As far as iOS apps go, the native email client for iPhone is pretty bare bones and not especially pretty. It's kind of weird when you think about it. Here's Apple, a company known around the world for the quality of its design and attention to detail, and the app they put out for one of the activities people do most on their phones? It looks like a conglomeration of cookie-cutter UI elements for iOS, all slapped together.
Now here comes Sparrow. The minimalist, Tweetie-inspired Gmail client for Mac desktops landed on the iPhone today and as far as users of compatible email services are concerned, it makes Apple's native email app look even more stale.
At first glance, the UI of Sparrow for iPhone looks similar to that of Facebook's iOS app. It has the same basic layout and color scheme, with the same menu button in the upper left. When tapped, that button reveals a horizontal menu on a grey background, from which you can navigate your inbox, sent mail, starred emails, tags and so forth.
The app's similarities to Facebook begin and end with the color scheme and layout. What Sparrow has put together is actually much prettier and more fluid than what even a social networking behemoth has managed produce.
Almost every swipe and tap is accompanied by some smooth little animation. Getting around the app is intuitive and even somewhat enjoyable, thanks to the thought that they put into the design. One of Sparrow's advisers is Path founder Dave Morin, as is John Maeda so it's probably no freak accident that this app has such a pleasant user experience.
Not every user is going to be able to use Sparrow. It is, first and foremost a Gmail client, but it also works with Google Apps, Yahoo, iCloud, MobileMe, AOL and custom IMAP email accounts. Users who prefer to use POP for their email should look elsewhere.
By far the biggest complaint about Sparrow for iPhone is its lack of push notifications. Personally, I don't mind this because I check my email frequently enough that I don't need to get those distracting notifications. But this is indeed a very important feature for many people. There are some technical restrictions that prevented the Sparrow team from implementing push notifications properly in this version, but it's something they're hoping to include in a future version.
Get Ready to Bump "Mail" From Your iPhone Dock
If you use a compatible email service and don't mind the lack of push notifications, what Sparrow offers is probably going to be much more enjoyable to use than Apple's mobile Mail app.
Within 15 minutes of downloading Sparrow and putting it through its paces, I bumped the Mail app from my iPhone's home screen dock and replaced it with Sparrow. Despite the fact that iOS won't let you designate a third party app as your default email client on the iPhone, Sparrow makes a worthy replacement to what ships natively on the device.