Why 2020 Will Be the Year We Fix Email

Email is getting its first makeover in 16 years.

Key Takeaways

  • Several apps and services are adding exciting new features to email.
  • Email is open, universal, and used by everyone.
  • Privacy is still an issue; make sure you protect yours.
Network Communications Concept, Envelope Shaped Bokeh of Blue Light
MirageC / Getty Images

Email is amazing. Everyone has an email address, and everyone knows how to use it. Email is also terrible. Anybody can send us anything at any time, it’s a vector for rip-offs and malware, and we can barely stay on top of it. Luckily, things are about to change.

Email has hardly changed since Gmail shook things up in 2004. Meanwhile, messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram have changed the way we communicate. We’re used to easy-to-follow group conversations, easily blocking senders, and the ability to maintain conversation threads over time. But not with email. But in 2020, email is returning to its rightful place at the center of our communications.

“Email is the internet's common denominator. Think of it as of Internet ID,” Denys Zhadanov, VP of marketing at Readdle, which makes the Spark email app, told Lifewire via email. “Despite all the bad things about email, the good ones are so powerful, that more and more people are using it.”

What’s Good and Bad About Email?

The best thing about email is you own it. If you want to quit your email service provider and take your email address with you, you can, as long as you own your own domain name. 

The other best thing about email is everybody has an email address.

“Email is the universal best way to reach out to a person in a formal setting,” says Denys. “Also, it gives you the freedom for a long form, thoughtful, and asynchronous communication. It doesn’t create pressure. It’s there. You can respond, or you can ignore it.”

But most email apps and services are just awful. They’re stuck in the past. You have an inbox, you can manually tag messages or file them into folders, and you can search, but that’s it. Compare this to your photos app, which can automatically recognize people, places, and objects. Email has been neglected.

A New Way

This week, Edison Mail launched OnMail, a new email service to complement its existing app. Like rival email innovator Hey, OnMail builds modern features on top of normal email. You can screen new senders so you never have to see mail from them again; you can send huge attachments. Your inbox is automatically processed, and things like purchase receipts, flight plans, and parcel-tracking emails are presented on simple cards.

OnMail's inbox in a browser
OnMail 

Hey, from Basecamp, implements clever features to help you deal with overload. You can add sticky notes to conversations, clip sections of emails for later reference, and even change the title of email threads.

Then there are services like Twobird and Spike, which turn your email into something akin to WhatsApp or iMessage, complete with group conversations and Twitter-style @replies.

And it’s all built on top of standard email protocols, meaning you can keep your own domain. In theory, anyway.

The Downside of Proprietary Services

But it's not all good news. Twobird only works with Gmail accounts. Hey requires that you use a Hey.com email address, and not your existing email address (support for custom domains is promised).

The big problem is you have to trust these companies with your private data. When you use one, you’re handing over the keys to your digital life. Every password reset email, every message from your bank, your doctor, or your lover will be readable by the service.

The Hey.com imbox as it appears in Firefox
Basecamp 

That’s because all the neat features are added in the cloud. Your emails are analyzed and processed on Hey, OnMail, or Spike’s servers to pull out your flight details or parcel delivery details, and so on. So, you have to make sure you trust that email service not to sell your personal info. Reading privacy policies can help, but even that’s no guarantee.

What’s Needed

What we need is an email app that can do all this on your device. Apple’s Photos app uses machine learning to recognize people in your library, and it does it all on your iPhone, unlike Google Photos, which does it all in the cloud. We need an app that keeps your private stuff private. Readdle’s Spark is the closest to this, but it still has a cloud component to manage message notifications. 

Email is insecure, unencrypted, and anyone can read it on its way through the pipes. In physical terms, it’s more like a postcard than a sealed letter. But it works, and it’s finally being improved. Just be careful you don’t jump on the first shiny service that comes along, because the only person protecting your email (and privacy) is you.