Mailbox: Two Weeks Ago VS Today

I wrote this about two weeks ago, when I was eagerly clicking into the app just to see the numbers jump. Most of the time, it was just because I had to wait for Candy Crush to reset my time. I digress.

Today I finally received a notification that my account was ready. Email is often a source of my anxiety because my eyes scan faster than what my brain can comprehend to do with it. Now that I have the app, I feel like heavy duty mail checking and sorting is usually done on my laptop where I can multitask and not on my iPhone when I’m waiting for the train.

Anyway, this is how I felt about it while waiting for it:

Mailbox, the email management app that helps sort through one’s inbox is free. I can download it as many times as I want and on as many Apple products as I wish. Then why am I still waiting for it? I’ve downloaded it twice and still have yet to indulge in the hype. I live in the digital world where mobile is supposed to be instantaneous. I want it and I want it now, even if it means I have to pay for it.

The hot productivity app launched in early February and is still the talk of the town especially after being acquired by DropBox this week for a reported $100 million. Orchestra To-Do, the company that won the App Store’s 2011 Productivity App of The Year, built the app.

Anticipating the rush of users, Mailbox released the app in waves, and hence creating a queue system.

Users download the app and a screen appears on the iPhone or iPad giving the user a unique number. It tells the user what number they are and how many users are waiting behind them. The numbers jump and change every time the app is opened. When the Mailbox team processes the user’s registration, the user is notified.

I downloaded the app for the first time after hearing rave discussions around the office. At a mobile startup, not having the newest app is certainly the cardinal sin of smart phone existence. Right then and there, I knew I had to save my spot in the queue. Many of my colleagues and officemates posted screen shots on Instagram and Facebook of the number they received – some in the 30,000s and others in the 50,000s. When I opened my app, I was told there were 200,000 or so users in front of me. There is no way I will be able to try out this app within a week! With that odd rationale, I deleted the app.

A month later, I am downloading the app again. This time, there are roughly 500,000 users ahead of me. Literally five minutes later, I open the app to find 99 users already behind me. I keep the app this time because I want to try it so badly. Like a kid on the playground without the newest toy, I feel that way with Mailbox.

Many have quickly doubted Mailbox’s queue approach, citing it to be a marketing ploy — and a brilliant one at that. However, the company has clarified that the functional reason for releasing the app in waves is for scaling purposes. The unintentional effect may have boosted their brand in the marketing department, but it certainly was the after thought.

Mailbox is toying with exclusivity, an approach free apps don’t generally enforce. When a free app is downloaded from the Apple Store, the user is able to experience it right away. This isn’t the case with Mailbox and paid for apps.

Mailbox requires a queue and apps that cost money create an even higher albeit different threshold of exclusivity. It ultimately comes down to the decision of whether the app is worth your money. Users can buy into the exclusive product and have an otherwise privileged experience.

With an exclusive product, users tend to be more loyal and the product is perceived as more sophisticated. Take for example Sparrow, an email management app that launched before Mailbox. It costs $2.99 and has an overall score of four out of five stars in the app store, rated by over 5000 users. So people like it, they’ve paid for it and it’s been sustainable so far.

An app, like every other service is a business. It’s a service that has a business model and revenue stream, which does not equate to the number of users, volume or page hits. After all, companies make apps to make money.

So Mailbox, feel free to charge me. If making me pay means I will actually be able to use the app, then go for it.

Based on all the first hand user reviews of Mailbox, I am curious to see if the app is able to clean up my inbox. Also like many other free apps, it’ll be interesting to see the evolution and integration of advertising into its structure. Will users adapt or resist? Will the company take in user criticisms and make improvements? Also, what role will DropBox play in Mailbox’s growth?

Wish me luck and if you’re not already in line, get behind that plethora of users already behind me. Only 512,000 users to go…

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