Erik Lukas hands me his iPhone and invites me to go through his mail.
“Do you want to toss some emails?” he asks. That’s right, he calls it tossing. He has a folder for this, because “otherwise people get a little slap-happy with my emails.”
Lukas, the founder of the email app Geronimo (which launches for free on Aug. 27 for iPhone and Apple Watch) shows me how the app works. I long-press on an email from Linkedin until I sense an intangible digital grab, then flick my thumb toward the lower right hand corner of the screen. The email hurtles toward the edge and disappears. Trashed.
The interaction is surprisingly satisfying. Almost, oh, I don’t know…fun?
Well, not fun, exactly. Email by its very nature email isn’t fun, so Geronimo isn’t either, even though you can tell it really, really would like to be.
Geronimo, from Jumpin Labs, pulls in email from your Gmail account and arranges it in what Lukas describes as a “design-driven” layout. In terms of pure user interface, it’s an improvement on Gmail’s mediocre app and Apple’s sterile Mail option. It’s less visually exciting than Google Inbox, but makes up for that in novel interactions. At the very least, Geronimo is interesting to use, and if you ask Lukas, that’s a win. “We’re trying to re-humanize email,” he says while walking me through a demo.
The app is full of not-quite-intuitive gestural interactions that make sorting and deleting email feel a bit like playing a game. To trash, archive, or label an email, simply flick it toward a specific corner of the screen. Tap the back of your phone, and robo-emails fall away from your inbox like snowflakes. Tilt your phone vertically to scroll through the day’s emails without dragging a finger along the screen. Flicking to the left or the right moves you from one day’s emails to the next.
In other words, Geronimo is unlike any email app you’ve ever used.
Lukas is developing a new language for handling email by drawing on another form of communication: messaging. “Email doesn’t take advantage of any of the interesting, creative things that we’ve learned from mobile messaging,” he says. Many developers are trying to make email as simple as texting, but Lukas is riffing on other features too, like being able to quickly communicate with a few important people, or customizing images. Geronimo solves for that by letting you place as many as five quick contacts at the top of your inbox. You can drag emails from your timeline to a contact to forward it, or tap on the contact’s picture to compose a message. Once you’re in the compose window, you can access your photo library by dragging the left side of the screen over with your thumb and draw on that attachment (a la Snapchat) before you send it.
Neat stuff, but Geronimo’s most significant departure from traditional email apps is its timeline view. Instead of seeing a single vertical wall of emails, days are split up into separate blocks, and a pictorial timeline at the top give you an overview of which days have the most unread emails. “We’re kind of slaves to the chronological order of the inbox, no matter what app you’re using,” Lukas explains. Geronimo tries to upend that idea by allowing you rearrange the order of your messages by dragging and dropping individual emails. It’s a simple but handy feature that allows you to prioritize your actions without having to navigate to a separate starred folder.
This direct manipulation gives Geronimo a sense of physicality. You can tell Lukas hired mobile game developers to come up with new ways to interact; every gesture you learn feels like you’ve discovered a new power move. “We wondered, what are game mechanics and interactions that are satisfying that can be applied here that aren’t overboard but are useful and efficient?” And indeed, after you use the app for a while, it unlocks power user moves like flicking your wrist to move through days and auto-starring or archiving all emails. The thought being, you have to prove you know how to use the app before you can advance to the next level.
Once you nail the interactions, it might be even quicker than using the old Mail standby—it’s just going to take a bit learning. And that’s where Geronimo will hook or lose you. We’ve grown accustomed to dealing with email in a certain way. It’s an efficiency game—plow through the pile as quickly as possible. Email will never truly be enjoyable, no matter how many clever gestural features you build into it. But it can be less painful.