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Insights / August 25, 2014

Some thoughts on Mailbox for Mac (beta)

By Beth McKeever

As a UX Engineer, I spend a lot of time evaluating things. Is it pleasant to look at? More importantly, does it do what it’s supposed to do without friction or delay? I’ve found the best way to do that is by becoming a customer or user, myself. For a period of time in my life this had me signing up for lots of shopping sites that email you multiple times a day. Luckily, evaluating the next hottest product on the market was not a sacrifice, but rather something I desperately needed.

If you follow me on twitter, you know I complain a lot about Mail, the email client that comes standard with any Apple computer. Ever since I left corporate life, and consequently Outlook, behind, I’ve been struggling to find an email client that I’m happy with. Then, like a magical answer to my tweet plea, Mailbox dropped their beta for Mac. Thanks to co-worker Joe, who is even further ahead of the game, I was able to get my hands on a beta coin to test it out. I don’t really get why beta coins exist, but those cute little things are way more fun than a traditional beta invite.


Mailbox for Mac has a super clean design. It worked well for them at the height of flat design mania, and it’s still working now. My only gripe here is that you can’t style emails. Normally I’m happy about that, but every once in a while I need styled or colorful text in an email. I’m only human.

I’ve always loved how Mailbox has popularized the idea of using the email archive, something I was unfamiliar with for a long time. All of your mail will still be there when you want it, but it doesn’t need to be in front of you all day long. It’s very empowering for someone interested in “getting things done”. For those who are strict followers of Getting Things Done, Mailbox also lets you turn off annoyances like badging.

The app is completely uncluttered, but still has access to what you need. It’s all color-coded the same way as its iOS and Android counterparts. This continuity between iOS, Android and Mac (beta) is great for returning users, but there are some places where it doesn’t translate perfectly yet. The innovative thing about Mailbox for iOS was that it used simple gestures to access a variety of features. It made sense on the iPhone: perfectly tuned to the form factor and the way we interact with the phone. Swipe to the right for archive or delete, swipe to the left for reminders or special archives. The best part about these gestures was the feedback you receive, mid-swipe. You knew exactly what was going to happen to that piece of email before you lifted your thumb from the screen, thanks to the green check or red x popping up from underneath.

That’s where Mailbox for Mac falls down. It’s more of a copy of iOS than a thoughtful rendition based on how people interact with their desktop or laptop. You can still swipe all of the same directions, but swiping is a lot more awkward with a mouse or trackpad. They have included some keyboard shortcuts, like using the arrow keys in the corresponding direction (with SHIFT as the modifier for secondary actions) but you don’t get that feedback, mid-action, like you do with the swipe. And while they’ve taken advantage of desktop notifications, I do miss the ability to take action (usually “delete”) on a new piece of mail directly from the notification.

But I think it’s going to get a lot better. This is beta, after all, and they’ve already released an update. That gives me confidence that they are iterating quickly and thoughtfully, based on user feedback. It’s already good enough to replace what I was previously doing to manage mail, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Want to try it out for yourself? I have a few beta coins left. Get in touch with me at or on twitter.