Here are just a handful of the reasons:
- It is deceptively hard. Like airfare pricing, most people think it's a couple weekends of work, when in fact it's at least 5 years and millions of lines of code to get to a real MVP that someone could use instead of Outlook, Thunderbird or Apple Mail, etc... The set of abstractions required to do it right are unobvious and nontrivial, and you end up with unfixable problems if you don't get them all right. We've rewritten Inky essentially from scratch twice, and only in the current version 3 (circa October 2015) do we finally have the abstractions correct. Look at the Thunderbird bugzilla logs and you will find thousands of bug entries, many of which go on for pages and pages. ITA was similar, by the way: 1996-2001 was basically iteration to get to an MVP.
And because it's not just hard, but deceptively hard, founders and their teams systematically underestimate the effort required, which leads to all kinds of failure modes. Even in the success stores like Mailbox, the teams basically punt on a number of hard problems that really are required for an MVP (like properly sanitizing HTML, supporting Exchange and IMAP "for real", proper support for all the weirdly encoded mail you see in the wild, encrypted mail via S/MIME, etc.)
- The other entities you have to work with are a complete nightmare, and as the client app everything appears to be your fault. Google, Apple, Yahoo, etc. just do whatever the hell they want, randomly, have broken servers they never fix, and place arbitrary problematic restrictions on clients: all limit clients to a small number of connections, and Apple won't let an email app run in the background, so you can't support "real" push notifications without keeping the user's credentials unencrypted in the cloud (which I refuse to do). Google, out of the blue, started banning clients that didn't use oAuth, sending users scary messages about unsafe software. oAuth is great, but just breaking everyone who doesn't support it yet is really, really nasty.
- VCs absolutely hate the space. Email startups have been dogs forever, and every name-brand VC has been burned on a crappy email investment.
- Consumers simply don't care about usability, privacy, or anything else enough to not use what comes with their phones.
- Security-conscious people who might pay for something that's genuinely secure never believe anything is genuinely secure in practice unless it's open source... in which case there is no business model.
- Existing mainstream clients are ironically sticky, because once users develop coping strategies to deal with the quirks of the client they're forced to use, they never want to invest the effort into learning the quirks of a new client.
So why do I work on it? Because in my opinion it's a really important problem that affects billions of people -- and one that needs to be solved properly by folks who are doing it not just as a data harvesting operation, loss-leader to sell devices, or as a way to build a moat around a core offering (search).
I would be very interested to hear more about this aspect, if you would be willing to share. I'm always curious about things that sound like they should be simple but end up being surprisingly complicated if you want do do a good job :)
If you haven't already seen it: http://algeri-wong.com/yishan/great-unsolved-problems-in-com...
Also, regarding Inky-- I just spent a few minutes browsing your site, and it didn't answer my first question: why should I switch to your product from gmail?
On the contrary email in 2015 isn't a huge need or a pain point for most people.
Since you're entering a crowded market your product has to be 10X better. Currently it's probably not which is why most people perceive Inky as a marginal improvement.
Still I'd love to see other projects you're working on Dave. Clearly you're talented and with the right idea I could see you getting back to where ITA & Crash was.
Or, more correctly, there isn't enough money to be made to satisfy VC investors. Mailbox and the like could have lived quite comfortably as paid-for apps with comfortable but small levels of profit, but that isn't what Silicon Valley rewards.
EDIT: also, IIRC Apple's restrictions on background processing meant that they needed to have every user's account set up on their servers to process push notifications. Did that ever change? If not that's a non trivial expense/complication to scaling, especially when you're up against an OS-integrated app that doesn't have those restrictions.
If you think of your business as a castle, a moat is something that stops others from taking your castle from you. This could be anything from a network effect (Facebook, LinkedIn), economies of scale (Amazon, Walmart), to patents (most biotech companies) to brand (Coke).
The way he put it was something like, "If you gave me 100 billion dollars to take Coke's market, I can't. They've been investing in infrastructure and brand all over the world for decades. Even if I could make a better tasting beverage, people would still buy Coke. They have a moat".
Though they are making good things, so it's hard to be too critical.
I don't for a second blame the founders of Mailbox for doing what they did. When the market creates a strong set of incentives like this you can't really expect anyone to do anything other than take the $100m. But this is the side-effect.
That doesn't mean they're bad companies, but there's definitely a funding gap for the type of company that will require $3M in investment up front and be worth $10M in 5 years. That's still a great return, but right now it's the domain of private equity.
- good for founders - they get a big fat paycheck and a chance for a job in a big company
- good for VCs - a payoff, even if small, is better than no payoff at all, so they want their 9 not-so-good startups to be bought
- good for the buying company - they can literally just kill the competition by throwing money at them, + they get some proven and experienced employees, which may be worth it given the unreliability of the standard hiring process
Care to guess who this deal is not good for?
Startups are (and are being heavily marketed as) a get-rich-quick scheme. Most of the people involved are self-selected to follow this process. And all this talk about providing value to the users? That's the part of the scheme where you get used.
My view on acquihires is that to some extent it's a trick the acquiring company plays on itself. Some manager is getting to hire a few good people using money (the acquisitions budget) they wouldn't otherwise have access to.
Also, there's generally some amount of IP and customer data involved as well.
For about 6 months to a year, after which time most of them have left, or have gone into "waiting for the golden handcuffs to come off" zombie-worker mode on a project they have no inherent interest in.
Totally anecdotal but the couple of acquihires I've seen from the inside have gone like this and it seems to be the natural state of them based on what I've heard second-hand from others.
Any acquisition involves a lot of turnover. Guaranteed that this turnover is built into the models they use when evaluating acquihires. Consider how expensive most company's talent acquisition costs are though (upwards of $100k+ per candidate hired for top talent) and it starts to make sense.
And many times, there's no other exit option for the VCs. Does it suck for users? Absolutely - which is why companies often have lots of apprehension about being early adopters of a startup's technology. It's why B2B startups are really hard, and why they tend not to hockey-stick because the customer acquisition costs are high and don't shrink with scale.
