Why the perfect email client eludes us?

By Laura Haight

In the 43 years since the first message was sent across a network, email has grown to be our most used and most misused communication tool.

Email is a moving target because our needs, our uses for it keep changing. Early email was a plain text affair. No signatures, no attachments, no embedded videos, no animated emojis. Today, we use email for everything.

  • At work, roughly 25-28 percent of our time is spent reading, responding to and sorting email. http://goo.gl/YydX5A

  • 294 billion emails are sent every day from the world’s 3 billion email accounts. Seventy-eight percent of those are spam.

  • And the biggest email provider online in the US? Not Outlook, not Gmail.  Yahoo.com has 44 percent of that marketplace, followed by Hotmail/Live (30), Gmail (15), Inbox (5), Me.com (Apple icloud accounts - 2), Outlook.com (1), and Misc (3). http://goo.gl/SCMBUa

Despite all this use, we still hate email. Email clients (Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail) are imperfect tools used by imperfect users who, in large part, are unfamiliar with the features that are available pto help us manage and streamline email.

Two questions:

  • Developers, if you worked on something for 43 years, wouldn’t it be perfect by now? Why is it so hard to get email right?

  • Users, you use email at minimum 10 hours per week but still haven’t learned to use many of the tools you already have. Why?

There is a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the desk. Over the past couple of months, I’ve tested some new email clients looking for “the one”. Unfortunately, I’ve found that every one has benefits and every one has flaws. Some of those flaws are game changers, some are just small aggravations. But I’m not interested in giving up any functionality I currently have, so I am back to where I started.

Here’s my wish list for better email.

  1. Operating system agnostic - that’s tech speak for it runs on a Mac, a PC, a Samsung tablet, a Blackberry smartphone or an iPad. While Outlook does have a Mac "version", it is nowhere near as good as the PC version.

  2. Seamless synchronization across platforms. Why do most Apple users have ALL Apple products? Because they do just talk to each other. Why risk investing in a non-Apple product — no matter how much better a feature(s) may seem — if you’re going to have all manner of syncing issues? It’s a risk.

  3. Mail was designed as a quick messaging system. But we’ve changed that dynamic and turned it into a massive file storage, time management, task assignment, CYA system. At its heart, email is a GTD (getting things done) tool. Email programs need to fully support that effort by providing intuitive ways to turn emails into tasks, appointments, meeting requests or reminders (Outlook does this very well, although the average user may be unaware of the functions or how to use them - and those functions aren't in all versions.)

  4. Flag and tag email across all operating systems and devices. I’m throwing this gauntlet down because apparently this is a big challenge. Most email clients have some method of doing this — on your desktop. But that doesn’t pull over or translate to your other devices. Apple email has the most flaws here. In order to organize email as I need to for my business, I have a third-party client (MailTags). That works very well, but only on the desktop. The best I can do on my phone is add a flag to email and then tag or file it later, meaning I have had to handle the one email twice. Not good.

  5. HTML signatures (hello, Apple!) stored in the cloud so they can be used on any device anywhere. Create — or change — once and use everywhere.

  6. Smarter reminders. Those ubiquitous badges you see that tell you how many unread messages, overdue tasks, or new notifications you have are useless. We have become immune to their messages. If your email tells you have 4,578 unread messages, what are you supposed to do with that info? Based on input from us, mail needs to learn who are the important people in our worlds and remind us when we have things undone or unread for them. An overdue task from my boss is not the same as an unread newsletter from Golf Now.

  7. A respond/delete function. A high percentage of emails require just a single response. In addition to forward, reply and reply all, add a respond/delete function. One of my test products had this function and it was incredibly useful.

No matter what developers do, however, you are still the key driver in how your email is used and managed. Learning the capabilities you already have can make a big difference in saving significant time for yourself and your staff.