The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Imagination Technologies's MIPS group, in the past of other companies such as Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Zero - smart and secure email client for your inbox on the App Store

I just installed the "Zero" iPhone app - and I *love* it.  It allowed me to plow through 200+ (I think 300+) emails in my Gmail Inbox in less than half an hour.  Whereas I only had managed to clear out a dozen in an hour using Google "Inbox for Gmail" earlier today.

I love Zero enough that I paid 5.99$ for an upgrade to unlimited accounts within an hour or starting to use it.  But, see below.

And I cleared out my Gmail Inbox using Zero while walking on my treadmill desk!!!   OK, I admit that I do everything except detailed drawing and coding while walking on my treadmill desk.  But Zero was easier to use than most other apps.

Zero is a lot like Triage (http://www.triage.cc/) - an email app that I used to use on Android, although the web page only mentions IOS at the moment.  I gave up Triage a while back, because back then (1) it required VPN to run on my phone in order to connect to my mailserver - which I am guessing meant that it did not use ActiveSync to connect to Microsoft Exchange) - which was suboptimal because it meant more hassle, and a long password, to type in when I wanted to quickly triage my email, and (2) back then Triage crashed a lot - sometimes seeming to delete email.

      But when Triage was connected and was not crashing, it was sweet!

Both Zero and Triage do one job really well.  They aren't full mail readers.  What they do is allow you to quickly go through your Inbox, quickly archiving or discarding low priority email, allowing you to manually filter out low priority stuff so that only important stuff is left for you to handle, using a more powerful mailreader. Both Zero and Triage have some ability to respond to forward, email, or create new email - short messages, after which you archive or delete.  But longer replies you would want to handle somewhere else.   (Back when I was using Triage, most of the crashes and lossages were related to replying to or composing new email.

The key reason why Zero and Triage are more efficient for this particular email task is their user interface: they both use a "card" interface.  One email per card.

The card shows a lot of a message - often the whole thing.  Imagine the "preview" lines you get in a typical mailreader, but expanded to a screenful per message. You can tap on an email to truly see the whole thing, with HTML formatting, etc.  But the "large preview" you see on the card allows me to process emails more quickly, much more often than the "short previews" you see with regular mailreaders like Outlook or Inbox or Mail or ...

And then the actual processing is easy: in Zero's case, swipe upwards to archive a message, so that it no longer appears in your Inbox. Swipe left exposes a screen to the right where you can see the full email.  Tap a star to leave the mail in the Inbox.

Yes, this is not that different from the swipe actions of your favorite mailreader. Swipe right to archive, swipe left to schedule. (AFAICT neither Zero nor Triage have a "Defer" feature.)

But the cards, allowing a large amount, often all, of the email to be seen, and the simple swipe, allows me to go much faster.

Also, I have noticed: I seem to be able to swipe up or down much more easily than left or right.  In part because I often switch the hand I am using the phone with: thumb swiping up works easily with either hand, but swiping left or right is more difficult no matter what, and often much more difficult in a non-preferred direction.

(I believe that swiping up was one of the big reasons that I found Flipboard https://flipboard.com/ so pleasant to use when it first came out.  And Flipboard isn still pleasant to use in terms of swiping - it is just horribly full of ads and crashes my iPhone.)

I think this "card" interface is becoming a BKM (Best Known Method).  I wish that it were integrated with standard email apps, like Inbox or Outlook for iPhone.  Cards are just an alternate interface or "view".  Most email apps have several views: (1) the message list, w/wo previews, possibly sorted.  For Inbox, some other folder, or a search. (2) a full message view. (3) Now "cards".

     (I really think that a "folder tree view" should be included, although most email readers have really, really, sucky tree viewers.)

I love Zero enough that I paid 5.99$ for an upgrade to unlimited accounts within an hour or starting to use it.  But...

Zero is free for the first account, 1.99$ for the second, and 5.99$ for unlimited.

I hoped that I could be able to use Zero for my work email - I seem to remember that Triage could access our work server, using Imap (hence requiring VPN).  But this seems not to fly.

So, I can only really use Zero for my personal email, not at work.  I won't begrudge them the 6$ - I like supporting software that is useful.  I wish them luck.

This situation is becoming more and more common:  email is something people spend a lot of time on.  There are many good ideas bubbling up - cards, swiping, AI-like autoprioritization.   But no single app has all of the good ideas.  

So we end up using multiple apps. Email widget apps, that do one thing well, but where you have to use other apps for other things. And just cross our fingers that the apps play together well.

Zero seems to use Gmail's standard Archive feature. And Zero's "mailfeed" seems to be just "Inbox and Unread" - i.e. Zero's concepts seem to map to standard Gmail concepts.   I hope it will not interfere.

As far as I know,  there is no standard feature for "Defer email to process later at a scheduled time".  Different mailreaders handle this in different ways: labels, special folders.  

And this is a common situation wrt security: typically, not being able to access corporate mailservers using your favorite mobile app.  Being restricted to a much smaller number of limited, less innovative, email apps, like Microsft's Outlook app or Apple's standard Mail.app.

I understand corporate IT's unwillingness to allow random apps access to the corporate mailservers.  Especially when those apps often process the email on the app company's servers - even if they put it back on your employer's mailservers.

I just wish that there was a better way: a way to get innovative features, like Zero and Triage's cards, on my work email.

I suppose monetization is part of the problem.

More and more, I find that the technology I use to handle email at work sucks compared to what I use outside work. Not only is it slow, but it is so much less pleasant that I am averse to reading work email using the primitive apps.

Zero - smart and secure email client for your inbox on the App Store

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