Review of 3 Key macOS Email Apps

Review of 3 Key macOS Email Apps

In July last year I reviewed several new(ish) email apps for macOS. I really have no idea why. I’m not a tech product review guy, my reviews are apropos nothing really. Just a take on what remains the killer app of the internet era today. Sorry Slack, Troll, Asana et al, but thats reality. Now there’s a new player on the block, Spark, where another has fallen by the wayside and new one may be on the horizon. So, let’s dive in on my take. And as an FYI, I use an early 2017 MacBook Pro 15″ with touchbar. I’ll have some commentary on that.

Spark Email App Review
This email app came out for iOS and macOS earlier in 2016 and according to Readdle, it’s maker, it is still in beta. In short, I love it, well, the macOS version, not so strong on the UI design for iOS, but that’s just design preference on my end, functionally, it works brilliantly. I find it the cleanest UI of them all for macOS. Spark brings in features in a subtle, yet highly functional way. It sets up nice and easy with Google, Exchange and others. You can find it here. It did, rightly, receive Best of Apple 2016 too. The touchbar integration works great by the way. No issues.

Some cool features of Spark:

  • Quick Replies: You can set up some quick replies like a thumbs up or smiley face (these are customizable) for quick responses. In etiquette terms it’s a nice way to respond quickly and acknowledge the sender.
  • Segmenting: You can have a unified inbox view and it has an unobtrusive way of separating the accounts, plus newsletters, personal, pins and snoozed emails in a very intuitive way.
  • Conversation Strings: Pretty much all email clients do this today, but Spark seems to have developed the cleanest way I’ve seen.
  • Functional Integrations: They’ve added the ability to send emails to Evernote, Things, ToDo and others. In a very intuitive way again. They plan to add more.
  • Calendaring: While I wish they’d integrate the calendar like Outlook does, the iOS version is very good (better than PolyMail or Mail) and it synchs nicely with the 3 Google Calendar accounts I use and mixes in with Mac’s native Calendar app. You can accept etc., right within the email which is nice.
  • Customizable: Slowly, Spark is getting there with customization. It’s pretty good now, close to Airmail 3.

Downsides:

  • Calendar: I think the macOS could be better with an integrated calendar right in the app. This is no small task mind you. it hasn’t replaced Fantastical for me yet.
  • Signatures: Very weak in being able to do much with signatures, even trying to reduce text and change colours. Needs beefing up. A lot.
  • iOS UX: Spark on iOS is functional and it works nice, but I still find it kind of brutalist. The elegance of the desktop app is not there, so for mobile I am sticking with Outlook for iOS.
  • Deep Integration: If you want to get rid of Spark, be forewarned that it embeds itself very deeply into macOS. I was very angry when I found that Spark had somehow gotten into my Notes and taken out some personal data. I had to mess with the code to stop this. That’s a privacy violation in my books.

Right now, Spark is free. I’d happily pay between $10 and $20 for the app though. I hope they aren’t silly like PolyMail and charge $10/month for a single user. It’s very fast and the search capability has improved a lot and is very good.

AirMail 3
This email app has won Apple’s design award for apps for 2016. It is nicely designed, but I find it is not as well designed as Spark. It can be cluttered I find and the way they’ve drawn the icons to me looks like wobbly crayon style. But that’s personal taste. AirMail offers great integration with other services including Fantastical. Setting up accounts is clean and fast. The app is very reliable on both iOS and macOS. AirMail 3 is a powerhouse for productivity folks. More than Spark right now, but I have little doubt there’s going to be some strong competition between the two very soon. You can find it here.

Downsides of AirMail 3

  • Still “cluttered” with email conversation strings, which can be difficult to navigate and the UI elements mixed in can be frustrating when trying to take action. Spark does this better.
  • UX Crayon Drawings: They’ve straightened them up from the initial version, but to me they still look amateur.
  • Calendaring: While you can engage with calendar invites, AirMail too could do better. I find Spark handles invites much better and more reliably than AirMail.

