Mail Pilot – Set Sail Through Your Inbox

Upon the thought of email, what thought just went through your head? Did a sick feeling enter into the pit of your stomach because the unread count has become too overbearing? While the usefulness and proper techniques to handle it are debatable, the fact is that email is still a necessary evil and it is definitely worth investigating in order to find the best way that email works for you. If you have been struggling to keep tabs on your inbox then using email similar to a task system might be beneficial.

Attempting to help fix email is no easy task but Mail Pilot wants to change how you think of it. Instead of seeing an inbox and folders, Mail Pilot sees email as either incomplete or complete. By utilizing review times and lists, Mail Pilot wants to remove the stress from email and help you process your inbox a lot quicker. If dominating email sounds attractive, then keep reading on to see if Mail Pilot is the answer to a new productivity workflow!

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Complete Your Email

Mail Pilot wants the focus to be on completing emails and knows an unread count showing zero does not mean that everything is complete. This point is driven home from the founders of the app, Alex and Josh, when talking about their favorite aspect of it:

[...] is the replacement of the read/unread icon with a complete/incomplete control button. Reading a message shouldn’t change its status. Users should have full control to change the status of messages only when they’re done with them.

With that being said let us focus on how to complete email in Mail Pilot. All emails in your inbox will load into the incomplete tab. A three-pane view is utilized across the app to show the message list, message content and to navigate between the app sections. Using the message list or the top menu bar above a message, a user can mark an email complete by hitting the check mark. This moves the email into the complete folder.

At first launch instructions are presented to make sure you are in the right mindset to complete your email.

At first launch, instructions are presented to make sure you are in the right mindset to complete your email.

While it is great to complete email and check these items off your list, some items may be completely for reference and do not fall under the incomplete or complete category. Not only does Mail Pilot utilize your folders for organization but it also supports lists. Creating lists can be done via the menu bar above a message or in the action menu in the message list by clicking on the bulleted list button. The advantage of using a list over a folder is that lists work across all of your email accounts, which allows you to put all of your emails in one place related to a specific theme or event.

Scheduling Email

Most of time, email is not actionable the very moment it is received, so Mail Pilot allows for you to schedule a time for the message to be reviewed again. By swiping to the right you can set the message to be set aside, reviewed tomorrow, reviewed in five days, or reviewed in seven days. All of these are applied by using a gesture swipe to the right but vary depend on the length of the swipe. For example, to review an email tomorrow, swipe half of the length of the email message.

Using gestures to set review times on email messages.

Using gestures to set review times on email messages.

The speed of the swipe to review a message does not affect which review time is selected, just the length of the swipe.

Once a message has been set to be reviewed, it will disappear from your view until the appropriate time has passed. When the date of review has arrived, the message will appear in the top of your incomplete section. At the top of your incomplete section Mail Pilot will also show how many messages are overdue for review which can help you focus on getting caught up on items that might be important.

Sailing through the inbox.

Sailing through the inbox.

Sometimes your review needs might not fit into the specified frameworks of tomorrow or in five days, but you know you will need to review this email at some point. Mail Pilot utilizes a set aside list for these emails to clear them out of the inbox and make them available for review when you’ve got the time available. If you are familiar with Getting Things Done (GTD) this is very similar to the Someday/Maybe list where you accumulate items that you would like to do someday but the current importance is small.

Messages can be reviewed on specific dates using the calendar  scroll wheel.

Messages can be reviewed on specific dates using the calendar scroll wheel.

To cover all scenarios, there might also be times when you know the exact date you would like an email to appear back into your view. Pressing the calendar icon in the menu bar or action bar allows the user to choose a specific date to see the message again. By utilizing these three different methods, it becomes very easy to clear out an overrun inbox in a small amount of time.

Design and Functionality

Probably the first thing you noticed in the screenshots is the design of the app. I was very happy to see that most of the app design does not rely on standard iOS UI selections. The most appreciative interface decision, in my opinion, is the notification banner. It is unobtrusive and clearly indicates when a message has been sent or that there are no more messages to pull from the server. As well as this, the best part of the notification banner is that it disappears on its own without requiring any interaction from the user. Other developers, including Apple: take note!

