Dropbox Buys Mailbox - Promises To Help It Grow

UPDATE: Dropbox may have acquired Mailbox for a figure close to $100 million, reports GigaOM. While sources tell Om Malik that it was definitely upwards of $50 million, he confirms that at least one person close to the deal said the figure Dropbox paid to acquire Orchestra was "much closer to $100 million." Allegedly Yahoo and Facebook were considering acquiring Mailbox as well, but Dropbox clinched the acquisition first.  

Things have been going great for Mailbox, the sleek iOS email app that advertises its ability to "put email in its place." Developed by Palo Alto-based startup Orchestra Inc., Mailbox has grown immensely since its February launch - its now delivering more than 60 million emails a day and has taken more than 1.3 million reservations in a unique system that staggers users' access - and builds anticipation. And on Friday, Dropbox bought the company for an undisclosed amount. 

Mailbox attempts to reduce the impending email overload down to nothing. It lifts the inbox above Gmail's 'All Mail' folder and turns it into a productivity center where incoming items lie in wait to be organized. A swipe to the right archives or deletes the message, while  a swipe to the left sets up a time-based reminder or adds the folder to a custom list. That way, everything can be addressed immediately (or at least in one session) and put where it needs to be. Through archiving, conversations deemed finished are still accessible via search. The "archive, search and never delete" email mindset is increasingly popular -Mailbox gives you a clean starting point. 

Mailbox Lives!

"To be clear, Mailbox is not going away," stressed the app team in a blog post this morning. "The product needs to grow fast, and we believe that joining Dropbox is the best way to make that happen."

Though the acquisition sum is unavailable, it should be noted that Orchestra raised $5.3 million in a funding round led by Charles River Ventures in 2011. According to The Wall Street Journal, all 13 employees of Orchestra will join Dropbox. Currently Mailbox works only for iOS and Gmail accounts, but the team is looking to expand that in all directions. 

Dropbox, currently valued at $4 billion by investors, plans to use Mailbox to expand the reach of its services, which already cater to 100 million users, directly into the email optimization sector. But unlike Google's acquisition of email app Sparrow last summer that ended up killing the the app as it acqui-hired the team, Dropbox seems actually interested in the product as well as the team.  “We felt we could help Mailbox reach a much different audience much faster,” Dropbox CEO Drew Houston told the Journal. Houston emphasized that Mailbox wil stay a stand alone app, but Dropbox will also work to integrate it features, such as email attachments. 

Is It Worth The Wait? Absolutely

The beauty of Mailbox, which I've let run rampant on my multiple email accounts this morning, is the idea of "Inbox zero" - a repository for only the things that must be addressed immediately, with an end goal of wiping it to nothing every time you open it. By clearing out that pile of mail - too often used as a To Do list - either to a folder governed by time-based priority reminders or to one's All Mail folder through archiving and labeling, users can optimize their email organization and breathe a much-needed sigh of relief.

At least that's how theory goes. And after my morning tests, I'm starting to believe it could actually work. Mailbox could be one of the very few email optimizers to deliver on the promise of actually making your life easier.

Upending email long been a Holy Grail for both productivity and user interface gurus. Email philosophy has fluctuated constantly since the messaging platform became the mainstream Web-based communication method decades ago. But Mailbox, in only a matter of minutes, begins to fundamentally change how you view your inbox. For me, it immediately started to change my haphazard navigation through all the junk towards a semblance of organization.

Works For Me

I found Mailbox a refreshing upgrade from relying on Gmail's Label feature and my own rather arbitrary system of what needed to stay in front of my eyes at all times. Personally, I spend too much time throwing things in folders and applying labels, cutting my Inbox down but never quite achieving a regimented system where I truly felt in control and capable of easily finding anything at any time. With Mailbox, the difficult decisions are made for you. You just hand yourself over and stop trying so hard. 

It may be premature to consider Mailbox the best thing that ever happened to email, but I did manage to clear my inbox of hundreds of messages in just a few hours. After waiting for nearly three weeks to get access to the app, I was thrilled to achieve my "first zero." 

Though it matters less than core functionality and purpose, the app's design is also exemplary. A clean and simple look matched with an easy-to-use interface make Mailbox a pleasure to use, and its multi-purpose swiping conjures up the aesthetic experience of using the well-received Mac app Clear, which lets you set up prioritized lists and then swipe them away when completed. 

Reviewers seem to agree on Mailbox's promise, as do the long list of potential users still waiting to gain access.