It's up to the founders to convince their VCs to pass on the acquihire because they think the company still has hockey-stick potential. Zuckerberg did this a number of times - it was still really arrogant, but it paid off for Facebook and shows why founders need a bit of arrogance to be successful. It's a lot harder to do this if you're running a startup that doesn't have a lot of market traction.
You get acquihires when the assumptions behind the company's business model have been proven false and there's basically no way to solve it other than rebooting the company. Arguably this is an argument to not take VC until you've got the hockey-stick trajectory, so you can pivot & reboot at will without dissolving an existing organization. But even this sucks for customers, if you have any.
Doesn't that make them bad though? I mean it's like saying "It's not that the mafia are bad people who want to screw over people, but their business model requires them to blackmail and occasionally kill" (not comparing levels of "badness" of course, merely showing the problem in said reasoning).
It's not like following a particular "business model" is not a decision people get to make. And if people take the VC model that favours acquihires, then they very much have decided to do stuff that screws with users.
The opportunity was the team, not the product they were producing.
Say you had a room full of math prodigies, but all they were doing was watching TV all day. You hire these math prodigies for $X and put them to work solving math problems - this doesn't mean that watching TV is worth $X, in fact it likely means the opposite, that their value is underutilized by whatever they're doing right now.
So there isn't enough money in making email apps, but a team capable of producing a great email app can be put to use doing things that do make a lot of money - but it sure isn't making email apps.
And that's unfortunate, because as users we're missing out on a lot of great products. The dark side of the immense growth in software (and immense growth in software salaries) is that entire products and services are no longer economical, even though we'd all love to see them. The VC system that drives these early acquisitions and acquihires is just one more factor among many that limit the field of what can be economically produced.
Too much money! I don't care how big of a genius you are you're not worth that as a developer of an email client, and honestly to write an Email client is not genius level shit. The UI was dope, and their invite process was funny, that's all.
Looks like Dropbox fucked up, that's all, bad business decision, trying to copy Google and do better than them in the end they did the same.
Not exactly. Could be the other way round too. It depends on whether the stock of the company is worth more or less than cash in the long run.
Except since it is the company issuing stock in itself you can't really think of it as fungible. If it ends up being worth more than the strike price then literally one of the events that led to that price was the purchase stock being issued. Of course that doesn't mean the is a causal link, but in a very real sense the stock was free for the company itself.
The only cost to the company is opportunity cost.
Stock always has value, especially to management.
Unless the company has poor self-esteem. :)
The reason so many technology companies today make acquisitions using stock is because they (correctly) understand their stock to be inflated, relative to intrinsic value. If that were not the case, if they understood their stock to be undervalued, then they would definitely not be giving it away in transactions. They would be making all-cash offers instead.
But that's the key isn't it? I think you're looking at this from too narrow a point of view.
Yeah, email clients aren't worth much money, so its development isn't worth much either (when's the last time anyone you know paid for an email client?).
The point isn't to acquire a "developer of email clients" it's to acquire a "developer of top-of-class mobile apps", which is considerably valuable. Think of the average quality of a mobile app you use on your phone, the bar is pretty low. Producing truly amazing mobile apps (like you said, the UI was dope) is hard, and requires the flawless, cohesive operation of a lot of facets from engineering to UX design.
Truly excellent mobile teams are very rare, and worth a lot of money. To the tune of $7.6MM over 2 years? Beats me, but it doesn't seem completely out of the question.
Talented developers are worth a lot of money - teams of talented developers, designers, and product people who have a track record of producing stellar work together are worth a multiple of their individual values.
> " and honestly to write an Email client is not genius level shit."
It's not genius level shit, but it's a surprisingly rare skill, and by that I mean writing very, very good frontends. Most people here can write a functional email client if they had to, but how many of them can write a really fucking good one, so good and so easy to use that people - and not just the technorati - sing its praises from the rooftops and get their friends and family to download it?
The Mailbox team was operating at a level well above nearly all mobile app teams, and the quality of their work was easily an order of magnitude better than the industry norm of its time. This may not justify their acquisition price, but I think you're selling them short a bit. They're a team of people known for exceptional quality work, and command a high price for it.
Dropbox could have thought that and just been wrong. Even in the normal economy, per The Economist about half of all acquisitions destroy value. In our little hothouse, I'd expect a much larger percentage of value-destroying takeovers.
But there are plenty of other reasons deals get done than a company-wide coherent calculation of economic value. E.g., I've heard of acquisitions happening because a CEO needs to demonstrate to the board that they're doing something. Or incentive structures set up to reward an M&A team based on how many deals they do. Or executives wanting to bring in their old buddies from another company. Or, "gosh, money is so cheap right now we'd better spend it because our competitors are spending."
If we're being ultimately generous with Dropbox then what they are doing is exactly correct - taking a team that can create a $100M+ product and reassigning them somewhere that they can fulfill that potential. But that's of scant consolation to all the people that want to continue using the email app.
Because if that's your goal, you clearly aren't passionate about what you're doing. You might as well go work for a 9-5 company doing CRUD apps. /s
I'm not sure that's true (see: Sparrow). I just don't think there is enough demand for people to want to pay for an email client. I imagine for a huge majority of people, default mail client's work fine enough for personal use.
Part of the problem is, unlike say Pinboard, an email client doesn't feel like 1-3 devs worth of work. The protocols are horrendous, you have to understand the quirks of lots of servers, etc. Plus all the UI and backend and search work. I'm not sure it's approachable as a small indie company.
There's also, of course, bad behavior by large companies such as mozilla: Thunderbird made it very difficult to build an indie email client because you have to compete on merits and against free, but they eventually got bored and just quit making it. Not to mention competing with free/ad-supported. And the semi-annual YC/vc supported email client company.
Not to mention what is coming close to active sabotage of productivity apps by the ios and mac app stores (lack of trials, lack of upgrades, etc).
"We now live in a world where people pitch tantrums about paying $10 for an app"
Where do users/customers get these expectations? Call it market forces, race to the bottom, whatever... do a little root cause and not blame joe public please.
