Mailbird, a very Sparrow-like email client for Windows users, is launching into beta this week with plans to take its email desktop app beyond where Sparrow left off before being acquired by Google last July. The similarity between the two clients is striking, but co-founder and CEO Andrea Loubier insists that Mailbird isn’t copying Sparrow – it’s using that mail client’s look and feel for inspirational purposes only. And those similarities are only skin deep.
“By no means are we copying Sparrow,” says Loubier of the two apps’ differences, besides the fact that one is for Mac and iOS users, while the other is for Windows. “What we’re using right now – it’s not like it’s something that only Sparrow did,” she adds. “It’s what we’re seeing as a trend in app design right now.
“We looked at different apps that have this modern, flat design and went with those. They’re not exactly identical,” Loubier notes.
To the layperson who’s not a regular Sparrow user, the differences might be harder to spot, of course. And now that Sparrow is Google-owned, it’s unclear to what extent Sparrow’s new owners will have an issue with the user interface inspiration. However, given that the app is starting off with support for Gmail and Google Apps on Windows computers, Mailbird will probably get the chance to fly.
Though it was important to address the look-alike issue out of the gate here, the differences between Sparrow today and Mailbird don’t extend much further than that. Under the hood, Mailbird is working to bring some unique features to desktop mail clients, the most notable of which is an email app store. The company will open source that part of its code on GitHub, allowing third-party developers the ability to build their own integrated experiences into Mailbird itself.
The Mailbird team has already written some integrations of its own – not full email apps, but extensions – for Google Calendar and Dropbox to start. “The idea is that you can access everything from your email application, rather than have to navigate outside of it,” Loubier explains. “It’s like a one-stop shop in that sense.”
Mailbird also supports more advanced features, such as shortcuts, for those who want them. In fact, it supports the same shortcuts found in Gmail today, and will also allow users to customize their own shortcuts for things like compose or inline replies, for example.
“That’s the thing about the app – it’s super lightweight and simple, but there’s a lot of deep functionality about it,” Loubier says.
Another idea on the roadmap is a plan to include an email dashboard called “Wingman,” which would show users how productive they’re being within their email (or, perhaps, the opposite) with stats for how long you spend composing messages, turnaround time for replies, who you email the most, and more. (That sounds inspired by Google’s own Account Activity Report or Gmail Meter, actually).
And Mailbird will move to support multiple accounts in the future, too. For now, though, it supports a “send as” multi-identity feature for Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo and Hotmail/Outlook.com.
Mailbird is currently based out of Bali, where’s it’s hosted under the incubator Contenga International, following Mailbird co-founder Michael Bodekaer’s Bali-based startup event, Project Getaway. Bodekaer has invested in the startup, but other than that, Mailbird is entirely boostrapped.
TechCrunch readers can gain early access ahead of this week’s official debut, as well as access to the Pro version for free for six months, which will include more features in the future. (Pro pricing is $12/year/user, will remove ads, and include “Wingman,” multi-identity and more; Business accounts with five-plus users will be $9/year/user). The sign-up is here: http://www.getmailbird.com/signup/?ref=techcrunch.
Mailbird works on Windows XP, Vista, 7 and Windows 8 (desktop not tablet). Plans to extend to other platforms – yes, including Mac – are in the works.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
We are awash in email. Everyone complains about email. We feel inundated. Overwhelmed. Out of control.
Lately there’s been quite a lot of talk about what to do about it. Jordan Cook hates it, MG Siegler tried to quit it, and Alan Henry argues you can’t. People want Gmail to speed up, Yahoo! to catch up, or, someone, anyone, to make something better. While everyone seems to agree that email is broken, no one seems sure how to fix it.
At Orchestra we’ve been digging into the email “problem” for a while now. It’s such a well-known challenge, but much of what we’ve learned has surprised us. I’d like to share some insight about how email is broken and what it would take to fix it.
What makes email suck? It turns out the email “problem” is actually several issues smashed together into a ménage of anxiety and pain. As a former boss of mine used to say, “It’s a real poop sandwich” (only he didn’t use the word “poop”). Here are the ingredients:
1. We get too much email that we don’t care about
For every important email, we get several others from people or services we’d rather not hear from. It’s infuriating: a little light goes off telling us we’ve got new mail, and when we see it, we often wonder “who gave you the keys to my attention?”
Email was created in an era where the total population of the internet consisted of a few hundred scientists and engineers. Back then spam wasn’t on anyone’s radar, so email addresses were designed as open doors that anyone could walk through.