AirMail allows a lot of customization and is a reliable app. It’s good and worth the $10.99, especially if you connect to a whole lot of other productivity apps. Search works well in AirMail 3 and the app is fast. Especially if you have an SSD drive. Touchbar integration works fine and is functional. Now if Touchbar would stop crashing and popping all the time, which Apple is grossly in denial of, that would be great.

PolyMail
This app came out in 2016 and I tried the beta. Then they went to paid and a very silly paid model in my view. The minimum price starts at $10/month or $120/year. For what they’re offering, that’s pretty steep for an email app and I’m not buying. PolyMail is a “bit more” than an email app and in some ways is trying to be a new Outlook hybrid with added ability to track emails sent and when they’re opened, including when attachments are downloaded and something they call campaigns. Sos it can be useful for small teams for its integration. For solopreneurs though, it’s a bit over the top in price terms. Also, for email tracking purposes, you need to enable PolyMail to have access to your traffic.

PolyMail has a nice UX, though I found it a bit overly “light” and had trouble with the conversation strings, again, something that Spark has done very nicely. Account setup is easy. A very nice feature is the way they do contacts on a sidebar. Great information and can be extremely powerful for a sales team/person. I really liked that feature. You can find it here.

Downsides:

  • Calendar Integration: I struggled with it in beta, then went to a 14 day trial and struggled with it again. No matter what I tried, the calendar function promised never worked. Their customer support is good, but the app failed to work.
  • UX Design: It’s very nice and quite clean like Spark, but also very “light” and can be hard on the eyes after a while.
  • Price: While PolyMail is a very nice app, I don’t think it’s ready for primetime based on my spotty experience and at $120/yr for a single user when AirMail 3 and Spark are productivity tools and AirMail 3 is only $10.99, well. I think PolyMail should offer a one time price, limiting some functions, for a single user option.

Overall

For me, Spark is heading in a great direction and I love the app. It’s proven more reliable in beta than AirMail 3 and PolyMail as paid apps playing in primetime. The UX truly is clean, it’s fast too. I find the Spark team good with customer service and they’re listening to feedback. PolyMail is nice, if not trying a little too hard to be cool looking and rather oddly priced.

There are a number of other options including Outlook by Microsoft, which is slowly getting better but has the bloatware history of Microsoft and the UX while better, still needs a lot of work (you can’t even customize the toolbar ribbon! Come on Microsoft!) And there’s no 3rd party integrations with Outlook. There’s Nylas N1 and a few others, but the above three seem the cleanest and best functioning. Everyone will find their own value at the end of the day and it’s really what suits your workflow and what design approach you like best. Personally, my money is on Spark.

What’s your favourite email app for macOS and why?

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A Snap Lesson from Snap

A Snap Lesson from Snap

The pundits are already sounding the death knell for Snap after it’s poor performance last week. It doesn’t help that at every step Facebook has copied Snaps’ coolest features to Instagram or its own platform. Snap is, unfortunately, perfectly primed to fail. There are three primary reasons why.

  1. The Easy Stuff is Done: Snap, then SnapChat, entered the market with a value proposition to hit the youth market. They did that well. The app isn’t that easy to use but most of all, unlike Facebook the parents weren’t there. But the problem is, the easy stuff is done. MySpace died for lack of innovation. Facebook has everyones address book. People are lazy. They don’t like to re-establish all their connections and followers unless porting them is easy. And if their friends come over. This is why LinkedIn has cornered the professional social network segment, Reddit the forums sector and Twitter the microblogging segment. Any new disruptor is going to have to find a very strong value proposition.
  2. Lack of Unique Technology or IP: While Snap does have some cool tech, like its glasses, it doesn’t have anything patentable (although a patent has its dangers too) or unique enough to be acquired or be highly differentiated. Competitor platforms like Instagram and Facebook have significantly more market share. They can easily copy and port over the features of Snap and reach a broader audience, thus further reducing consumer desire to switch.
  3. A Fickle Demographic: Snap, like Twitter, is struggling to find revenue opportunities. Its primary demographic is under 25 and that’s a fickle market for brand loyalty at the best of times. Given that its prime segment is 11-18, well that’s even worse and they have little disposable income and are very anti-advertising. Even though some major, older demographic brands set up Snap accounts, they haven’t gained much traction and many brands and marketers have abandoned Snap as too difficult a platform and little to no return on campaigns.

