Mailbox to be no more: Answers and Alternatives

Mailbox launched on 7th February 2013 and six weeks later it already found itself hitting the six-figure user milestone.

Mailbox launched on 7th February 2013 and six weeks later it already found itself hitting the six-figure user milestone. When we consider this, it seems astonishing that the game-changing email application finds itself on death row. With a mere seven weeks until execution date, millions of worldwide Mailbox users are left with unanswered questions, unclear explanations and a big decision to make themselves; where to turn next for email management.

The recent news of Dropbox’s beloved daughter app and her approaching cessation has not sat well with users of the application who have been venting their fury @dropbox’s decision on Twitter. Dropbox’s actions have been likened to that of a “butcher’s spree,” people are “thoroughly upset” and others are “LOUDLY EXPRESSING DISCONTENT.”

However, Mailbox was more than just an email app. It was an exceptional example of great product design. It had a true innovative attitude and it took the very complicated shared problem of email, stripped it down to its most basic components and reconstructed it as a simple yet very potent resolution.  Following, this backlash becomes very understandable.

It was back in 2013 that Dropbox acquired the email management application for a small sum of $100 million in cash and stock! Its emphasis was not on reading and sending mail but instead on how to manage your influx of mail. The app was such an innovation and has proved such a hit, as its focus goal is to reduce your mailbox down to zero; it’s the app “that puts email in its place.” So why is it that only a mere two years on they’re giving the app for the chop?


According to the official Mailbox blog announcement, the reasoning behind the decision was due to Dropbox deciding that there’s only so much an app can do to fundamentally fix email.

They believe that the best way to improve people’s productivity is to restructure the systems that generate so much email in the first place. To be able to say ‘yes’ to the chief areas of influence, they apparently have to say ‘no’ to other good and valuable concepts in order to continue simplifying the way people work together.

Another reason offered by the co-founders, Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, is that Dropbox want to shift  from a domestic to more of a business driven focus. But this still does not seem to justify axing it completely.

Another factor that has to be driving this recall, in some shape or form, is that fundamentally Dropbox and Mailbox clash and together simply do not make sense. How did Dropbox ever really imagine Mailbox, an app in principle all about deleting stuff from the cloud, to integrate with its core business that aims to get people to pay to store more of their stuff in the cloud. It is this basic disparity that resulted in Mailbox’s stagnation, and since it was procured by Dropbox in 2013, the app has never evolved and was in essence by Dropbox, as John Brownlee puts it, “left to rot.”

Case in point being that in today’s app store you would be hard pressed to find an email application that doesn’t engage Mailbox’s favourite features and colourful gesture affordances. Even Apple’s basic default mobile email app lets you manage your mail with a variety of swipes. In actual fact, it seems that many of Mailbox’s rivals have long ‘done Mailbox’ better than Mailbox ever did.

However, perhaps the real reason for Mailbox’s shutdown is a little bit more grave than this. Mike Trigg, CEO of Hightail (the lead competitor of Dropbox), has pointed out that obtaining subsidiary businesses and for hundreds of millions of dollars is what you do when your core business is thriving. On the reverse hand, shutting down those acquisitions is what you do when you desperately need to focus and remedy that same core business. He posits that the real question this closure should raise is: What is happening with Dropbox’s core business?

Alternatives to Mailbox?

Whatever the true reason for Mailbox’s defeat, come the 26th February 2016 she will be no more. This leaves her many numerous users with one question on all their lips: What’s next?

As I have already mentioned, many of the apps competitors have long since taken the ‘Mailbox idea’ even further than Dropbox ever could. As a result, there is, as yet, no need to panic as it seems that almost every email app on the market learnt a thing or two from Mailbox. For example, Boxer and Spark are two email apps that combine Mailbox’s best advances but utilise and exploit them even further whilst also continuously enhancing their own new features to keep interest fresh.

There is, in fact, a plethora of viable replacements for this much-beloved email application. The top seven are as follows: Spark, Boxer, Inbox by Google, Newton, My Mail, Blue Mail and Microsoft’s Outlook. Any of these would prove to be a worthy heir of the condemned Mailbox. Nevertheless, after weighing up each individually two stick out significantly; Spark and Gmail’s Inbox.

Both these apps, like Mailbox, have a Smart Inbox to prioritise and manage your emails making the process of reading them simpler, they have Email Snoozing options to help you reach that all peaceful target of a zero inbox by allowing you to only read emails when you have to and lastly they are fully integrated with all cloud services for receiving and sending attachments.

Spark, however, has Smart Search capabilities – something Mailbox never did. Smart Search understands Natural Language so you can search for exactly what you want and Spark will deliver. For example, if you searched for “PDF attachments received from Harry last week” Spark would search your inbox and give you exactly that; PDF attachments received from Harry last week.

Although Inbox does not have Smart Search abilities it makes up for this in other ways. Inbox has been designed to have a newsfeed like an interface that breaks up the traditional look of plain text emails with easily viewable photos, updates, reservations etc. that can be seen without having to open their specified emails. It too has a Smart Reminders feature that can contact details and locations from the web and your phone, and a Smart Reply option that scans the email and will create a short response accordingly, rather than offering default Quick Replies as Spark does.

However, as it stands, Spark is not yet available for iPad and tablets, nor for desktop devices – a con shared with Mailbox. But, Spark has admitted to these cons and promises that the former will be rectified in the next few weeks and the later next year in updates that will put the app, at the very least, “on par with mailbox.” It is this commitment and honesty to recognise its faults that are very refreshing and sets Spark heads and shoulders above Mailbox.

However, the real clincher with Inbox is that it is already available on all devices from phones, to tablets and desktops. This allows for full integration and ease for the user, allowing email itself adapt to your busy lifestyle whether on the go or at your desk, Inbox appears to be a one stop solution for email.

So there you have it, the reasons, albeit some of them rather weak, for Mailbox’s discontinuation and the various available alternatives and two possible, dare I say it, upgrades. But who knows what will truly be next for Mailbox; perhaps Mailbox will even be its own replacement, but an open sourced version as hundreds of discontented users has already urged Dropbox to consider as an option on a petition.

But for now we shall have to wave a solemn goodbye to Mailbox but at the same time see in an exciting new phase that email appears to be moving into – one undeniably ignited by mailbox – and watch as many of the lead apps furiously compete for that poll position. In the meantime, we all can just sit back and reap the benefits of this productive competition.