The good news is that this part of the problem is largely solvable already. While we can’t force others to leave us off their CC list, junk mail filters have gotten impressively good over the years. Spam constitutes 78% of all sent email, but most of it never gets to us at all. What remains can be parsed and parceled in a number of ways. Gmail filters are an easy way to slice and dice, and services like SaneBox, Unroll.me, and Gmail’s priority inbox try to automatically push down the less important stuff. And there’s always the unsubscribe button: just take an an hour to collect and unsubscribe from all the crap you don’t actually read — it will change your life.
2. Many emails are long and convoluted
Even after you clear out the spam, many of the important emails in our inbox are difficult to digest. Sometimes the sender just needs to get to the point, sometimes they should use a different medium altogether.
We are all getting better about being concise. In the olden days, all we could compare email to were physical letters. Today we send instant messages, texts, tweets, and other short form communications to one another. More and more of us understand the value of short messages and that’s starting to change our rules about socially acceptable correspondence.
But this shift takes time, and there’s very little we can do to force the issue. When companies try to replace email outright with something more to-the-point (Google wave and Shortmail come to mind), they face the dark side of network effects: if your solution requires everyone else to switch too, you’d best forget it.
What can be done is for small groups to commit to using something other than email in specific contexts. Asana aims to replace email for project-related correspondence in workgroups, for instance. At Orchestra, many of our most active users are couples who want to avoid filling up each other’s inboxes with chores. Tools like these can help cut down on email tremendously, but they must exist in addition to email. They cannot replace it.
3. Most email clients are awful
In general the tools we use to “do” email aren’t very good at helping us. There are a number of reasons for this:
They’re designed for communication when organization is just as important. The ancient clients that today’s tools mirror were designed for communication. And while communication is obviously important, it’s only part of the picture. Our inboxes also function as (terrible) to-do lists. Every one of us has tasks trapped in our inbox, but it’s an organizational mess. As a consequence, our inboxes feel disorganized and overwhelming, producing anxiety instead of control.
They’re too slow. We get a ton of email, but our workflows are often clumsy. Processing a single message can take forever, and little delays add up quickly. There are often hidden shortcut keys and power features, but most users don’t know about them. This is basic interaction design stuff, and there’s a ton of opportunity here.
They’re relics of the desktop era. The mobile computers in our pockets are changing everything. However, most mobile email clients are actually cramped versions of their desktop counterparts which do little to take advantage of the benefits of mobile devices. We could be using these newfound wonders to give us unprecedented control over our inboxes, but the tools to do so have yet to be designed and created.
The opportunity for improvement
While working on Mailbox, we’ve come to believe that most of the opportunity to improve email comes from rethinking the inbox. It’s an approach that lets you overhaul the experience of email without trying to topple email itself. As MG Siegler recently wrote, “It’s not about replacing email. That has been tried and tried and tried and failed and failed and failed. It’s about changing the way we perceive email.”
A new inbox, particularly one that takes advantage of smartphones, can also be a gateway to addressing the other email-related problems as well. Better interfaces can encourage us to get to the point. Smarter tools can help us quickly identify candidates for future filtering. The inbox is the key to a new relationship with email.
The high bar of eligibility
A handful of other companies have drawn the same conclusion about the inbox, most notably Sparrow, Fluent, Ritual, MailPilot, Postbox and .Mail. Yet given such a massive market, the total number of contenders is surprisingly small. Some players have recently closed their doors or been acquired, while others are really little more than early concepts.
Why, if there’s so much opportunity, are there so few real attempts to rethink the inbox? In spite of the tool’s familiarly, working with email is really, really hard.
A hard technology problem: working with email at scale means having to manage a lot of data while interfacing with ancient protocols and seemingly endless edge cases. The Sparrow team spent close to 10 years developing Sparrow’s email engine. The Gmail team only recently started offering mobile push notifications for messages from their own service on iOS. With Mailbox we’ve estimated that per 100,000 users we’d need to process hundreds of messages per second during peak hours. These are formidable challenges.
A hard design problem: Designers working on email clients face a conundrum: the benefits of the product must be substantial enough to motivate people to try a new tool, while at the same time the interface needs to be familiar and intuitive. Change is hard, even when the status quo doesn’t work. A winning design will lower the adoption barrier as much as possible while still offering massive benefits in terms of overall experience. Not an easy task.
