Orchestra Mailbox app

By on February 10, 2013
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Radically changing the way you deal with emails. Provided you have an iPhone and use GMail.


Old habits die hard. But every once in a while you come across an experience that forces you to change the way you’ve been doing something. Mailbox app from Orchestra is exactly one such experience- an app that treats your inbox as a to-do list allowing you to mark emails as read, delete them, list them into categories or snooze them for a later time to get back to- all through a simple swipe. While all of these concepts have existed in one form or another, it’s the execution that forces you to fall in love with the recently released Mailbox app by Orchestra.

While I’ve always understood the concept of an Inbox 0, it’s one that has never really intrigued me. For me an inbox has simply been a space that holds all my emails. If an email is read, it is generally replied and forgotten. But that’s not always the case and I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never missed replying an email that required my attention. That’s where Mailbox app comes in and executes in a manner that has suddenly made me a fan of Inbox 0- and a little less envious of the superb Gmail app found on Android devices.

To use Mailbox, for the moment you need to have an iPhone and GMail as your service provider as thats the only combination that it currently supports. Orchestra is planning on porting the app to other platforms like Android, iPad and Macs as well as other email providers such as iCloud but they haven’t given any timeframe yet. Also, they’re rolling out the service to users slowly and gradually to make sure their servers are capable of handling all the Gmail that passes through it and last I read, there were close to half a million users waiting in the pipeline.

If you do have an iPhone and use GMail and manage to get to the front of the waiting line, there is one last pill to swallow. Mailbox app requires you to permit it to pass all your Gmail through its servers before delivering it to your iPhone. This is done so Orchestra can cut out all the unnecessary info from your email such as previous quotes etc. and only keep the actual content so while viewing it on your iPhone, it appears as a threaded text conversation. This is primarily the reason why the wait for the app is so long as Orchestra probably has to process millions of emails and they want to make sure they can handle the load.

If you are ok with everything above and are ready to jump into Mailbox, be prepared to find an astonishingly efficient email client that makes almost every other mobile email client feel like it’s something out of the previous century. The way Mailbox App works is by organizing your email in three panes- your current conversation, messages marked to be checked at a later stage and messages you’re done dealing with. Here’s a video of how it works:

As you saw, swipes to left and right determine the action you want to take with your email from your main- the conversation view which is where all your new emails land. A halfway swipe to the right archives the email which means that you’re done dealing with it while a full swipe deletes the email. A half swipe on the left brings up the later menu where you can designate a time such as later today, tomorrow or next week to come back to the email or swipe all the way to the left to add the email to a list (or a label) such as “For later reading” or “Expenses.” Color codes on swiping make sure you’re performing the action you intended to.

As good as Mailbox App is, it’s not perfect and there are areas where Orchestra can improve upon. For example, I couldn’t find a way to delete a particular email from a conversation- it was either deleting the entire conversation or nothing from it. Also while viewing a message, an option to move to the next message would be nice instead of forcing you to return to your inbox. As far as app navigation is concerned an undo would certainly be welcomed after an accidental swipe- although that might be coming by a shake to undo as per my conversation with Orchestra.

While many companies have tried re-inventing email, I don’t think any of them have really been successful. Its an aging messaging protocol that will probably always be around but if you have an app like Mailbox, you’ll never want it to go away.


Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of tbreak.com and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

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