Of course, the app must not just look pretty but also has to be stable and really stand out in comparison to the Mail.app that ships with iOS. With version 1.0 of Mail Pilot, I did find stability a question seeing as the app crashed on me several times. There was a certain trigger which seemed to set off the crashes, including setting a specific review date using the calendar. It is unfortunate the crashes occurred because I really like the functionality of the app, especially in comparison to Mail.app.

Email feels more like a conversation in the email reply window.

Email feels more like a conversation in the email reply window.

Mail Pilot makes it easy to organize and process email messages but that is just one facet of an email client. Replies to messages are typed into a conversation box much like in an instant message client.

If you decide to not send a reply and delete the typed content out of the conversation box, the keyboard will auto hide once all content is deleted from the conversation box.

When sending a message a spinning wheel shows the progress and a notification banner will appear when the message is sent. Unfortunately the spinning wheel would keep spinning after the message has been sent, which at first was confusing to determine if my message had actually sent. After realizing I could trust the notification banner, I had to click out of the spinning wheel each time after sending a message. It unfortunately became more of a nuisance with each email sent.

Forwarding email is easy thanks to the quick access button next to the reply conversation box.

Forwarding email is easy thanks to the quick access button next to the reply conversation box.

That Other Email Client

If you follow iOS app news, then you have probably heard about a similar app called Mailbox which was released earlier this year. Both of these apps want to help you clean your inbox quicker and they do have similar characteristics but these apps are different in a couple of ways.

First you will notice that Mail Pilot is not a free app, which I like. I prefer to pay for services and apps which I rely on, and it is crucial for me to see a business plan in place before I will start to use a service. The application cost is the only way for Mail Pilot to make money as there are no recurring subscription fees.

The app has been around since June 2012 after it was successfully funded in February 2012 on Kickstarter. The idea back then was the same but the design was completely different and since that time, the team at Mail Pilot have built a web app to get off the ground and then spent the last few months building the native iOS apps. So, consider the purchase of Mail Pilot as in investment since email is most likely one of the top uses for your iOS device.

The second main difference between Mail Pilot and Mailbox is where these emails are stored. Mailbox runs your emails through their servers and then to your device. Mail Pilot, however, does not utilize a server but rather communicates directly with your email server. This offers the best protection and privacy, which means if you trust your email provider, you can trust Mail Pilot to view and manage it.

There are no push notifications for new messages in Mail Pilot. For some this might be a blessing. For others, not so much.

Finally the last difference between Mailbox and Mail Pilot is that Mail Pilot includes support for all IMAP email clients. Some of popular options directly supported include Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo, and AOL. The good news is that even if you run your own email server, if it supports IMAP, then you can use Mail Pilot with it. Mailbox will be supporting other email providers in the future but not having support for these providers out of the gate has been a sour note for many users.

Conclusion

Mail Pilot is an impressive version 1.0 and provides evidence to back up the claim from the developers that:

We have developed the most stress-free, context-friendly, automated, and sensible email experience to ever hit a mobile device.

By completing emails and scheduling your emails for review until you can complete them, you can reach an empty inbox in no time. While version 1.0 is not without a few bugs, including some occasional crashing and lists not automatically refreshing, I find Mail Pilot and its’ future development a worthy contender for email on iOS.


Summary

Mail Pilot turns email into a to-do list and helps users navigate through their inbox by completing and scheduling emails for review at a more appropriate time.

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  • Steve

    The Mailbox implementation of this idea is way better. Add to that they’ve been bought by Dropbox, I think Mail Pilot has left it too late.

  • larrymcj

    I pre-ordered this app and the developers have shown a lot of integrity in how they’ve treated backers and pre-orders since moving away from a subscription-based model. That said, the app has some major issues, that if not fixed, will never let it compete in a sea of iOS email clients as it truly has the capability of doing.

    Here are the problems I see with Mail Pilot that really need to be addressed (and bear in mind I really like Mail Pilot a lot)…but problems are problems and need to be fixed.