A hard business problem: In spite of how many people use email, making money in this space is challenging. For a startup to build a successful business, it must offer something significantly better than what users can get for free, and that takes time to create. Contenders need runway, ideally lots of it, but many investors fear the space. Financing challenges were central to Fluent’s shutdown, for instance.
Go big or go home
If building a better email experience is so hard, why even try? Because this is a real problem that effects, well, all of us. We all use email, and few of us like how we use it. And now is the time: this new mobile era creates massive opportunities to transform the experience of email into something fast and delightful.
We believe rethinking the inbox is a great opportunity and a frighteningly ambitious challenge – the only kind that’s really worth the blood, sweat, and tears required to get a startup off the ground and perhaps, someday, put a dent in the universe.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Fluent is shutting down, or so you may have heard. It’s no surprise that a startup has failed – most do. It’s no surprise that an ambitious, bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew startup that went so far as to proclaim it was inventing “the future of email” is shutting down – that’s a hefty order for anyone to fill. And it’s no surprise that a company based in Australia (which to most VC’s may as well be the moon), couldn’t raise enough funding to continue …well, that’s no surprise, but it’s pretty sad.
What may end up being the bigger takeaway here for anyone daring to tackle one of those frighteningly ambitious startup ideas is that they should know that they’re taking on a damned near impossible task. Because if anyone can build a better Gmail, the one that’s best positioned to do so is Gmail itself.
That’s what Fluent co-founder Dhanji Prasanna tells me, at least, when I asked him if anyone could ever really take on Gmail. And Fluent’s potential investors agreed. “Many thought getting users to switch from Gmail was too ambitious,” he says. This, even though Fluent wasn’t asking people to actually switch email providers. It was just another way to interact with the service, similar to Sparrow. A new UI.
It also didn’t help that an investor pulled out at the last minute, due to a conflict of interest. “We could have taken the rest of the round and kept on, but then we’d be back at the raising table a lot sooner than we liked,” says Prasanna.
But the fact that Fluent was a new URL, as opposed to an app (like Sparrow), was a sticking point. “In both the literal and metaphorical senses, the muscle memory of `g-m-a-i-l.com` is just too powerful to overcome,” Prasanna told me, when explaining what happened at the startup. “This is not to say you can’t build a popular email service, but what we attempted was an enormous uphill challenge.”
Co-founder Cameron Adams agrees that it’s not something you can take on, if you don’t have the funding in place. “While trying to raise funds, the feedback that we got was that it was a great product and a great team but there was some trepidation at attacking the established email space,” says Adams. “We needed proof of quite large user numbers and growth – something we couldn’t supply with our own money.”
Prasanna also feels that the company got too caught up in trying to be a better Gmail, and early user feedback only served to highlight how far Fluent would have to go to beat the baseline Gmail had established. “Gmail is a fantastic service – it is the app I used the most bar none before Fluent,” he says. “For most users it is good enough. And therein lies the problem.”
“We were building feature parity with Gmail, while we should have been building out a can’t-live-without value feature like attachments or search,” he adds, ”i.e., something people would part with money for.”
Prasanna then recounted a story of meeting the CEO of Zimbra, who told him that he would simply walk out on a client if they were using Gmail – it’s just not worth trying to beat them, he told Prasanna. “There are a hundred little reasons why I think Fluent did things better than Gmail, but for most people Gmail is good enough,” Prasanna says. “And even if someone buys those hundred little reasons, they don’t necessarily add up to a single forcing function to switch.”
In any event, he insists that the decision to shut down came long before the Sparrow acquisition by Google. And like Sparrow, they too had “acqui-hire” options presented from “the usual suspects, as well as other red-hot Valley startups.” But the founders wanted to move on to different things that appealed to each of them on a personal level. “Ultimately, the financial motive didn’t rule the day. I like to think we deserve some credit for that,” he says.
The good news is that their dream – that is, one that speaks not to building a Gmail killer, but of building a service that makes sense of your data and helps you discover new things – has not been entirely killed. It will just sit on the back burner for a while, Prasanna says. Or maybe it will be incorporated into new projects in the future, he muses. But none of the founders are working on email-related projects now. Adams is working on a design startup called Canva. Prasanna is joining a stealth mobile apps startup in San Francisco. The third co-founder Jochen Bekmann is keeping his project under wraps for now.
Can anyone kill Gmail? Maybe one day someone will, the founders still believe. But they’re going to need a large runway to do so.
