Mobile email innovation? Geronimo!

At a casual glance the mobile world of hardware and apps appears fast moving and packed with innovation, but often much of what occurs is improvement and refinement. The old IT hardware vendor mantra of “smaller, cheaper, faster, more” is very welcome and can lead to marked change based on the positive benefits of both Moore and Metcalfe’s laws of processing power and connectivity benefits respectively, but it’s not radical is it?

Step changes both in hardware and software come from doing something different. They may not always work, but without these valiant attempts to break the mould we end up with more of the same. Consider the humble mobile phone. Once we had bricks, candy bars and clamshells, with a few even odder shapes (remember the Nokia 7600?), and now we have what? Thin rectangular slabs, metal back, glass front with a grid of icon apps – from everyone.

We may be able to thank BlackBerry for the initial step change to creating a viable smartphone with a usable email app, but despite any number of mobile email software companies (many now disappeared) and even the mighty Apple, most of the efforts appear to be pretty ‘samey’. So, why not have some diversity rather than homogeneity?

One could argue ‘standardisation’ and the lack of need for something different when an adequate version already exists. This line of reasoning popped up in comments following the recent announcement of Geronimo, a radically different approach to mobile email by San Francisco start-up Jumpin Labs. After a brief review of the novel ideas – and Geronimo has a lot of them – the tone of some comments heads towards, why will people want all this when they already have X or Y?

Having taken a closer look at Geronimo, and being a 200-a-day email receiver for over 25 years, I ought to remind those making these sorts of observations that email, in common with many other aspects of IT, is far from perfect and perhaps we could all benefit from some occasional radical changes, rather than just polishing.

So what exactly does Geronimo do differently?

Firstly, emails can be viewed horizontally in a date/time line, rather than just vertically. Ok, thats only slightly different, but when combined with compressing and expanding each day into a vertical list it makes a full inbox look more manageable. Geronimo adds other controls that simplify dealing with masses of emails and makes it a little fun at the same time. Not too much fun, remember email is work and there is always plenty of it to do

First, the content of the email stack can be rearranged to meet personal priorities. Not every email is important and urgent based on its arrival time or sender, so dragging individual emails into a new order can be quite useful. Favourite senders can be supplied with icons and viewing all emails from a particular sender is a cinch. 

Next, non-human or robotemails can be removed from view by a tap on the phone. Assuming there is good SPAM filtering in place, this is moving the BACN (something signed up for, but now overwhelming the inbox) out of the way so the real meat‘ can be seen. Not deleted, just guiding focus.

Also, Geronimo is designed for a mobile phone so makes use of other sensors for users to take control. This includes wrist flicks to move between days and emails and additional touch screen gestures to gather several items into a bundle and flick them away into a screen corner (previously designated with a particular function e.g. a particular mail folder). These might seem a bit of a gimmick to some, but they are not mandatory, and users can still push traditionalsmart phone clicks and buttons.

It also has a companion app for the Apple smart watch, which goes beyond the basics of current wrist email by sticking with the idea of robots versus human and filtering to offer human-only notifications, and offering search and compose on the watch as well as read and reply.

It is an early product so there are still limitations. It only works on the iPhone (and Apple watch), which narrows the audience a bit, plus the first release only handles Gmail accounts, although this will no doubt quickly change. Not all of Geronimo’s concepts will appeal to everyone, but many will and it would be great to see more vendors thinking along radical lines every once in a while.

Why bother trying to improve email? Well, many people are overwhelmed by the masses in their inbox – valid, useful, time-wasting or SPAM – and tools that bring back a feeling of control are badly needed. Not only to keep on top of the volume, but also to reduce some of the time spent on email, by being able to handle it and respond more efficiently, especially while on the move. Geronimo may or may not be the ultimate solution, but it has a good go at addressing many email problems in a really interesting and appealing way.

Mobile, its hardly about standing still is it?