I love Gmail, but lately it’s felt as if Google doesn’t really care to improve the experience at all. It’s almost as if Google has reached a point of stasis with Gmail, much like Microsoft did when they stopped improving Outlook back in 2000.
When that happens, it typically means a hungrier upstart will come in and shake things up. Oddly, that company could be one that pioneered email to begin with: AOL today announced Alto, a web-based IMAP email client that lets you manage multiple email accounts on one website. The Verge takes a look and comes away with mixed feelings:
In the limited time I’ve had to test Alto, I’ve found that it’s an uneven but thoughtful and innovative experience. The auto-created Attachments stack can be a trip backwards through time, and the search bar is excellent for poring through all your email accounts at the same time. The Daily Deals and Retail stacks instantly clean up your inbox. On the other hand, there’s no threaded conversation view (a deal-breaker for Alto, but I’m told that it’s coming soon), no mobile site (also coming), and the app is just plain over-styled — from its color palette to the imposing font it uses for senders and email subject lines. But maybe that’s the point. “We wanted Alto to pass the 15-foot test,” Ramirez says. “Somebody 15 feet away would never say ‘that’s Gmail.’ Instead they’ll say ‘what is that?'” At the end of the day, Alto is a brave entry into a webmail scene that hasn’t asked to be fixed, and an assault on Gmail, which has only received incremental updates over the years.
The web app is available today by invite only, and will launch to the general public in the first quarter of 2013.
I’m really hoping the Google acquisition of Sparrow shakes Gmail out of its rut. When Microsoft relaunched Hotmail as Outlook, it was really just a new coat of paint. Alto seems to be really thinking about what an email client should do in today’s world.