Opinion: Of Mailbox and Thinking Differently


I was harsh on Mailbox’s reservation system. I felt as if their solution to the problem of having servers swamped by users was as hacky as it was annoying. It put off potential users, killed any hype that reviews generated for the app, and overall created a botched launch for an app that otherwise was a stunning example of iOS’ excellent app ecosystem.

I believed that a better option that would stop users from rushing the service and thus overwhelming that startup’s server capacity was to simply price it higher than many customers would be willing to pay. This option has worked for many other apps; why not this one? By creating an artificial barrier to entry, Mailbox could have prevented users who simply downloaded the app to test it from taking up server resources.

I was wrong.

This type of system would still work – and does, frankly; services like Instapaper make use of it – for Mailbox, but their option makes just as much sense. It simply requires more patience, both on the part of the user and on the part of the company itself. The reservation system flies directly in the face of almost every ideal in today’s age of instant connectivity. Do you want a website? Type in the URL – many browsers will even try to guess what site you are about to go to, and begin to preload the page. Oh, but wait – you would be on 3G. 3G isn’t fast enough – LTE is. Instantaneous gratification colors almost every aspect of our daily computing lives.

mailbox icon

And yet, Mailbox seems to be an app that, from the beginning, gives the user time to think about it. It will take many people some time before they even have access to their Gmail account through Mailbox. Once they have that access, one of the highlight features of Mailbox is the ability to hide an email until such time as the reader can actually take the time to adequately reply to it.

So while I still think that a price barrier could have been as good of a way to help keep the servers online and safe from the typical deluge of users that a new, popular startup receives, I now see that Mailbox’s reservation system makes sense, from both the perspective of the company and the user. It just flies in the face of almost every sentiment that has crafted apps and the general mobile experience before it.

mailbox graph

Oh, still interested in the app? There is good news. If you haven’t been checking your place in line, it’s probably ticking down to zero at a significantly faster rate than it was yesterday. Orchestra, the developers behind Mailbox, created the above graph to demonstrate how they are ramping up the activation rate. Does “exponential” ring a bell? So, instead of what yesterday looked as if it would take at least a week, your wait could be as short as a few hours.

Post a response / What do you think?