Email isn't going away, no matter how hard we try. So instead of fighting it, I've decided to simplify it. Here are five apps I've tried to tame the email beast.
Unroll.me is a free service that promises to "clean up your inbox" and does it by letting you roll all those emails you get from subscribing to list serves and newsletters into a daily digest.
It also lets you unsubscribe to email you have deleted with a vengeance. All you need to do is sign up from the email address for which you want to simplify, which means if you have lots of email addresses, you'll need to create an account for each one.
Luckily creating an account takes relatively little time and doesn't require you to enter much more than your email address. Unroll.me will search your account (with your permission) and uncover the different types of subscription email you receive. You can leave them unrolled, which means they will still stay in your inbox, unsubscribe or add the mail to your "roll-up."
Once created, you'll notice an Unroll.me folder in your mailbox — you can check this folder throughout the day for all emails you chose to "roll-up" will be here. They'll also show up in a daily digest that you've designated to show up in your inbox in the morning, afternoon or evening. Unfortunately you can choose only one time.
You'll definitely notice that your inbox is a lot leaner than before. Not only does Unroll.me deliver on its promise to clean up your inbox, it actually helps you better understand how much subscription mail you receive, and which ones are useful. If you choose to roll-up all of it, soon you'll realize what you're missing — then you can go back to your account and edit your subscriptions.
Inbox Cube is a free mobile app for the iPhone. I have to admit when trying new apps that claim to "discover my inbox" I'm a little skeptical. I know what my inbox looks likes, so I'd rather not have to spend any more time there. With the Inbox Cube app, however, I can't get enough of my inbox. I'm actually discovering things about my email that make me feel empowered, rather than overwhelmed.
Once downloaded, you can add your email account, whether it's Yahoo, Gmail, iCloud or what ever you use. Then after it builds your inbox, you will see an inbox that actually makes sense. If you're like me, people send you a lot of attachments. You don't know what they are or from whom they belong. Inbox Cube does. So next time you're looking for an email from your sister about what time her flight is landing, you don't have to frantically search folders or perform a lame search in iCloud that never seems to find anything. Just use Inbox Cube, click on contacts that tap your sister's name from the list and it will show all the emails she's sent. But she sent a screenshot of her flight info. Easy. Just click on photos-- and it will show all the photos she's ever sent you.
You can add multiple accounts to your Inbox Cube, and you can set it up so you receive notifications or not about when you have mail. Beyond that there isn't much in the way of settings. Additionally, while the app syncs with your mailbox, it is still an app, so you'll still have to open the app to send emails, etc. I haven't let Inbox Cube replace how I write, send or reply to emails, but it is my go to app when I want to find that attachment, specific email or reorganize my emails.
Mailbox is a free mobile app for both iPad and iPhone that "puts email in its place." To do that, it gives users the option of tagging emails by importance. You can swipe to delete, to read later, to archive, or to ignore. It's actually quite liberating when you realize that not every email you receive needs your attention right now. While it may take time to undo the Pavlovian conditioning, Mailbox offers a short cut, so we can simplify our inbox so we focus on the things that deserve our attention.
Again, it's an app, so you'll have to use it rather than accessing your email through the mail icon, but it's a small price to pay for getting your inbox to point where it doesn't make you feel overwhelmed. It also provides some helpful settings so you can customize the message used when emails are sent, as well as set your default browser and other preferences.
You may also recall that Mailbox was acquired by Dropbox in May. As such, the app lets you sync to your Dropbox account so you can access documents directly. They've also announced that Mailbox can now support iCloud and Yahoo email accounts.
Inky is a free software application you can install on your Mac or Windows desktop. It's cloud-based so you can access it from wherever, though it doesn't yet have a mobile app (but we've been assured they're working on it). Essentially, Inky gives you the interface you wish your inbox already had. Yes, Gmail and Outlook have advanced functionality, but it's not consistent from one platform to the next. Inky provides that consistency, while organizing your emails in ways that help you manage it all.
You can add all your email accounts so you can switch between them with ease. Smart views also provide numerous ways to filter and sort emails, whether they are social network notifications, daily deals, personal emails and more. Essentially, Inky combines the functionality of Unroll.me and Inbox Cube. Also, it can sit on your dock, making it easy to replace your current mail application.
FindIt is a free mobile app available for both iOS and Android that is designed to let you find things in your mailbox faster. You can search across multiple accounts for an image, attachment, document or keyword. It also allows you to link accounts -- although right now it's limited to GMail, Dropbox and Google Drive, but it will be adding Yahoo, Outlook and Evernote soon. While FindIt is limited to searching, once you find what you're looking for, you can swipe to share with others via email or social media.
The app takes a little time to load and can be a little buggy, but if all you need is to find an email or attachment or other media, it does the trick well, but lacks some of the additional functionality that the other apps provide. Still, it simplifies email, so it's worth it.
What Email Apps Mean For the Future
While all these apps may do in some way what your enterprise email management solution does at work, these are apps for the regular consumer. Face it, most people have many different email accounts. You may have started out with a Hotmail or Yahoo account in college, and along the way acquired a Gmail and iCloud account. The average person shouldn't have to be overwhelmed by email, especially if most of it are notifications about sales at BestBuy or the next Living Social deal. It's ironic that we used to complain about getting too much junk mail in our post boxes, and now we're in the same boat when it comes to our email inboxes.
Which brings up another point. Email marketing, while effective and very informative about the behaviors of your target audience, are also a nuisance. These apps are just the beginning. Customers are taking back their inbox, which means email marketers are going to have to get creative to stand out, while respecting the customer's attempt to get back to basics. These inbox apps are a lot like the DVR. It's not as if we don't ever want to see another email about a sale or upcoming event. It's just that we want to assert a little control over what gets top billing in our inbox.