Prasanna will be posting more about his thoughts later today here on his blog. He adds that he doesn’t speak for the whole team.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Google just acquired Sparrow, the company behind the popular iOS and OS X email client. The company’s team, says Sparrow CEO Dom Leca, will be joining Google’s Gmail team “to accomplish a bigger vision – one that we think we can better achieve with Google.” Sparrow raised a small seed round of funding from French VC firm Kima Ventures in 2011 but did not take any other outside investments since. Neither Google nor Sparrow disclosed the financial details of the acquisition.
Sparrow says its applications will continue to be available for the time being, but according to an email the company just sent to its users, the Sparrow team, we won’t see any updates to the apps anytime soon: “”However, as we’ll be busy with new projects at Google, we do not plan to release new features for the Sparrow apps.” Sparrow will, however, continue to “provide support and critical updates to [its] users.”
We’re excited to announce that Sparrow has been acquired by Google! Read more here: sprw.me
— SparrowMail (@sparrow) July 20, 2012
Chances are that some of Sparrow’s work will flow into Google’s mobile clients. Google’s own Gmail client obviously had a rough start while Sparrow quickly garnered a loyal following on both the Mac and iOS. Sparrow’s OS X application launched in October 2011 and its iOS app launched in March 2012.
It still remains to be seen for how long Google plans to support Sparrow’s Mac client. Until now, Google did not offer its own native email client for any operating system and given Google’s focus on the web, it seems unlikely that the company would continue to fund the development of a desktop email client. It’s also unclear if Google will continue to charge for Sparrow’s apps. The Mac app currently costs $9.99 and the iOS client costs $2.99.
Here is the full announcement from Sparrow:
We’re excited to announce that Sparrow has been acquired by Google!
We care a lot about how people communicate, and we did our best to provide you with the most intuitive and pleasurable mailing experience.
Now we’re joining the Gmail team to accomplish a bigger vision — one that we think we can better achieve with Google.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to all of our users who have supported us, advised us, given us priceless feedback and allowed us to build a better mail application. While we’ll be working on new things at Google, we will continue to make Sparrow available and provide support for our users.
We had an amazing ride and can’t thank you enough.
Full speed ahead!
We also want to thank our advisors and investors — Loren Brichter, Dave Morin, John Maeda, Xavier Niel, Jérémie Berrebi — as well as our friends and family: Simon Istolainen, Jérémie Kanza, Sacha Cayre, Cedric Gepner, Laurent Merlinot, Didier Kuhn, Christophe Baillon, Laurent Cerveau, Christophe Giaume, Sebastien Maury, Manuel Colom, Bertrand Guiheneuf and all of you who have helped us along the way.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
There are a fair amount of third-party iPhone email clients out there, but few ever received the kind of reception that Sparrow for iPhone got a few weeks ago. Sadly, though, unless you have a jailbroken iPhone or use a third-party service like Boxcar, you won’t be able to get push notifications for new emails from Sparrow, but this could soon change.
Apple, in its infinite wisdom, decided that Sparrow couldn’t use the same kind of special push mechanism that VoIP apps like Skype use for calls and chats. According to Sparrow, the team could have enabled regular push notifications, but that would have meant storing all of its users email credentials on its own servers. Given that Sparrow is being developed by a small startup without a strong security background, the team decided that this was too much of a risk.
Today, Sparrow launched version 1.1 of its app. While this update includes a fair number of interesting new features, maybe the most interesting part of the announcement is that the Sparrow team will submit the next version of the app with built-in support for VoIP-style push notifications based on the assumption “that Apple might revise its position on the Push API.”
Even Sparrow itself notes that this is somewhat of a risky tactic. Should Apple decide to push back, however, Sparrow says that is already working on enabling push notifications with the help of “some partners” and “without needing Apple clearance.”
Version 1.2 will also include localization in nine languages, as well as support for composing messages in landscape mode.
As for the updates in today’s new version, the most important one is probably the ability to open links in emails in a built-in browser, a very convenient feature that was sorely missed in the first version. Other updates include the ability to only show specific labels and folders, to empty the trash and spam folders, and the option to keep your inbox a bit cleaner by automatically archiving a conversation after you reply to a message.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Real-time push notification service Boxcar, currently available on both iOS and Mac OS X, has just closed on a $150,000 seed round with Kima Ventures, bringing its total raise to date to $211,000. The additional funding will be used to grow the company’s consumer-facing services, expand to other platforms (Android in 2 months! Windows Phone!) and will aid in the company’s development of B2B products, we’re told.
And yep, that means what you think it means: Boxcar will soon offer push notifications as a backend service for mobile developers’ use.
