Please, Please Someone Turn This Email Concept Into A Real Mac App

Please, Please Someone Turn This Email Concept Into A Real Mac App

“When the first email was sent in the 1970s, there was no big difference to email we know today. And that’s the problem.”

So begins this screed / manifesto written and posted by Tobias Van Schneider. Email, he says, has lived beyond its original purpose, and is being used by all of us in new and interesting ways. Web and social media technology continues to push beyond the original Berners-Lee concept of a world wide web of hyperlinked information, so why not do the same for email?

Let’s face it, there are no great email clients on the Mac. There are many that do a good job of one thing or another, but none that just scream, “perfect!” Mail becomes a bloated mess as soon as it starts to have to manage the huge volumes of electronic communication we ask it to these days. Sparrow is a decent start, but it, too, is bound by the trappings of email tradition and history. I’m with Van Schneider – it’s time for a change.

Broken down, the plan for a newly designed email client as Van Schneider envisions starts with a cleaning up of the interface, hiding the inessential functions of most email clients (that most people don’t even use), and laying things out with an eye to clean typography. The latter, he says, is most important as we spend half of our computer time reading and responding to email – why not have it work for us in a beautiful, functional way? That sounds pretty Apple-like, right?

Ultimately, the thrust of Van Schneider’s redesign plan for the modern email client revolves around what he calls Action Steps. Every email we get these days isn’t a static bit of information. Each and every email needs an action associated with it: schedule a meeting, follow up on a sales lead, remember to pick up the milk on the way home. Why not create an email client that can actually make these action steps visible and useful?

Please, Please Someone Turn This Email Concept Into A Real Mac App

And, oh! One of my favorite concepts, right here: attachment management. How many photos do you have sitting in your email inbox, right now? I’m willing to bet it’s a ton. Pictures of children, friends, family, pets; all of these need to be pulled out one by one. Current email clients don’t differentiate attachments – a Word document is treated the same as a photo of a dearly departed family pet. Van Schnieder envisions a grid-like interface, with all attachments sent to you sorted by sender, date, or name – right in your email client. Seriously, let’s make this happen.

Van Schneider is a designer, not a coder, so he’s looking for folks that can help him make this a reality. He’s also looking for comments from you and me, so head on over to his website and let him know what you think. Or, heck, leave a comment below – it’s a fascinating concept. And? The time has come to make it a reality.

  • Tallest_Skil

    This is brilliantish. This is like the missing new half of an e-mail client redesign that I myself made.

    I like it. Most of it. Kudos to him.

  • Alex_98

    ” Van Schnieder” You keep misspelling his name ..

  • BogdanGC

    i don’t see the big difference between this and Sparrow… Plus, Sparrow is brilliant with Gmail, has a great iPhone app and iPad app is near release. Try it, it’s very very good.

  • wizard32843

    Almost looks like Sparrow…

  • MichaelTheGeek

    Wonderful!!!

  • tobyruckert

    At http://www.unifiedinbox.com we’re currently doing exactly that. We could very much need the help of another designer and are putting a team of developers together that would love to extend these functionalities beyond email alone (i.e. even when you get a tweet or a LinkedIn or FB message – you still want to be able to perform the same functions like scheduling, reminders, links, attachments etc. – right?). I’d be very interested to hear from you: (sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)

  • PeteX

    Opera indeed does have the attachment management. Also, its’ mail client is lean and fast. I just switched away from it as a browser due to some disappointments with integration. However in email management it remains absolutely gorgeous.

  • cfrincon

    a mockup is halfway there… only a few thousand lines of code to go! hope to see it soon on the App Store!

  • technochick

    There’s a lot in this that is false. Starting with the notion that EVERY email has some action with it. No they don’t. Then there’s this notion that everyone is too stupid to save attachments to somewhere and delete the email. Not true. If the trouble is that Rob doesn’t know how then my 90 year old great grandmother can show him

    This is an interesting idea but not really a killer thought that simply must happen

  • igorleandro

    I don’t know if this is brilliant or just foolish.

    Apple’s Mail already has something called Data Detectors. I use that almost every day to create schedules, address book entries, see maps, etc. However, there you can see the kind of challenge you’ll face already to try to figure that kind of thing from an e-mail’s text. Is the tittle right? Or the time? In the end, you’ll want to double check that anyway, and I simply don’t see how much else it could be improved past Data Detectors.

    Then there is the whole attachment thing. I don’t know, maybe it is just me, but I like to have my photos in iPhoto, not in Mail. Whenever there are images in an e-mail, clicking the Save button on top right and then Add to iPhoto is enough for me. In iPhoto I have faces, places, albums, tags, ratings, everything I need to handle pictures.

    Bottom like to me is: maybe spending a bit more time trying to learn how to use the existing tools instead of trying to reinvent the wheel will do wonders for you.

  • PaulBurton

    Finally, the conversation has begun. E-mail is no longer a simple communication tool. It’s a ubiquitous tool for getting things done. Unfortunately, most the software developers have missed the fact that e-mail has replaced letters and meetings. It has largely displaced phone calls, meetings, and to-do lists. Given that reality, the tool needs to mature into adulthood.

    My personal opinion on why this hasn’t happened yet is because most people haven’t hit the pain threshold that would mandate a sea change in perception. I work with people who average between 200 and 400 e-mails each day. Most of them have hit that threshold and are desperate for a better solution, which is why I developed the QuietSpacing productivity method (www.quietspacing.com).

    Oddly enough, the software/productivity suite that has matured the most is Microsoft’s Outlook – in PC, Mac and Cloud versions. (For those unaware of the cloud version check out Office 365 at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/online-software.aspx.) QuietSpacing leverages the out-of-the-box functionality provided in Outlook (all versions) to make the most of e-mail and it’s siblings – Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes. I’ve had limited success in Gmail (though that’s getting better with gadgets like Boomerang and Do) and limited success in Mac-based software (Mail, Appointments, etc.) In fact, if Microsoft could get out of its own way – by being less desktop-centric and anti-Apple and anti-Google, they could own this space. But Balmer’s not the guy to do it, as he’s proven for over 10 years now.

    Here’s the fundamental problem: A unified code base needs to be constructed on the idea that all things are potentially “to-do” items and that anything attached to an item needs to have a menu of actionable functions available to it. That way an e-mail can be treated like an appointment and a contact can be treated like a task, etc., all of which can be assigned a specific date/time reminder such that the entire “list” can be viewed chronologically. Chronological sorts allow us to view what’s laid out in front of us, as well as allows us to make adjustments on the fly.

    You can learn more about how QuietSpacting at http://www.quietpspacing.com.

  • Rob LeFebvre

    If the trouble is that Rob doesn’t know how then my 90 year old great grandmother can show him

    Can I get her email? :) Just kidding.

    I think the point here is that email usage has changed, and so should email clients. If you’re perfectly happy with the way your Mail client works, great! Stick with it. I just really like the way this design concept works, and wanted to share it with our readers.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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