It's still a prominent, maybe even the most prominent, item on my personal list of "reasons I shouldn't build an email app."
To make me switch, you would have to show me why the new thing was so much better. Like how Google search results were always better than Yahoo! (IMHO, no objective measurements used) so I switched. You would also have to explain it in a sentence I could immediately understand, whereas all the recent clients I've ready about either (a) claim to make things better but don't tell/show me how before I get bored of the page, or (b) use manager speak that I can't understand or is vague and abstract promises to increase collaboration or something. Therefore I've given almost no attention to any recent attempt to change email.
I use Thunderbird on Linux and Windows. It "works for me," in the sense that it's stable and predictable and doesn't lose my data. But it also has lots of niggly little problems that annoy me, like UI decisions that made more sense ten years ago than they do today and limited tools to support people like me who have a ton of mail.
So while I use and recommend Thunderbird, I also would love to see something come along that is so much better that it makes me fall in love with it, instead of just shrugging my shoulders and resigning myself to this being as good as things get.
Yeah, this is definitely what I saw with Sparrow. For it to become popular it has to be adopted by a substantial number of people. However, I find that only really tech savvy people cared about Sparrow and its streamlined interface. When I showed it to other people, they were reluctant to use anything else because they were afraid to move from their Apple Mail. I'm guessing if Sparrow had existed for windows it would've been the same thing with people using Outlook.
And then there's people who don't even use e-mail, who think it's outdated and prefer PM messaging as a form of communication. It's easy to see why a lot of these promising mail client apps don't really take off the way other apps and services do.
Nevertheless, Sparrow will always have a home in my Mac, as long as it keeps working on OS X.
I guess Mailpile isn't trying to be commercial, so perhaps it will keep soldiering on the power of donations for as long as that keeps up.
We've structured our business to... actually have a business. Our team spent the first year selling APIs to developers  which already power lots of paid apps. The N1 mail app we released two months ago follows this and will have paid features next year.
Plus both are open source free software, and quite popular on GitHub. 
What is Nylas? The website doesn't seem to be written for me, but for PHBs. Apparently you have great business, design, and APIs, but what is it that those things do? Are you an email client? A server? A webmail service?
What makes you different from Gmail or from Mailpile?
1. APIs for developers that replace IMAP/SMTP/Exchange. Use this to build any app that integrates with a user's mailbox, calendar, or address book.
2. A new extensible email app, built on web technologies (Chromium+NodeJS). This is called N1 and was released about 2 months ago.
We sell the APIs as an infrastructure business (like AWS).
I went to the "releases" tab on GitHub and it looks like the last one was in 2014. I see things in the GitHub repo that suggest there are Dockerfiles and Debian packages, but I don't see an actual Debian package repository or an entry on the Docker Hub. Is the recommended way to use it today just cloning the git repo? Or is there a stable release of the sync server that's tested/known to work with the binaries of the client?
We don't have "releases" because we are constantly releasing to production. Check out the `production` branch on GitHub for what we're running right now. Usually it's just a handful of hours behind master (at most).
I think certain enterprise-y email solutions have this, but there's no way to have that happen in the distributed email ecosystem unless all your messages were just links to a website that could delete the content centrally, or similarly, jpg's of rendered text that were somehow forced to be remotely fetched each time.
I know I had a former boss that loved to try using the outlook "unsend the stupid thing i sent" feature.
Little did he know the cients could turn that bit of functionality off. He hated when we replied to the emails he had "purged".
other than that, i don't think receivers like the idea that others can control what's in their inbox.
I ended up so frustrated I created my own email client in my spare time and half accidentally got into YC S14 haha. You can check it out here: http://www.slidemailapp.com
I'll admit, as a previous poster said, it's not without it's flaws but we try hard and we really do spend all our waking hours improving it since it's our baby and we love it to death. We've been beta testing the private current release with a lot of Hacker News users and I think we're fast approaching something really awesome!
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a beta invite and would LOVE to hear your suggestions of what you'd like to see in an email client!!
I don't know if it's in my best interest to answer this publicly, but screw it. The honest answer is I'm not entirely too sure, but an acquisition is always on the table for any startup IMO. I think whenever you ask a founder, "If someone offered you $100M, would you take it?", it's a pretty loaded question.
There's really three outcomes to a startup: They die, they get acquired, they IPO. The thing is, if you think your company is valued at $1M and someone offers you $100M, of course you're most likely going to take it. It's 100x what you were expecting and it would be unwise not to take it. However, if you deep down believe that your company is worth more or can be worth more than the offering price and you have the proof to back it up, then it'd be unwise to take the offer.
For me, I strongly believe that email has A LOT to go. I mean, it's nearly 2016 and I still can't connect my Dropbox to my Gmail app client or send stuff into Evernote / Trello? Given all the time we spend on email, shouldn't we at least have some better automation / AI integration by now? Something smarter and more contextually aware that can make my life a bit easier?
So many people use email in the world. Literally everyone that has a Facebook account has to have an email account. I think the reason why we haven't seen a billion dollar plus company yet is that it's very ubiquitous and it's hard to build solutions for the masses. So companies give up, sell out, close down, and then we have to start again at ground zero.
So to your question, what's the end goal? Well, if we're right about our beliefs, hopefully we can become the next billion dollar company. If not, then it's the other two options: get acquired or die. Which one will it be? No idea, but we're just working our butts off right now.
There's a fourth: they serve the needs of their customers over the course of years and decades. which, as someone in the market for an email client I can fall in love with and use for the rest of my life; is exactly what I want.
Why does every startup need to aim to take over the world overnight? Is it not feasible to first take external funding to grow quickly in early stages, and then transition to a more organic growth model once you reach a point of profitability and sustainability (and maybe also slowly buy back shares in the company to eventually become fully autonomous)?
Its preferable to work on a project for a few years instead of half/full decades.
Once you raise venture capital, you have to go big or go home, in the span of a decade. You don't have the "grow slow and stay private" option after raising a Series A.
That being said, this is just the current, common state in VC-backed companies. With the weak IPO market and hostile public environment that forces short-term quarterly thinking, we may see alternatives like formalized secondary markets. Perhaps companies like Uber will be able to avoid going public and still provide liquidity options for their early investors & employees.
> hopefully we can become the next billion dollar company. If not, then it's the other two options: get acquired or die.
No offense, but it doesn't really sound like you were kidding. I have no skin in this game because I never used Mailbox and am content to continue using GMail, but if I was upset about this shutdown and in the market for a new email client that would be around long-term, your answer wouldn't exactly inspire confidence. You've basically said you're going to shut down (or get acquired and then, inevitably shut down) unless you hit the lottery ticket of a billion dollar company.
Speaking more generally, I think this sort of attitude is going to catch up with VC-backed startups sooner or later. Why would I make my workflow depend on a startup that is, in all likelihood, going to either shut down or get acquired and shut down? For anything with a high switching cost, using a product from a VC-backed startup that has this outlook is just going to cause me problems later if I get dependent on it.
I think a lot of companies would do better by their customers (and themselves) if they instead looked for a more sustainable business model. But there isn't as much of a lottery ticket in those businesses, so I can see why some founders avoid it.
What's wrong with just having a nice business that just makes some money?
If you do snooze, I'll throw all my money at you :)
: which of course either requires server side (e.g. Mailbox) or (preferably) client side logic. I'd be fine with the latter, but I agree it's a non-trivial problem.
Inbox by GMail has some of the ideas from the Sparrow team incorporated in it, but it's only really usable on mobile. (The desktop Inbox web app is awfully slow compared to, say, GMail or Outlook.com.)
When Hotmail came out, who still paid for Eudora licenses?
That said, if a decent email client is that important to you, don't underestimate the impact you could have building it yourself as open source on evenings and weekends. And if you don't think it's worth your time to do that much, why would you expect anyone else to?
I don't expect anyone else to build me a FOSS email client. I do expect that by 2015 somebody would have figured out a way for me to give them money for a good email experience. :)
If you own something, you're not buying it - so the seller doesn't get the money. Software figured this out quickly - that's why everything that has not moved to cloud yet is being sold in form of licenses - a temporary grant to use some software. Rest of the world did it with planned obsolescence, and now the trend is to actually make you license hardware instead of buying it. It's sick. But that's where the money is, that's what the Market says to do, therefore it's happening.
 - or Moloch.
¹ — http://freron.com/
I'd like Inbox-like features theoretically, but the fundamental UX/UI is done better than anyone else IMHO.
- Open Mail, roughly time how long it takes from left pane click to message fully rendered on the right (~2-3 seconds)
- Open Dropbox (fast before it goes away!) and do the same (~250ms)
I get roughly 100-150 emails overnight that I go through in the morning. At 2-3 seconds PER THREAD render this is insanely unproductive use of my time.
Every time I open OSX Mail I have this exact process in my head and I promptly close it.
I'm also talking about my iOS experience. There are some perf issues that would be nice, but for me that's mostly in search and initial sync than stuff that's already downloaded.
It's such a shitty, disrespectful, dangerous pattern to buy and shutdown products. The community knows it and bemoans it every time. Blogs have been set up just to highlight how shitty it is. Countless words written about how shitty it is. This isn't like giving away free cookies and then stopping, it's like standing someone up on a date.
"—and we’re sorry. It’s not easy to say goodbye to products we all love..." but it's just business move, and business only leverages emotions and feelings when it's profitable for us.
Was there a killer feature that I missed?
I'm actually quite a fan of the gmail interface; it is one of the most usable webmail experiences in my opinion (I use google apps both at work and for personal use). For day-long usage, I'd rather stick with mutt/vim.
If you only apply only one label to a mail at a given time, it works as a folder would do just fine.
But since Inbox came out, I have seen no reason to open Mailbox, and I would say that Mailbox actually inspired Inbox.
On iOS I'm pretty happy with Microsoft Outlook (can't believe I just said that), I haven't found anything better yet.
I do use multiple accounts extensively so that limits my choices to just those clients that support multiple accounts well (unified inbox, etc).
(Also feel free to write me directly. email@example.com)
Also the memory footprint was a little large but that's understandable since it's built on Chrome/Node. Web browsers and development related processes (mostly Ruby) are my top memory consumers right now, I'd rather not have my email client join their ranks.
Update: It looks like they have a public Trello board for voting on features. Go vote for snoozed emails!
For intra-corporate mail, email works just great, because the identity problem is solved. Trusted communications between 3rd parties just isn't a natural mail use case.
Not really. Hence the rise of intra-corporate chat software.
People instead prefer to join focused, well defined groups to send and receive intra-corporate communication.
Not bee CC'ed spammed all to h*ll about every little office detail that has zero impact on you and your job.
Spam, in the I'm getting random Viagra emails sense, is being handle very well lately.
That said... We have a very large industry that easily helps you get your "ham" (the mail in-between Spam and mail you really want to receive) inboxed.
This is email from legit companies. Maybe you signed up to a newsletter, maybe you didn't. Maybe you're just getting a cold email. But those emails are inboxed.
People are still complaining about being overwhelmed by their email, even though our Spam filters have improved greatly.
You need to consider what is more valuable, the ability to universally send arbitrary content to arbitrary end points without intermediaries .... Or no spam, and perfect security.
As I said, it's all about identity.
It's untenable to depend on developer tools that a company owns. I love free software, but in all honesty the reason I incorporate it is more selfish. My workstation is exclusively free software so I don't have to be abreast of business news to get my job done.
I've basically settled on my emacs + notmuch + offlineimap solution not because I think it's better than all email clients -- but it's the one that if all parties involved quit, I could probably use it for another 10-ish years.
For example - offlineimap right now still has this old bug where sometime it uses all my cpu (and a bunch of memory) in some sync case. Ok, I don't have time to debug this. I set limits and have it be killed when that state occurs. Annoying? Sure. Have to configure whole new mail client? Nope!
Do you have a config posted anywhere? I'd love to see exactly how hard it would be to switch.
Edit: Arch seems to suggest running mbsync under a global systemd unit - user units are more appropriate for this task - my units can be found here: https://github.com/rdark/systemd-user-units
Notably, I use the smtpmail-multi package along with smtpmail in emacs to support sending from whatever address I put in the To: line
Between two-factor authentication, application specific passwords and the notification center, configuring a new mail client can be a lot of work to have to redo every couple months. I did this for years before finally settling on the default clients for both iOS and OS X, and I've noticed a lot of my coworkers have done the same.
(Well, the Gmail iOS app certainly doesn't; I haven't tried the Outlook client but the description in the app store suggests a very limited set of providers.)
Last I checked, the gmail app only worked with gmail accounts.
Of course, to trust that feature, it also has to be tremendously reliable, and that's the biggest thing that Mailbox got right in the first place. That's also why it very handily beat out Mail Pilot, which had the same idea and got started earlier but to this day is still filled with terrible bugs.
Email should be simple but there has been essentially no lasting innovation in email clients in a very long time unless you really want Google to host it for you
Outlook (incidentally, another example of my original complaint, as it's just former email startup Acompli with a fresh skin although obviously it's probably not getting shut down anytime too soon) doesn't have very good message searching for Gmail, which is a common complaint I have for non-Google mail apps. Obviously, I get that Google has a huge built-in advantage here; but if your email app is going to support the "Mailbox paradigm" of abandoning folders/traditional labels in favor of just marking things as done, it also needs to have search functionality that can back it up. Outlook was also really buggy for me when I last tried it, although that was a little while ago so it may have improved.
My favorite tiny detail is that I can tune the notifications to push only unread counts to the icon badge and only for the "focused" inbox. That means I can avoid constant push notices for email yet still be able to glance down when I want to and see if I have any unread emails that are actual human communications.
Instead I get downvoted. Gee, thanks. Since when has downvote come to mean disagree on HN?
Just curious, how is processing hundreds of emails in Mailbox or Inbox better than Outlook? Seems like trying to do that on a mobile device would be hard no matter what app.
Sure the build is 2+ years old, but the usability is just incredible. I haven't found anything better on desktop since.
I was a huge fan of Sparrow (like you, I used it long after the updates stopped), then Airmail and Mailbox, but now I simply use the Gmail web app. I follow the zero inbox method strictly, so I only need to read/archive/reply/search emails, and it does a decent job at it (except for search where it's best in class), while being simple and non-confusing.
- Good experience, fairly regular releases, stability increasing with each one.
- Stagnation in releases, but app is in a fairly good working state.
- Out of the blue, big update comes in, application changes completely. For the worse, as it loses a bunch of features and is sporting a far less polished look and finish. I believe the new version is now an OS X native application as opposed to a webview.
- Frantic releases over the following weeks, killing some bugs but introducing more.
- Stagnation in releases, in its fairly broken state.
- This announcement.
From the outside, it looks like a case of an engineering team that decided it would rewrite the application from scratch in the native stack. Widely regarded as a bad idea. 
After numerous months spent burning money in refactoring and rebuilding features that already existed and worked, management pressure builds up, and they decide to release their "good enough" native version. After torturous weeks of back to back frantic releases to fix all of the complaints coming in, some factor or another (developer churn possibly) caused them to cease development and decide to sack the project altogether.
This is of course just speculation, a narrative I made up. That's how it looks like from the outside to me, but I'd like to hear from the developers inside, since I know they must be reading this thread.
I loved this application and I'm saddened to have to move away from it.
No, Mailbox for Mac has been a fully native app since inception - which is how you get those nice fluid gestures.
What happened next I have no idea, since I left the company. If I have to guess, we incurred a lot of technical debts during the sprint to beta, and they were doing some major rewriting to fix them. Before it was finished, the project was axed. The new version was released nonetheless to support sunsetting.
Thank you so much for the input, and thanks for helping build something I enjoyed using.
My friends experience matched what they said on their blog that people just want their photos in their Dropbox
 "Will Mailbox be open-sourced?
Unfortunately not. We gave a lot of thought to open-sourcing the underlying system, but this is ultimately not something we will support."
Let Ca be the cost of that lost advantage,
Let Cb be the value of good will from the open source community
In what case is Cb bigger than (Pa * Ca)?
It's an email app. It talks IMAP^H^H^H^Hto Gmail. It runs on iOS. How many secret, commercially important techniques do you really suppose it contains?
For a site which supposedly hosting an audience of entrepreneurs and engineers -- people who understand that the value of a thing can be multi-faceted and not always obvious, or that the difficult of any job is easy to underestimate, and that to convince someone to do something you have to appeal to their incentives/concerns rather than your ideals -- the entire argument in favor of opening this app is built on pedantry and baseless assumptions.
Yes - if you make a HTTP call from an app, it can be trivially sniffed. Sniffing HTTP is the first thing a third party trying to discover that undocumented API would do, and you don't need source code for that at all. (This is also why you must always sanitize data coming in from a user's device, even if it's from your own app.)
You can make the argument that there would be a time cost cleaning up the internal calls that will no longer work once the servers are turned off. Sure, but: 1) there are no secrets that would give competitors a new advantage, and 2) if you don't have that time, just chuck the code over the fence and see what happens - worst is that no one uses it, which will be the case with closed code anyway.
Your point #1 is totally unjustified: you don't know what you could learn by e.g. looking at a data structure used internally. #2 shows that you are unable to answer the question of which of Dropbox's incentives are satisfied by doing this.
My point was just that any API over HTTP that's used by a consumer app is not private or internal. It is a public API with unfriendly documentation.
(Note that when I say "unfriendly documentation," I'm not even talking about sniffing. Most consumer apps can be decompiled by non-experts, and then the text-based API calls would be readable.)
First off, if you're open sourcing your codebase because you're getting out of a particular market, you have to ask whether revealing techniques and strategies to competitors in that market is really an issue. After all, if those techniques and strategies had given you a competitive advantage, you probably wouldn't be having this discussion.
Second: If you really are concerned about that, just use the GPL.
My point was to challenge open source cheerleaders to actually give a reason beyond their own gain for why a company should do this. Instead, we have blithe dismissals and narrowly constructed hypotheticals built on optimistic assumptions.
I'm sorry, but what? Your whole initial argument is a narrow hypothetical "they will see our secrets" with no theory of what those secrets might actually be - what exactly do you expect in return? I gave you an answer based on your formula, and a follow-up comment afterward. Can you expand what about my answer was built on optimistic assumptions, in a way that your initial theory was not?
There are no private APIs nor secret data structures in software that you've distributed to users. It can all be decompiled and sniffed. "Oh but the competitors will see my code" is basically FUD. How many times has YC told us it's all about the execution, not the technology?
You, however, are asking everyone to assume that it's totally safe to reveal any/all source code.
> There are no private APIs nor secret data structures in software that you've distributed to users.
That's fine. What about the code that lives on your servers and supports the client?
Unless open source is part of your marketing strategy (which means the effort would have a budget), it's really difficult to open source an existing commercial application.
Nobody asked them to support it, or whatever. Just dump the damn thing online so others can pick up and continue to "help fight your inbox to zero".
Clearly their intention here was profits and since they didn't see any - they kill it off. They won't do it so nobody else should try to safe email either.
I wanted to get my company (over 3,000 users) off DropBox long time ago after each update comes with new issues. But this just broke camel's back. I will make the switch happen this weekend.
Um, of course their intentions were profit? Dropbox is a for-profit company, nobody ever questioned their intentions as being anything else.
And it's not pure speculation; I've worked on enough internally-developed products to know it's not always feasible to open source an entire service offering after the fact. It's expensive enough to do between code scrubbing, legal reviews, etc. that you're generally only going to do it for strategic reasons (i.e. you know you can never make money doing it but want to commoditize the market space to hamper a competitor's growth, you want the community to help support your infrastructure, or your business model is open source + support).
Whereas your post is speculation on yours.
"Nobody asked them to support it"
At the same time, if they do open source it, people are going to see that it was once Dropbox, and any issues they see with it are going to be seen as the fault of Dropbox.
"Just dump the damn thing online"
Far more work than it sounds like.
"Clearly their intention here was profits"
They are a company with bills to pay and engineers to pay, right?
"They won't do it so nobody else should try to safe email either."
I don't see them going around and killing other people's email clients.
The thing with Mailbox is that it was truly a great product before it switched hands to Dropbox. Once they bought it, that was the end of good functions and the product only went downhill from there.
There's a lot of potential with email clients that will help you work better, Mailbox was definitely one of those products that helped. With good clients for Mac and PC along with smartphones it would also be profitable IMHO.
The only thing I can think of is that Dropbox is headed for major firing rounds and they want to save up on resources.
I have switched to Airmail on my Mac and I am much happier now.
Dropbox is obviously planning to go a different direction with its core product strategy, so that makes sense to me, but those products were too good to just let die. I'm sure someone would be willing to take them off of Dropbox's hands.
I just don't get how you can spend 100m$ on something and just let it die.
What did Dropbox get out of this deal?
SV is depressing sometimes.
I can tell you that behind the scenes it was far from a well architected service, and the only reason why it was able to ditch the signup waitlist and ultimately handle the needs of its userbase was entirely due to the Dropbox acquisition.
Looking at it from the outside, it seemed that Dropbox initially just continued the initial product velocity that existed from before the purchase.
After a while it seemed that the development lost steam, features were lagging and it seemed that they lost interest.
I am sure it wasn't a very well architected service and beyond that growth was "controlled" by the invite system (which ironically only fueled the growth).
The Dropbox acquisition had a lot of potential, mainly in fueling the growth by adding people/servers and ops knowledge.
So yeah, they ditched the invite system and a lot more people were using the product but what's that worth if the end decision is to drop the product all together?
What I'm failing to understand here (and I will admit it's due to non-existent investment knowledge) is what did Dropbox get out of the 100mm paid on the product and what led the decision to drop it now.
As far as what Dropbox got out of the acquisition: no idea. I know there was a lot of interest in the Mailbox team, and they were immediately given a much broader purview post-acquisition (much like the founding team of Cove when they got acquired). Ultimately I don't really think that parachuting in founders to take over parts of your company works -- three out of the four of those people no longer work for Dropbox, for instance. However, at the time Dropbox clearly craved adult supervision, and I think that was seen as the way to get it.
Oh, and if you have a product people like, that doesn't hurt either. I just found it maddening that Mailbox was built from day one not to make money, and that problem was never solved. That sort of thing can only last for so long.
Then I discovered that when Carousel is installed, the Dropbox app stops automatically uploading photos from your phone. You have to now open Carousel to do so. Broke my existing upload process, and due to iOS permissions for the new app or not launching it frequently or something the new Carousel upload process wasn't reliable.
Discovered this by noticing that weeks of pictures weren't backed up to Dropbox. Glad I didn't lose my phone.
Ended up just deleting the Carousel app rather than figuring it out. The Dropbox app started syncing reliably again.
Carousel's "Flashback -- Discover This Day in the Past Year" feature strikes me as a very clever social workaround since it gets you to open the app at least once a week.
The Dropbox iOS app has the same limitation. Presumably you opened it more to do unrelated tasks, so it makes a lot of sense to bundle them.
Google Photos has the same limitation as well on iOS. I find Carousel's syncing and Google Photos' syncing seem to be roughly on par with each other.
1) The ability to snooze emails
2) A really nice UI on both OS X and Android letting me quickly swipe emails to archive or snooze them.
3) A unified inbox that showed multiple email accounts as a single inbox.
Does anyone have any suggestions for a mail client that meets these requirements? I'm quite happy to pay.
Edit: Google Inbox doesn't have a unified inbox, which drives me nuts, and nothing else I know of has message snoozing. ANY suggestions welcomed.
Although my primary OS for dealing with email is OS X and I see the OS X app is $130? Acceptable for a good Mailbox replacement, but a bit pricy for a gamble. :(
And "The scheduling hasn't synced very well to the desktop version in my experience" worries me a lot.
The new Outlook mobile apps support scheduling for later. I don't think it's as nice as Mailbox was (with multiple choices for when to schedule) but it's the closest thing I know of.
Another commenter pointed out that you can try/use the full version for free in their beta program.
Dropbox wasn't worried about maintaining the small existing Mailbox userbase, they were betting they could grow it by millions of users. When it didn't work, it messed up their plans (and promises).
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
As a CEO I'm not sure which of those two explanations I'd prefer.
There's a pretty loud rumor floating around, heck it was reported on CNBC today, that Dropbox can't come close to IPOing anywhere near its $10 Billion dollar valuation. Though Fidelity did mark them up slightly at the end of November!
And for better or worse, they are going to be closely compared to Box, which has been a pretty big disaster since IPOing. For the record, BOX is valued at 1.65 Billion currently. And it has an awful lot of short interest current( a measure of the ratio of shares sold short vs the total outstanding shares).
Mail should be simple, I think the best apps are the lightweight ones that don't require too much work to keep alive, and definitely don't require a backend server process.
Also, Mailbox had access to all your mail, and when Dropbox bought it while having M̶r̶s̶Miss.Rice on the board of directors, well...that just felt yucky.
My simple solution to keeping my mail under control:
ONE filter on the Gmail side of things, called "Good Spam". Any reoccurring email I like, but don't want to keep manually archiving everyday, SKIPS inbox and goes into that folder. The filter is literally a huge list of email addresses from senders. (ex snippet "....firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Hewlett-Packard@us.newsgram.hp.com....")
Anytime I get an email I don't consider "Good Spam" I unsubscribe from.
Then on my phone, I just get important or new mail.
BONUS from using filter instead of unsubscribing:
When you are in that store and you need that BANANA REPUBLIC coupon at the register, you still have access to it. Open email app, search for it, and use it. And you don't need to keep looking at their emails everyday just to archive it. Or in case of Mailbox, swiping right....thumbs get tired too.
I've immensely enjoyed this new system. I, like you, immediately unsubscribe from things that I don't even care about in the "good-spam" box. Only I am too lazy (or don't care enough) to maintain a huge list of email addresses to filter out. I'd rather err on the side of too much filtering (e.g. not in my contacts) since I still get it on my phone/desktop. If I ever want something to hit me right away, I just add it to my contacts, even if it's a company/"good-spam" address.
Getting sick of big companies buying great small products, and shutting them down after "trying" to make them work out.
Still hadn't had time to get over MS killing Sunrise, and now this.
In other words, Dropbox can't move away from being a feature?
(Unwelcome) news to me.
Disclaimer: MS employee, nothing to do with Outlook though.
> teej: "... They signed the keys away to Drew Houston and the management team at Dropbox. Mailbox dies the moment Drew decides to kill it."
> dhouston: it's not going anywhere :)
It seems like Mailbox had a loyal following but I guess my email use is just not sophisticated enough to understand.
It's mainly intended at people who get too much email.
So I use the MS Outlook app and both are integrated seamlessly.
So don't even consider adopting and trusting their new "Paper" collaboration offering.
DB simply looks at what Box is doing and puts it on their backlog in JIRA.
Bummer too, because I really like it. They're not even going to leave it and let it slowly decay until time takes it's toll and nature wins like with Sparrow.
"As you evaluate alternatives, you might consider the stock apps like iOS Mail (Apple) and Gmail (Android)"
I guess they didn't have much time to research other mail clients.
Shame that there are no other good Android apps, but iOS has a few.
I do not know what those products are for sure. By their names I'm guessing something with photos and something with email. I feel like an old evangelist like myself would have known more about those products. Thus, I wonder if this was a marketing failure as much as a product-market-fit failure.
This statement preceded the acquisition of Carousel (a sort of alternative to iPhoto and Picasa built on Dropbox [the service]) Mailbox (an alternative email client, no technical connection to Dropbox [the service]).
So yeah maybe this strategy isn’t panning out? I dunno, just irritated that the default move for abandonware isn’t open-sourcing it.
EDIT: The FAQ recommends Google Inbox, Apple Mail and Outlook. I just looked at Inbox again after quite a while away, and it seems like it may be feature-complete with Mailbox.
I was just starting to get used to Mailbox. What mail app should I be using now?
I have to manually setup the rules/filters for now but reading through some other clients in the app store they seem to be buggy. I used Airmail years ago before Mailbox and it was stable and has been since switching back.
One OSX client I've just found that I'm hoping does what I need: https://nylas.com/N1 It's open source.
Mac client slated for early 2016. They support plain IMAP (yes!) and even Exchange.
Essentially use Multiple Inboxes as well as some filters/labels to create the basic GTD categories. I've modified it to use Labels since I find the various stars inefficient. I have inboxes for "Work On" (label:Priority), "Someday" (label:Someday), "Waiting" (label:*Waiting), and "Reference" (is:starred). This combined with services offered from Boomerang (http://www.boomeranggmail.com/) get pretty close to what I was trying to accomplish with Mailbox. It's not as elegant but I don't have to worry about using a proprietary email client that might not be around.
I've switched to airmail for the time being, but I'm definitely going to miss snoozing emails to specific dates.
Someone should track the lifespan of cloud products. It's not long; the median is probably less than five years. Dependence on a cloud product is risky. They can go away so fast.
And that will be even worse... Carousel used photos that were stored in Dropbox. Mailbox used an existing mailbox. As far as I could see Paper data is just locked up in their cloud and can only be exported as PDF.
All these acquisitions and axed products have made one thing clear to me: I want plain-old files that I can download. Preferably in some open standard.
Dropbox itself is just a folder that syncs. Small and simple, right?
Carousel is just a camera roll that syncs. Small and simple, right?
There is an amazing amount of engineering and planning that goes into both products though.
Anyway, if you guys haven't checked out Boxer  for email, it's the best. I went a little obsessive, tested every email client on iOS, and this one was without a doubt is my favorite:
* Push notifications
* Doesn't hijack labels with archive/to-do/completed nonsense
* Universal inbox
* Nice labeling/archiving/customizing via swiping
* Beautiful interface
I love it and highly recommend
how likely is that they will shutter it down, rebrand it in a way that we/me will not like it.
And now those people will hate Dropbox.
its a pretty good approximation that compared to dropbox /nobody/ uses those products.
Ultimately, I am beginning to think that Dropbox simply does not have the product DNA =/
I hope Dropbox keeps their word on incorporating the carousel functionality into the main app. I don't particularly care what they want to call it.
* So you've acquired a Gmail client - why? Surely whatever good comes out of that Google would just re-create into Gmail. Sure enough: Inbox. I'm not even sure how this would have fitted into the Dropbox strategy? I doubt they would have wanted to be acquired by Gooogle. I doubt they would have wanted to compete in the email space... If it was just to get attachments from email surely there are many other ways to solve this problem.
* Second thought: Dropbox has acquired a photo sharing and organization app. Surely they don't think they will win over Facebook, iPhoto, Flickr... What for? Store the photos? Even if it's an awesome product, don't they just risk Apple Photos getting better? Or wait... Here comes Google Photos.
Inbox. Google Photos. iPhotos. Facebook Moments. It feels like both Mailbox and Carosel were just ticking timebombs.
AKA Paper --> https://paper.dropbox.com
I don't know if I understand what Dropbox is anymore. It's gone from: syncing file storage --> a decentralized app ecosystem that in some ways competes with PaaS (effectively an OS ) --> document and media collaboration tools.
They might be one of the only companies whose products compete with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon...
Just to clarify, I think they've done all of these things well.
Will Mailbox be open-sourced?
Unfortunately not. We gave a lot of thought to open-sourcing the underlying system, but this is ultimately not something we will support.
There's fool me twice thing in here, but I'm not that inspired to be clever with it.
Only reason why I still use Dropbox is their client for Mac and and simple web interface and some other small features. I don't understand why nobody else is able to do it...
Because they don't care, need to, or want to? Google and Microsoft are competing with Dropbox on economics of scale and perhaps as a loss-leader. A lot of people are willing to forgo peer to peer LAN sync or block-level syncing when the cost is much lower. Additionally, both Google Drive and OneDrive have an integrated office suite, which adds value for a lot of people.
Moreover, if you can get away with a weak client, it's an advantage. Someone who has all their data synced to disk can easily switch. Someone who has their data primarily in someone's cloud cannot as easily.
Dropbox have exceptional engineering talent, and a mature code base. Nobody else before or since, has ever come even close to what they have, quality- or feature-wise.
That they make it look easy doesn't mean that it is easy. It's like saying, all this guy ever does is hitting the puck in the net skating backwards, I don't understand why nobody else is able to do it?
This is finally giving me the opportunity to explore using some of the other cloud storage such as Google Drive or even iCloud where I can save some money each month as well.
The "free up phone space" feature was too good on my phone (old and limited space)
I still remember the discussion when the acquisition was announced:
I hope it was really not going anywhere.
When people say stuff like this when a startup gets acquired, don't believe them.
Spark by Readdle has taken up slack there, and they look like they're building it in a way that will actually be monetizable.
Do you know if they're going to do a desktop version too?
(Or, to be more pessimistic: "How long until that gets acquihired and killed off too?")
As for being hired, Readdle makes a ton of ios apps, and are profitable in their own right. Also, while Spark is free, some of the features they've hinted to as coming in the future will likely be in-app purchases / upgrades, that will allow it to be profitable as well.
They've shown screenshots of the Mac app in dev.
I find the announcement about Carousel extremely disappointing. I'm definitely going to think twice about using Dropbox for anything other than simple file storage in the future.
Pictures are peoples' lives, their families, and their memories. This is a big part of file storage and I thought Carousel was a superb product on desktop and mobile.
Sorry to vent but I haven't been this disappointed about a product being killed (for no apparent reason) in a long time.
RIP Mailbox, you were cool to play with for a few hours that one stormy day I decided to install you
Hard to feel bad for people who got a nice pile of money and a cushy job and probably more equity that can turn into another pile of money later...
Does anybody know of a good zero-inbox client for FastMail?
I use FastMail as my primary email, and I don't quite do zero inbox. I probably have on average 5 to 8 emails in my inbox, and a few stick around for days.
It takes some effort and overhead but I am trying to move away from email as being a "memory box" for organizing my life. Instead I am using subject organized markdown files stored in encrypted cloud storage where I maintain tasks, research notes, etc. since these are synced on my laptops, I can search them with spotlight, cortana, etc.
Combined with FastMail, this scheme keeps me organized. As easy as using InBox for email and TODOs? No, but so far it is working for me.
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On the other hand, it's amusing to note the Valley inflation that has happened since Mailbox was acquired in early 2013. It was for ~$100M which seems like chump change in the Age of The Unicorn that we now find ourselves in.
Mailbox never worked fine for me and had bugs in every corner.
So buy them, wait two years, then kill them off? Great use of funds there Dropbox, I guess you put the stellar bunch in charge of the development roadmap in charge of acquisitions too.
The self-starter types of people tend to route around obstructions and unpopular decisions by doing it themselves, better.
Apple MailI now?
I really never liked that aspect of mailbox and I thus never used it with my primary mailbox, which meant that I practically haven't used it at all.
The moment Inbox came out for google apps, I started using it to the point where it is now my primary means for accessing my mail.
i've been just using the basic feature of dropbox, which is just upload/download/sync files
did they put in effort to advertise it?
Unfortunately not. We gave a lot of thought to open-sourcing the underlying system, but this is ultimately not something we will support.
btsync just became a lot more appealing to me.
We beg to differ. We built a new email client around the very idea that it could fix team collaboration: https://missiveapp.com
The thing is… with Sparrow, Mailbox and countless others before, it is getting really hard for a team like us to convince people to invest their time into our new product. People are increasingly worried that we will just fold/sell in the coming months and that their time will be lost.
Establishing credibility in the email space is hard and takes time, there is no shortcut, announcements like this one doesn't help us.