Humail is an e-mail replacement app for your iOS device. Featuring a unique way to browse and view e-mail that centers around envelopes, this e-mail app works hard to differentiate itself. In this review, I discuss the two major features that make Humail different from the default iOS e-mail client before describing additional functions such as a global inbox, shortcut bar and filters.
Created by App develop firm Insighde, Humail strives to “make e-mail emotional again”. Humail was co-founded by Chief Experience Officer Rami Khalil and Chief Innovation Officer Mahmoud Abdur-Rahman. When asked to describe the app, Khalil said, “We believe that we’ve had enough of e-mail grids and it’s the time to feel, touch and communicate with our mail contacts in a more humotional way”. This statement conveys the underlying idea that Humail is centered around: to move email away from the grids and lists with which we have become familiar.
The Two Features That Make Humail Different
When the iPhone was first released, the fight between smartphone devices centered around email. Phone manufacturers knew that their devices would succeed based on the quality of their e-mail applications. Today, mobile e-mail is somewhat passe as companies and users alike feel confident that their e-mail needs are met. There is however still a great deal of room to innovate in this area. Social networking, bandwidth speeds, and basic user needs have all changed.
In the face of these changes, e-mail clients have remained the same with improvements being made to features that encourage productivity rather than engagement. Humail differentiates itself by relying on two major features that encourage engagement rather than productivity. While there are a variety of unique features and functions, Humail excels in two very specific areas.
Cover Flow Style Navigation
Cover Flow has been well received by the Apple community. Built into iTunes and OSX itself, Cover Flow makes flipping through volumes of music, videos and photos intuitive. Presumably, Insighde saw this functionality and thought, “it would be interesting to access e-mail messages with cover flow”.
Email however is not based around cover art or images, it is based around textual information that up until this point, has been presented to users in lists. Long lists of e-mail give users the ability to quickly scan subject lines, sender information and even preview messages themselves. Standard horizontal cover flow would not have allowed this critical information to be displayed so instead, Insighde flipped Cover Flow so that rather than swiping across the screen, they swipe up and down to scroll through their messages.
The disadvantage of using Cover Flow style navigation in an e-mail application is that in order to display the scrolling graphics to convey the Rolodex style navigation, critical e-mail information is lost. It is only possible to preview one e-mail message at a time. Information from other messages is scaled down behind the current message. This disadvantage alone is the reason why e-mail power users will have difficulty accepting this app as a full-time replacement.
The advantage of Cover Flow style navigation is in the fluid actions that are used to move from one message to the next. This is especially useful when skimming through a large amount of email. By swiping up and down, users are presented with the same critical details that we find in traditional list based e-mail apps, but there is also room for the customizable envelopes that form Humail’s second major feature.
Rather than the familiar long list of e-mail presented in traditional Mail apps, Humail’s core user interface is built around envelopes. The appearance of the envelopes can be customized based on personal preference or on a set of rules. Similar to flags and color assignments in other mail applications, the rules that can be applied to envelopes help identify and compartmentalize messages when they arrive.
There are 3 ways that envelopes improve e-mail in Humail:
- First, different individuals can be automatically assigned a unique envelope. For example, I have marked incoming messages from my wife with a red colored envelope.
- Different groups of contacts can be identified with a unique envelope. More useful than identifying individuals, co-workers, friends and relatives could each have a unique envelope.
- Last, Humail has the ability to change the type of envelope an e-mail is displayed in after comparing the address with the internal iOS contact database. By enabling this feature, you can quickly identify spam or conversely, new contacts that you have entered into your iPhone as a contact.
Customizable envelopes are one of the two major features that differentiate Humail from other iOS e-mail applications. By giving users the opportunity to associate a uniquely styled and colored envelope, Humail provides a simple way to identify and organize e-mails.
Beyond The Basics: Additional Humail Features
Cover Flow for e-mail and attractive customizable envelopes are the two most important features that Humail offer. Humail has a few other tricks up it’s sleeve including:
Global Inbox: Messages from a variety of accounts can be viewed as separate stacks of envelopes or combined in one large pile.
Viewing Filters: Using similar rules as unique envelopes, users can specify that they would only like to see messages from existing contacts, specific groups or individual people.
Shortcut Bar: When viewing the stack of envelopes that contain each e-mail message, the shortcut bar provides quick access to functions such as replying, forwarding, flagging and deleting.
Issues and Problems
Developing an e-mail application is exceptionally difficult. Not only has Apple put a lot of thought into how e-mail should work on iOS devices, but third party powerhouses such as Google are currently trying to one-up the default mail application.
Humail has tried something different and if at any time you’ve thought that lists of e-mails were difficult to use, you should try Humail. However, as an e-mail power user myself, I cannot recommend purchasing it or using it on a regular basis. Below, I’ve listed the reasons why.
- The application is slow. Even after giving the app a chance to download messages and sit quietly, it felt like there was a lag between functions.
- The app crashed multiple times when I was using it. Almost randomly and without explanation, the app simply exited without warning or report.
- When a new message arrives, it takes 4 clicks to read the message.
- Cover Flow for e-mail is difficult to use. When searching for a message, I needed to carefully swipe my finger down so that I didn’t miss the message.
- The shortcut bar in the Cover Flow envelope stack gets in the way of navigation.
- Cover Flow only allows the user to clearly see 3 messages at a time without scrolling.
Humail is an attractive, easy to learn application. Being able to specify unique colors and styles for incoming mail is a welcome addition to daily email use and the idea to integrate Cove Flow into e-mail navigation is a creative, interesting idea that I was excited to try. However, the limitations of using Cover Flow for text information become apparent almost immediately. Combined with this, performance issues and basic usability concerns stop me from using this app regularly.
According to the website, Humail is being active developed and this is an early first release. With this in mind, I am excited to see what improvements are made to Humail and look forward to reviewing a future release. Currently, Humail is an unreliable e-mail app with user interface limitations that will prevent dedicated e-mail users from adopting it into their daily lives.