Make Email Truly Mobile With Triage

Email on the iPhone is, for me, an interesting topic. I’ve tried a lot of email apps over the years and I’ve come to realize that nobody is really handling mobile email properly. The original Mail app that Apple ships with iOS is, all things considered, pretty good. It works handily with whatever email account I’ve thrown at it over the years (Hotmail, Gmail, @mac and now iCloud). It lets me respond to email and deal with it if I need to. But some people felt it was incomplete.

Sparrow and Gmail both have filled in some gaps for Gmail users, but they’ve mostly addressed issues such as filters and labels and things that non-Gmail users are never going to use. But maybe the real problem with mobile email is that most developers are so busy trying to replicate the desktop experience that they’ve forgotten to address the needs of the mobile user first. This is the gap that Triage is trying to fill.

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The Details

First things first: to use Triage, you need to have a Gmail account, Yahoo! Mail account or an iCloud account. Most IMAP services are also supported, but developer Southgate Labs isn’t making any guarantees (it was only recently that support came for FastMail and DreamHost).

It’s important that I tell you right away that this is not a desktop email client. There are no folders or labels. Gmail users can’t tag anything and there’s no search. You won’t be browsing through old emails only the newest unread ones in your inbox get displayed. Triage has Archive support for Gmail, but that’s it. Nothing fancy.

This is as simple as it gets.

This is as simple as it gets.

There isn’t notification support and there’s no way to send a new email from within the app (you can, however, reply to a message without a problem). This is an exercise in making design decisions that some people will feel compromise mobile app design. That being said, Triage is unique and its compromises are brilliant solutions to unsolved problems in the mobile industry.

How Does Triage Work?

Triage simply fetches your email from the server and displays it as a stack of small cards in the middle of your iPhone screen. If you tap the card, a full-screen view comes up that allows you to read the email. There really isn’t much to do in an email, either: there’s a Reply button and an icon that essentially acts as a Back button to get you back to your stack of messages.

What’s really nifty about the app is more the stack of messages itself. Instead of letting you organize email into folders or anything like that — things that take, frankly, too much time — you can either choose to get rid of the message or keep it for later. Depending on your email provider and your settings within the app, getting rid of a message means either deleting or archiving it (but not both). You flick the message up to get rid of it, which means it’s gone like you would expect. Of you were to open another mail app on any device, the message wouldn’t be in your inbox.

Because I'm using Gmail, swiping up archives the email. But swiping down keeps it so I can respond later.

Because I’m using Gmail, swiping up archives the email. But swiping down keeps it so I can respond later.

If you choose to keep the message by flicking down, the message disappears from Triage, but not your inbox. Triage doesn’t even mark the message as read. That being said, you’ve dealt with it. Now you’re on to the next message and you get to do what you choose with that one too.

When you keep a message, you’re essentially saving it for later. If you open the stock Mail app, it’s still sitting there and it’s waiting for you, unread. You can reply to it there or categorize it however you want. It’s also waiting for you on your desktop or work machine whenever you get to it.

This is the detail view of an email.

This is the detail view of an email.

Let’s not ignore the Reply function, though: if you do feel that an email is pertinent enough to get an immediate response, you can do that within Triage without a problem. Actually, the interface is clean enough that I felt its Compose window was, in some ways, superior to Apple’s stock app. Not that you’ll be seeing the Compose window a lot in Triage; again, there’s no way to send a new email. You’ll have to rely on a different app for that kind of work.

But Why?

I’m so glad you asked that question. The point of Triage is simple: make handling email on your mobile device easier. The whole point is that by stripping away what you’re capable of doing in an email client, it lets you actually think about what you plan on doing with the message itself.

You can tap the header to see a bit more detailed information as well, but the app doesn't overload you with information.

You can tap the header to see a bit more detailed information as well, but the app doesn’t overload you with information.

When I wake up, I check Triage. There are no notification dings or vibrations. From there, the decision becomes simple. If I can type out a short response on my iPhone and it’s important enough to do so, I’ll do that. If it’s not, I’ll save it for later or delete it. If I save it for later, when I move to a computer or iPad, I’ll type out a response then. After all, it’s still sitting unread in my inbox and waiting for me whenever I’m ready. My twenty minutes spent checking email on my phone every morning while making coffee turns into twenty seconds.

This is the Reply window. As you can see, there's no way to insert an image or anything like that.

This is the Reply window. As you can see, there’s no way to insert an image or anything like that.

And that’s the point: Triage lets me take care of my emails quickly, when I’m ready. Because there’s no notifications and no way to turn them on and because I can’t waste half my day organizing email into the appropriate folder, email is back in my control. It’s like a controllable way of reaching Inbox Zero. Triage will tell me there aren’t any new messages, because there aren’t any new messages. There are just the messages I’ve seen, and they’re either gone or waiting for me whenever I’m ready.

Is It For You?

I’ll make no bones about it: this is a user problem. I’ve been trained, as a user, to respond to notifications when I first see them. I’ve been trained to use every function of my email client. By stripping it all down, I’ve rethought how my email should work and it’s made things easier for me. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think I need an email app like this and I think there are more people like that out there. True, you could treat email in Mail or Gmail or Sparrow similarly on your phone, but Triage forces you to.

I’ve reviewed a lot of apps and said a lot of good things about them, but not all of them have stayed on my phone and none of them have made their way into my dock. But Triage has done both of those things and the stock Mail app now sits where it belongs: in my Utilities folder. I wish Triage would let me compose a brand new email, but it’s not meant to do that. It’s not replacing those apps or your desktop client, but it’s making email feel as fast-paced and mobile as I am. And to me, that’s worth my $1.99.


Summary

Triage is a fantastic way to make email feel as mobile as it should on an iPhone, but the app won't be advanced enough for everybody and a small part of me does wish it had a New Email/Compose button.

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  • Lisa Michael-Hall

    hmmm interesting review, currently looking at various email apps for ios and can’t decide between sparrow and altamail?

    • http://twitter.com/joeguarino Joe Guarino

      Unfortunately Sparrow is a great email client for OSX but not so good on iOS because of a push notifications lack. It would be an awesome replacement for the standard Mail app, but if you have to launch it for checking if you got mail, well then I don’t think it’s worth it..

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