Can Snap survive? Possibly. It isn’t dead yet. They could come out with some really cool feature that Facebook or someone else can’t copy. They might become a sort of underdog like Apple was for years and secure a small, but loyalty and potentially profitable market. This is though, highly unlikely. They are now prime for acquisition by Facebook, Google, Amazon or Apple (GAFA as they’re sometimes known.)

Any startup considering entering the social media space and trying to knock down Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc., may want to second-think that. They were the easy things to do in the tech space and social media. Where opportunity lies is in building tools and services that integrate into these existing channels with a good monetization strategy. These won’t be easy, but they’ll likely be more financially lucrative.

What do you think?

Why We Need More Elon Musks

Why We Need More Elon Musks
In most of today’s world, you are more likely to die from sugar than you are gunpowder. The average lifespan is pushing into the 80’s around most of the world. Disease pandemics are smaller than ever before in history. War and conflicts are declining as the financial incentive to go to war fades away. Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and robotics are fundamentally changing our society as the internet already has. We are transforming society in a bigger way than the industrial revolution or reformations ever have.
The Time for Audacious Ideas
As robotics and artificial intelligence transform the industrial, manufacturing and knowledge sectors and blockchain revolutionizes the financial world, huge transitions in the employment world will take place. A big concern for governments and economists is what to do with the surplus workers tossed out of jobs; how to re-train them, the supposed loss of disposable income, perhaps income period and all that extra time we’re supposed to have. And then there’s people living longer, the concept of retiring at 65 is fast fading.
The reality is that the feared huge displacement won’t happen instantly. It will happen over years and perhaps decades. With big, audacious ideas, the retraining may be minimal for welders, electricians, fabricators and so on. Artificial Intelligence will not replace lawyers or doctors, it will enhance them.
Why We Need More Elon Musk Types
I can’t wait for the big ideas and innovations that will come from the first woman entrepreneur; those will be fantastic. What Elon Musk has done is to transform the space race, kick-start a game change in transportation (through Tesla, Hyperloop and space.) It is these big ideas that result in massive new capital outlays and huge construction projects.
Sergei Brin, Google’s co-founder, is investing millions into an airship; these could be a part of a huge transformation in moving goods. It is precisely these big ideas that we need. Why? As supportive technologies like robotics and AI improve and become part of our world, as wars decrease and we live longer, we can now achieve these once crazy ideas. Such big ideas inspire and open new opportunities.
What Stands in the Way?
Well, as usual, us, human society. Those usual suspects; unimaginative shareholders focused on the “now”, political agendas, old-school economic thinking and of course, fear of change. But as history proves, such roadblocks are, at best, temporary in the bigger scheme of things. We are at a breathtaking time in the development of humanity…we need more inventors, entrepreneurs and people with really big, transformative ideas. They will create jobs and grow our economies in new ways.
What’s your audacious, crazy, awesome big idea?

