s worth opening my email app or not. I don’t want to know what’s waiting in there until I’m ready to deal with whatever.

Other mail apps have since adopted the first two of those killer features, but I haven’t found any others that do the third. Some do smart filtering of personal emails vs notifications and newsletters. I’ve tried that.

First I tried Spark, which does smart email filtering, and missed an important notification email because it hid them behind a ‘More’ link. That error cost me money (only 30¢), but any amount of money felt instantly like ’NOPE.’ If the emials weren’t so encased in blue app branding, I might have been willing to give it another try. The message reading view for Spark was by far the prettiest of all these email apps, but the main view felt like it removed too much control and visibility. And too often it moved things around without me telling it to. Reading a message made it disappear somewhere where I’d have to scroll down and find it, or else hit undo really quickly. Irritating.

I’ve since tried Dispatch, which comes highly recommended, but the swipe actions were two steps: a swipe and a tap. That’s one step too many for my preferences. And the interface just didn’t feel right. Dispatch’s killer feature is its integration with textExpander and 1Password, and its ability to use preset snippets for responses. Those are great features, but they don’t matter to me personally, not at the moment.

I’m now trying Outlook and Boxer, which are close, but still don’t feel quite right. One other thing I’ve realized I miss is how easy it was to switch between the inbox and archived messages in Mailbox, which had them right in the header. Neither lets me set the badge app icon like Mailbox did, but both present email well, and have decent swipe actions.

Boxer’s advantage is that I can turn off lots of the extra features like contacts and calendar, so that I never see those tabs. It can do email aliases for an upgrade fee, and if I pick it as my app of choice in the end, I’ll gladly pay for that feature. But it’s built to also be a to-do app, which adds some unnecessary cruft that I’ll never use. But they do have a big undo bar that appears after you take some actions, which is handy.

Outlook’s advantage is the way they split the personal and impersonal emails. It’s very easy to switch between them. It also does email aliases by default. You can’t turn off the calendar tab like in Boxer, but the calendar also looks nicer in Outlook, and has view options that don’t make it look like an empty useless thing.

I’ve also tried going back to the default Mail app and the Gmail app, and if I end up using one or the other of those, it will definitely be the default Mail app for the swipe actions.

But I sure do miss that custom badge app icon. It’s strange that nobody else has that option yet, but I suppose it’s because no other app is so hell-bent on enabling inbox zero (for better or for worse). Hopefully someone else picks up that badge app icon setting as a good idea even so.

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