Goodbye Sparrow

Goodbye Sparrow.

Sparrow was, and still is, the best email app I have ever used. It’s user interface is clean, simple and very intuitive. It makes email faster and me enjoyable.

It’s everything that you could want in a desktop or mobile email app. Sadly, Sparrow was just acquired by Google. This was more of a acqui-hire than a real acquisition.

Google just wants the talented Sparrow team; it doesn’t really want the wonderful iPhone and Mac App that the company has created. Google has never really cared that much about putting out really strong products on anything other than Android.

I have some hope for this acquisition. The Sparrow team has clearly been thinking hard about how to make email more efficient, particularly on mobile platforms. The knowledge and design that went into Sparrow could be brought over to Gmail.com and mobile Gmail clients.

The best case scenario is that Sparrow gets renamed Gmail and that the Sparrow experience gets brought to more platforms. Worst case scenario would be Google just using the new team to help make Gmail.com better, while continuing to ignore native desktop and mobile experiences, particularly on iOS.

Google has put more thought and care into the Android Gmail experience than the iOS one and doesn’t have an app on any other mobile platform. I’d hate for them to acquire the best iOS Gmail client and then just kill it and go back to delivering a sub-par Gmail experience for iOS users.

Sparrow will still be available and minor updates will continue to roll out. But don’t expect new features for Sparrow clients, and that long-anticipated iPad client will never see the light of day. The Verge reports that this acquisition was largely about making the Gmail experience better and more attractive for everyone:

Our sources also noted that Google isn’t ruling out native Gmail clients for platforms beyond iOS and Android, and emphasized that Google wants to bring polish, “beauty,” and ease of use to all of its Gmail experiences across platforms (a suggestion that a native client for Mac and PC might be in the offing). Sparrow, apparently, is a way to get there.

I’m all for that. I’ve been a Gmail user for seven years, and while the underlying service and engineering keep getting better, the user interface has stagnated and is too keyboard focused. Sparrow for iOS really brought a big touch focus and had a lot of great gestures and UI flourishes that made tearing through email really fast.

Every Gmail experience from the website to native apps could benefit from the work that Sparrow has done. The Gmail team’s engineering work combined with the Sparrow team’s UI/UX work could be a beautiful thing. It’s an incredible marriage of tech and art.

I hope, however, this doesn’t mean the end of high quality native Gmail experiences. While gmail.com does provide a good email solution that works across platforms (and that is better than Outlook, Apple’s Mail app and Thunderbird), it’s not nearly as good as a really forward thinking native app like Sparrow.

Sparrow came about because Google neglected the desktop experience and the iOS experience. I hope they don’t take this new talent and continue down that path. Google needs to take native app experiences more seriously.

The Web is great, but it’s not the end all, be all, especially something like mobile email. Sparrow’s legacy deserves more than just the Web. Sparrow should be about making gmail.com better and making more and better native apps.

Sparrow, you will be missed. Hopefully this will not have all been in vain.