The Real Reason Ad Agencies Are Struggling

The Real Reason Ad Agencies Are Struggling
All marketing is about information creation and management. And this is why agencies are fading away.
Agencies Used to Manage The Talent
Designers, copywriters, ad buyers, art directors, creative directors and so on…they were all under one “roof” for decades. It was the agency management that could corral and manage them and the projects. This business model made sense, at the time. Producing creative was time-consuming and resource intensive.
Along Came Digital
Agencies first started to see fragmentation in the late 90’s as the Internet became popular, as momentum grew and analog channels became less influential, agencies struggled to maintain their model.
Then computing changed. PC’s became more accessible to people. Very little skill was needed to participate by the consumer as software improved. Then came social media, followed by smartphones and tablets. Disintermediation was running rampant. Things got even messier for agencies.
As broadband reached critical mass, so WiFi hit the world. Laptops became ever more powerful and creative software better and cheaper. This impacted all industries. Publications like Fast Company were touting the “Free Agent Nation” and they were right, but that was the early 00’s and we weren’t quite there. Now, we are and this is what is destroying the agency model.
The Rise of The Gig Economy
Around 2012, we started to see the rise of what is being called the Gig Economy, in other words, freelancers, to a degree we hadn’t seen before. The creative/agency sector has witnessed this perhaps more than any other sector.
A Shifting in Marketing Management
Companies were quick to note this as well. While there are still the majority of major brands that use agencies, even that model has shifted. Every year, less and less use AOR arrangements and more hire boutique agencies and increasingly, individuals.
Companies know that when they hire agencies, they are paying for overhead and access to talent. An often frustrating aspect of this relationship for companies is that the senior talent they want is often quickly dropped and a junior slotted in place instead…the agency version of bait and switch.
This bait and switch issue and increased ease of finding strong talent that is freelancing, is the major reason agencies are suffering.
Smaller agencies are thriving because they have project management talent, can work swiftly and bring in senior talent as needed or work well with a freelancer the client company tells them to work with.
Within companies, they are shifting their marketing team roles to more project management and analytics based. This enables a company to more easily manage freelancers and multiple small agencies. They deploy tools like Slack or Trello and can leverage Office365 and GoogleDocs and now Dropbox’s Paper applications.
Most marketing and creative is about information creation and management. This largely negates the management architecture of large agencies.
Companies know how to find and leverage services like 99Designs, The Well, Buildateam.io and many others. Talent can be anywhere. Agencies can’t control that anymore.

Why Comparing Mac & Windows Laptops is Silly

Why Comparing Mac & Windows Laptops is Silly
When Apple finally, after four long years of digital drought introduced the new line up of MacBook Pro’s it didn’t take long for the criticism to to start flowing faster than the raging torrent of Niagara falls. Yes, they deployed a year old processor, the touch bar was, well, interesting. But then came what I dreaded would come; comparing Apple hardware to Window’s hardware. Certainly Sony, Dell, Toshiba and others have improved their laptops, some are very good.
It’s Not About The Hardware
It’s really about the software. The OS (Operating System.) Mac’s run macOS. Windows machines run Windows. Two entirely different approaches to software. Each OS does things in different ways. Apple hardware is far more deeply integrated with the hardware. Windows software is put on a variety of hardware; that causes problems. Except Microsoft’s Surface; an excellent tablet, built by Microsoft. The Apple OS comes from Unix.
It’s About Workflow and Ecosystems
If you’ve spent many years with MacBook’s and you know the OS well, you probably have a lot of apps and workflow processes you like. Chances are you also own an iPhone or other Apple product. You’re in the “ecosystem” of Apple. Same goes for Windows, though you’re more like to own an Android phone. Switching between either one means investing in learning a new OS; Windows 10 has a lot of good changes and it’s a great progression for Microsoft.
So if you’re switching from one OS to another, you’re going to be buying a lot of new apps and learning/developing new workflows. There’s going to be an adjustment.
Think Software not Hardware
At the end of the day, the decision you make has to consider the OS you’ll be using, all the new apps you’ll have to buy, how long it will take you to adjust and if that investment is good or will either of the OS’s lead you to switch again?
So it’s not the hardware really; its the OS, the apps, the ecosystem and time you’ll have to invest. This is why it’s a bit silly to compare hardware. Maybe the touch bar is a gimmick, but maybe so is a 3 screen laptop…but they’re choices for consumers. Whatever floats your boat.