    - No push notifications, and this is huge if you intend to use Mail App exclusively.

    - VERY slow connecting with Gmail. Takes approximately 16-20 seconds (on a fast WiFi) to move between folders (labels) or to populate messages each time you open it or move between folders.

    - Arbitrarily adds MANY labels to your Gmail label structure (the original Mail Pilot web app only added about three). Every time you mark a message for review on a specific date (one of the core strengths of Mail Pilot), it creates a new Gmail label for that date. This alone causes scores of new labels to be created if you’re managing a lot of messages for review on later dates, and then to exacerbate this problem the folders don’t go away after the messages in them have been acted on, deleted, etc. So you have to manually purge them and even after only two days of using it this has proven to me to be a major issue.

    - No pinch-to-zoom (on every message). Not sure what the criteria is, but a few messages (most of those that are HTML) seem to work OK, but any text-only messages won’t zoom.

    - The previous problem is a big deal since the font size in Mail Pilot is TINY (no…let’s make that MINISCULE). So if you can’t pinch-to-zoom, you better have very young eyes with perfect vision or you’ll be putting on drugstore glasses just to read your email. For me, this may end up being one of the showstoppers. The developers really needed to have some folks on the beta with less than perfect vision. Also, the grey text (instead of black) makes it even more difficult to read your email. I realize this is aesthetically pleasing as a color scheme, but why not make it a user-configurable feature.

    - No landscape mode on the iPhone version (this works OK on an iPad, though). So you can’t view very much of the message text even when reading a message that will, in fact, zoom larger.

    - Very poor support of IMAP email servers (other than the big ones, like Gmail, Yahoo, etc.). I’m a geek, have my own IMAP server that works perfectly on every mail client I want to use it with, but it doesn’t work with Mail Pilot. Mail Pilot apparently will login to it OK, but there is some advance parameter that Mail Pilot doesn’t like, and it can’t tell me what that is…instead it just says it “can’t connect”. (Mail Pilot tech support, though quick to answer, is no help on this issue.)

    There are a few other minor issues, but they are more personal preference than anything, so I won’t list them. However, I feel the above problems truly need to be addressed if Mindsense wants Mail Pilot to actually succeed, be acquired…or whatever their goal may be. I don’t even have a problem with the price point…but it’s certainly not worth it without push notifications and at least a promise to fix some of the problems Mail Pilot currently has. I also think the company truly cares about their users…but perhaps they’ve just been too wrapped up in how they want the app to be to consider what the app users might want…and let’s face it, for this much money the user needs to be happy and have some user-configurable features. If they’re willing to listen and update it…fine. If not, they’re going to have a long and silent bus ride home. All this said…I want to reiterate that I am still a big fan of the app and just hope it matures into what it could be.

    • CJ Dayrit

      and its price is on a high side for an email app without push.

    • http://phillipjohns.net Phillip Johns

      All great insight and ideas.

      For me push is not that big of an omission, although I admit people should have the choice to have it.

      I tested a lot with iCloud since that is my primary email and only performed limited testing with a Gmail account. Hopefully they will work on the Gmail speed.

      The label issues when reviewing on a specific date seems like a huge problem. On iCloud a folder was created under the Mail Pilot folder for the specific date. Once everything is out of the folder, the folder deletes which I guess is how the labels should work as well.

      The other items you mention also bring up interesting points. I fully believe the developers are in it for the long haul. With a price point at $14.99, I hope they are investing for future development and incorporating more features while squishing bugs.

  • Gavin

    The app is a great idea. I like actionable mail, rather than read and forgotten.
    I would caution people about the deployment though. I have 3 different imap accounts and only managed to actually get one of them to work. Gmail actions are incredibly slow, and doing multiple actions quickly (check actioned) on my gmail causes app crashing basically every time. This also would happen with emails that contained html. I am running ios 6.1.3 on an iphone 4S. My recommendation is to wait. Hopefully they will make many improvements in the coming weeks.

  • pljohns

    If you wanted to try out Mail Pilot but thought the price was a little too high, the developers have put the app on sale through May 30, 2013 for $9.99!

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