Email has become so universal that we scarcely think about how we read, organise and dispose of it. Each service looks more or less like the next one – a long list of names and subjects that scrolls up the screen.
But that’s starting to change. A new generation of design-led apps – not just for phones and iPads but desktop PCs, too – is reinventing your inbox. Now you can view messages as attractive “tiles”, and sort them automatically by content.
Google, whose Gmail service is the market leader, is also at the forefront of the “new email” movement with an app called Inbox, which you can use as an alternative to the native, web-based model. The principle here is grouping similar types of messages together so you can swipe them away with a single gesture, and automatically highlighting potentially useful information like phone numbers and calendar entries. What’s more, Inbox can edit and update your messages with information it finds on the web, displaying, for instance, real-time information rather than just timetable details about a train or flight you’re planning to catch. It also lets you see attachments – especially pictures – without the need to open the message.
Inbox is available as a download for Apple and Android devices, and you can access it at inbox.google.com.
It’s by no means the only game in town, though. On phones and tablets, apps like Boxer and BlueMail will give your messages a refreshing new look, and, unlike Google Inbox, they’ll work with accounts on Hotmail, Yahoo or any of the other main services. They’re also capable of pulling in messages from your work account.
Even on Windows, programs are starting to emerge which re-imagine the way you check your messages. My favourite is TouchMail, designed originally for touch screens but perfectly serviceable on a standard PC running Windows 10. This app takes an entirely visual approach, giving each message its own tile and letting you zoom in or out to see lots or just a few at a time. The tiles are colour coded according to who sent them.
Like many Windows 10 apps, TouchMail is still a work in progress. There are fewer sorting and customisation options than you might expect, and mouse clicks are less responsive than they should be. And the full version costs money – though there is a free one that will handle up to three email accounts. All the same, it’s much better than the default Windows 10 mail app, which inexplicably isn’t yet capable of synchronising changes in real-time.
This is important for those of us who access our messages on more than one device: there’s nothing more annoying than finding emails you’ve deleted on your phone still clogging up the inbox on your PC. If you’re still using earlier Windows programs like Outlook Express you’ll be all too familiar with this, and this new generation of software may give you just the impetus you need to upgrade.