My Time With Mailbox: 1M Users, But Still Not Perfect

Mailbox, the iOS email app that was purchased by Dropbox last week, has just filled one million reservations, the company announced in a blog post last week. I wanted to spend some time with the popular app to see if the substance meets the hype.

Spending Time With Mailbox

Using a slow-but-steady waiting list system, Mailbox has been onboarding users since its February 7 launch on the App Store, and this milestone marks six weeks to the day of that debut. Not only does this system keep the app's stability strong, it's also done wonders for building buzz.

Having got access to the app on March 15, I can safely say it has replaced my iPhone's email app almost entirely. After a few days, I went ahead and disabled all forms of notifications for the native Mail app for my two Gmail accounts, and now rely solely on Mailbox for checking incoming messages. Because those happen to be my most trafficked email accounts - something I will admit is not the case with many people - the experience has been rather smooth.

While it may seem daunting to some users to reduce their inboxes down to zero (I only had to deal with roughly 200 emails to sift through before I got to the bliss point Mailbox pushes you towards), it really does make the difference having a space where only the important emails reside.

Plus, using the time-based priority system lets you categorize something under 'Never,' which makes for a great evergreen-style folder where you can dump things like useful links about a new restaurant, email chains with important attachments, or really anything that you'd rather be able to access in a known location as opposed to having to seek out via search.

Room To Improve

While it's been a wonder to use, Mailbox doesn't come without its need for improvements. For one, you can't access Gmail labels within the app, a notable and very helpful feature of the Gmail iOS app from Google. If you're anything like me and have a need to categorize communication chains even after you've dealt with them as a means of organization, that can be an issue. If you're within the vicinity of your computer, you can dive into the All Mail folder and label them after-the-fact, but that defeats the purpose if Mailbox is supposed to be a one-stop shop to email efficiency.

Also, the app doesn't support a draft folder. When you start writing a new email, the only two options are send or delete drafts. You can always pop into the iPhone's native Mail app and write the draft there, but again, that's not an optimal way of handing the issue, especially given that you can't send the draft from Mailbox even if it's already written up and saved.

In terms of the amount of control given to users, Mailbox is pretty generous, but could be even more so. For instance, when dumping emails either into the archived section or the time-based priority section, users aren't given a preference on how the list is ordered unless they manually dictate when they want readdress it (it orders the emails by the earliest "deferred to..." time). 

That works for the priority list in general because certain emails, regardless of when you received them, often need to be addressed at distinct times set by the user. But there is no way to reorder the archived section, and that's annoying when you inevitably clear emails in an arbitrary fashion and the list reads different times from all over your calendar. 

While features such as shake-to-undo are neat, and come in handy given how much faster you tend to fly through your inbox with Mailbox's time-based reminders, there's still some work to be done here to make the app's promise of putting email in its place live up to the hype.