If the waitlist for Mailbox taught us anything, it's that there's no shortcuts to success in this life. After languishing for weeks in their famous 'reservations' queue like everyone else, we finally got our chance to test out this new iOS email client for Gmail accounts. But, was the wait worth it?
The hype surrounding Mailbox has been impossible to escape. There's been breathless commentary on geek blogs. A six-figure waitlist. Numerous side-by-side comparisons with Gmail, which also has its own stripped-down mobile email app with push notifications. Even parodies, thanks to MailappApp. However, what's been missing from the conversation is how Mailbox is bound to impact HTML email designers and senders, like you and I. So, we took the first opportunity presented to run this mobile email client through our barrage of CSS support tests, to find out if it was as trouble-free for our crowd as it aims to be for email recipients.
Everyone, breathe - the great news is that Mailbox is going to be the least of your worries when designing email for mobile devices. What became immediately clear during our initial tests is that it's powered by WebKit - or some variation thereof. As a result, it breezed through our CSS2 and CSS3 tests, just as other major WebKit clients - iOS Mail and Android default Mail - have.
Likewise, Mailbox supports media queries, which opens this client up to the responsive email techniques that we know and love. Even Google Web Fonts get the nod. This is in stark contrast to Gmail for iOS, which suffers from CSS support that's on par with its parent webmail client, including no media query support. Mailbox also displays email messages wall-to-wall (at least, when the email hasn't been threaded in a conversation), which is in contrast to the weird padding Gmail adds to the sides of each and every message. I think you get the idea - from a sender's perspective, Mailbox and Gmail for iOS are in no way comparable.
For enquiring minds, it goes to show that it isn't something in Gmail's opaque cloud that's disabling incoming HTML emails, it's the Gmail client itself that's selectively stripping out CSS.
A well-publicized part of Mailbox are the options it provides to 'snooze' or 'postpone' an email message (pictured above). It's a clever idea - often, not all of the messages in your inbox need to be responded to at once and having a seemingly-full inbox of 'things to-do later' can be an unwelcome mental overhead. What makes this idea particularly interesting to senders is that it undermines theories on the importance of send time to the success of an email campaign. While we've never considered send time to be a critical factor, to those who see the science behind sending at 9am on a Tuesday, the ability to postpone email must seem like a potential quandry. However, it's an unstoppable shift - now email clients have grown from being humble message buckets, into fully-fledged productivity and collaboration tools too, it's increasingly likely that email recipients will choose to read email on their terms, not when senders personally feel they have the best chance of getting their messages read.
Time will tell if we start seeing subscribers frequently opening their emails in the hours, or days following a send, especially if this idea gathers steam amongst other clients. More than ever, email creators should focus on generating engagement; on creating messages that are compelling enough to be responded to now, not filed away for later (or, forever).
We invited the Mailbox team to comment on the state of mobile email and how they hope to influence reading habits, so there may well be an update to this post in the days ahead. But in the interim, we'd love to hear your experiences with Mailbox.
Have you given this new mobile email client a try? Will it change how we read email? Let us know in the comments below.
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