Busting Millennial Myths Around Social Media and Technology

Busting Millennial Myths Around Social Media and Technology
Note: This post also appears on my LinkedIn blog and The Well.
As a digital anthropologist, I research, mostly for marketing departments and agencies, how people behave within social media and with technology as a whole. Millennials are a hot topic. Many a brand spends inordinate amounts of time and money to target the Millennial. They think they’ve got them profiled, sorted and thoroughly understood and that they’re some kind of magical money mine. They aren’t. They’re also not really a demographic and can’t truly be marketed too as one.
How Millennials Are Using Social Media
In the past year I’ve completed over 15 different analysis of Millennials behaviours and activities in social media in the U.S., Canada and UK for CPG and financial services companies. So what did we learn?
  • They aren’t a “lump demographic”, they’re within an age bracket, but there are no specifics, just generalizations.
  • Over 87% of Millennials prefer social media apps that are less public; they dislike the marketing messages in more open apps like Facebook.
  • 59% of Millennials in our research indicate they mistrust over 90% of the news they get in their social media feeds.
  • When it comes to personal information, contrary to general assumptions, over 62% don’t like to share personal details outside a closed group.
  • Those aged 18-24 are more likely to be skeptical of unknown people attempting to be friends in apps like Snap or WhatsApp. But see Facebook and Instagram as more “open” platforms while sharing less information publicly.
  • Over 76% of those aged 18-35 say a primary part of choosing a new app is that it has the ability to have private messaging.
  • Over 56% of those aged 18-35 dislike the term “Millennial” and find it a derogatory term.
This is based on an overall sample size of n=75,000 individuals conversing about how they use social media in their channels in the US, UK and Canada between January and November 2016.
Millennials and Technology
While the media images of “Millennials” have them almost always face-in-smartphone, the relationship those in their 20’s and early 30’s have with technology is quite different from what one might expect.
  • Home automation tools like Amazon Echo or Nest aren’t really that interesting to them; largely because they don’t own houses and are highly urbanized and very much into “buying local” and a more social approach to shopping that is physical. Those aged 18-35 rarely have a house and don’t have as much disposable income either.
  • They’re 60% more likely to buy small commodity items on a mobile than via a laptop/dekstop or some home automation device.
  • Only about 12% of Millennials have an interest in wearables and tracking their fitness.
  • Just over 43% of those aged 18-35 say they don’t look for apps outside those pre-installed on the device they buy (i.e. the Mail app on iPhone or Outlook on Windows.)
  • 48% say they are looking to reduce the amount of technology in their daily lives.
We have a lot more data and insights than what we’re delivering here. But we think these are some pretty big insights. Millennials don’t like being called that and really, marketing to a specific demographic is a bit like trying to do a  direct mail campaign to unicorns.
What marketing departments tend to miss is that those aged 18-35 don’t have a lot of disposable income and in fact, have less disposable income today than their parents did at the same age.
Across many global consumer brands, we see this odd desire to leap on the bandwagon to market to “Millennials”, which is fine if you have a lower price point product. But price elasticity in the 18-35 group is much tighter. There are also significant economic disparities between those aged 18-25 (who have minimal disposable income and are in an entirely different life phase) and those 25-35, even those 30+ are very different in life stage.
Stay tuned for some further insights into how those aged 18-35 choose products and view brand loyalties.

Microsoft Vs. G-Suite Experience

I’d like to write about comparing a custom domain Gmail compared to Microsoft and about the G-Suite and Google Docs and do a deep comparison. But I can’t. Simply because it’s such a nightmare to even set up a custom Gmail. I’ve tried. Over 3 months I tried. Signed up in various ways and configurations. The worst part is when you give up then check your personal Gmail and find a verification of email and constant pushes to “enjoy your 14 day free trial” – even after the 14 days has expired. I see.

So I went to my domain hosting company and checked that they have Microsoft hosted Exchange. Price was about $15/year higher. But within 5 minutes I was set up on iOS, macOS and fully functional. Done. In 5 minutes. I already have the Office365 subscription and I was able to bypass that and just sort my email.

Google? You have to sign-up for Google Apps just to give feedback. But you can’t even sign-up for Google Apps without a pre-existing corporate account. Even if you own your domain name. Uh huh.

So essentially, if you want an easier, faster, less complicated experience, the answer is Microsoft. Google search might be good, but since you can’t even access G-Suite, unfortunately I can’t do a comparison.