In addition to the funding, Boxcar has added Brian Alvey (CEO of Crowd Fusion), Loic Le Meur (CEO of Seesmic), Greg Yardley (Former CEO of Pinch Media), and Sean Byrnes (Flurry’s co-founder), to the company’s advisory board.
In other good news: Kima Ventures is shareholder in Sparrow, the hot, new iOS mail client that serves as a worthy replacement to Apple’s own mail app. Not entirely coincidentally, Boxcar says it now works with Sparrow to provide the push notifications feature Sparrow currently lacks. (Well, that’s good enough reason to download the Boxcar right there, if you haven’t already, I’d say. And Sparrow, of course, I heartily recommend. Go read all about it over on Techmeme.)
For a little background, Boxcar received a lot of attention prior to the launch of iOS 5. When MG covered the iOS version of Boxcar back in March 2011, for example, he begged Apple to copy its notification system immediately. It was that good. But back then, Boxcar was filling a hole in Apple’s OS by providing support for a notifications center where all your app’s messages could be reviewed at a glance. Remember, this was a time before you could just pull down a drawer from the top of your iPhone’s screen. Instead, your notifications appeared as pop-ups, then disappeared, forever lost in the ether.
Apple, of course, since overhauled its notifications with the launch of iOS 5 in fall 2011, seemingly leaving much of the need for third-party systems like Boxcar in its wake. Except for the rare app like Sparrow, which launches prior to supporting push, the need for an alternative system (albeit a more configurable and more powerful one) is somewhat less pressing.
Then there’s Boxcar for Mac. Even though Boxcar serves as a viable counterpart to the ever-popular Growl, both services are now finding themselves in the position of having to compete with core OS features, thanks to the forthcoming release of Apple’s latest version of OS X (Mountain Lion), which is introducing its own push notifications feature.
So where does that leave something like Boxcar? And why is it getting funding now, of all times?
As it turns out, those “B2B” features in development are the big news here. Boxcar will soon be introducing a cross-platform push notifications service designed for developers’ use. This puts it in the same space as competitors like Urban Airship, Xtify, StackMob, Parse and others.
The idea with the new service is to not only provide push and “heavy lifting” for developers, but also help them create sustainable app businesses. To be clear, this is different from what most of the competition is doing today – instead of simply providing developer tools to power backend services like push, Boxcar will allow developers to offer push as an option to their customers – for a fee. The app’s end users will be able to pay for push notifications for the app on either a 6-month or yearly subscription basis, if they choose.
Already, one flagship implementation of this offering is in the wild: Twitterlator Neue, a Twitter app for iOS, is now delivering push notifications that are powered by Boxcar. The move hasn’t been without some pushback from users, of course. As a review of the app on ZDNet notes, Neue received some negative App Store reviews for its decision to charge $1.99 per year for push notifications. (The horror.)
But developer Andrew Stone explained the decision, saying that the decision was about sustainability. “We have to pay for servers,” he said. “That people expect stuff for free will eventually become a problem for most developers.”
Developers in unison: damn right.
Boxcar CEO Jonathan George tells me that several other Twitter apps are in the works, and the company will soon be doing the same with other apps, too. “Any push that requires a backend, we want to power it,” he says.
Originally, the plan was to announce the service for Twitter app developers next week, but a little funding news got in the way, it seems. Although the business offering isn’t officially live now, though, I’m sure interested developers can find a way to get in touch.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
As you probably know, I hate email. But I love Sparrow. And I love Shortmail. The two services are attempting to alleviate the pain that is email is two different ways. Sparrow makes email pretty. Shortmail makes email short. Today, the two are teaming up.
The latest version of Sparrow (1.3.2) which has just gone live in the Mac App Store now includes support for Shortmail. It needs to be set up through the Preferences -> Accounts area, but it’s pretty straight-forward. Essentially, it’s just an IMAP connection through the Sparrow client, but it comes with a nice little bonus: a character counter.
The entire idea behind Shortmail is that emails are far too long, and should be limited in a Twitter-like fashion. But instead of 140 characters, Shortmail gives users 500 characters to send email messages. If you connect a Shortmail account to Sparrow, it will now honor that character count limit, and show you how many characters each message is as you type.
This goes along with 410 Labs’ (Shortmail’s parent company) proposal that a new header should be added to email which displays character count limits (if they exist). Sparrow is the first to get on board with that. Hopefully others will too — *cough* Gmail *cough*. I guess it’s a more reasonable solution than my hope that email just dies entirely.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch