Sparrow App for the Mac splashed onto the email scene a little more than a year ago and became a favorite of many people rather quickly. The process of handling email was re-imagined and it was all wrapped up in a beautiful package. Almost immediately we were asking for more. We wanted an iOS app. Well, they’ve delivered.
Sparrow for iPhone was released on March 15th. Before it was even formally announced by Sparrow, my Twitter feed lit up. People were downloading and then buzzing from the very beginning and of course I followed suit, picked up the application and almost immediately fell in love.
A few things jumped out at me right away. As I was expecting, the attention to detail is completely evident. Subtle textures, gradients, animations and thoughtful button placement are obviously things that were given much thought.
There are also some subtle, yet still pretty drastic interface changes when compared to what we expect from an iPhone email client (Mail App). One that was strange for me at first, but I’ve grown to really like is that the viewing real estate is larger. The bottom menu bar we’re accustomed to has been replaced with one button and no bar. With Mail App being the email application we’ve all become really used to that bottom bar so I will say that it felt a little strange at first. When viewing a message the single button does expand to enable more functionality.
I’m confident we could all agree that enlarging the viewing window is a good thing. But it’s only a good thing as long as functionality isn’t negatively impacted and Sparrow has managed to push that to the limit to provide the most possible screen real estate for managing your email without detracting from its usability. And trust me, it’s a nice change and it makes a difference.
Mail App isn’t necessarily a huge sore spot for most people, but I think we can all agree that there is definitely some room for improvement. Thankfully Sparrow is far from just a repackaging of Mail’s features and functionality. As was Sparrow’s Mac app, their iPhone application is a re-imagining of the way we handle email on our mobile devices.
I’ve actually experienced delight (yes, delight, with email…amazing right?) as I’ve discovered all sorts of little features. The ability to tag an email before opening it, swipe the title bar to switch to show only unread or starred messages, selecting contacts from a list to include in an email, long tapping on a message to toggle its read/unread status. These are just a few things that can’t believe I didn’t have before and will now always expect.
There’s a reason you haven’t seen many Mail App competitors. Apple restricts access to some portions of their API and some of those are important to a fully functional email application on an iPhone.
Push notifications are not possible with Sparrow in its current iteration and this is certainly a pain point for some folks. It’s a deal breaker, unfortunately, for some as well. I personally dislike push notifications with regard to email as I like to handle my email when I want (as opposed to when it hits my inbox) when I’m away from my desk so this is a non-issue for me. But I do understand that this is an important lacking feature for some people.
I should also note that the Sparrow developers are trying to change this restricted access from Apple. If you scroll to the bottom of the Sparrow iPhone app page on their website you’ll find a button asking you if you want push. This will take you to a page explaining why this feature is lacking and suggesting you contact Apple to request they reconsider their ways. That’s a pretty classy way to go about getting Apple to make a change.
Above all, launching a competing email application to a native Apple product on the iPhone is no small feat and to launch an application that is flat out wonderful despite that is almost inspiring.
If you’re not reliant on push notifications I would highly urge you to give Sparrow a try and spend some time really learning how it works. It will make you more efficient, I guarantee it. And if you are reliant on push notifications I would still tell you to give it a try. Maybe dealing with email on your schedule combined with all the nifty Sparrow features would be an overall positive? I say it’s worth a look.