Monday, October 15, 2007

Can Leopard's Super-Smart Client Make Us Love Email Again?

Apple is on the verge of releasing an email-on-steroids client as part of Leopard (next major release of Mac OS X, slated for Oct. 26). The release hits at a time when alternatives to email are in ascendance. (see, for example this Business Week debate in which Robert Scoble steps forward as the champion for the "moving past email" camp.)

So it's worth asking, is Apple on to something or out of step with the zeitgeist? How will Leopard's mail fare in a Web 2.0, social net world?

Prince McLean at Macinsider has the history of mail on Macintosh, including third-party software and the major tributary branch that began at NeXT. McLean covers two massive, visionary, but unsuccessful and largely forgotten projects from the 90's, PowerTalk (AOCE) and Cyberdog. Both of these projects could be poster-children for how Apple went off the rails during the Steve Jobs interregnum; they overwhelmed available hardware, underwhelmed the market, and screwed the developers.

They also were terribly timed and irrelevant before they shipped. They completely misread the impact of the dominance of Windows, the rise of Internet-based mail standards and the explosion of the Web as a mass-market phenomenon. (Cyberdog had a Web browser, but in those days, Netscape had the world's attention, setting the pace for innovation and enhancements to HTML. Cyberdog could only chase after the evolving Web like a greyhound after a mechanical rabbit.)

In McLean's article, this past is prologue to a rundown of what's in the Leopard version of Apple's email client. If you want to skip the history, you can start right in with his description of what's ahead on page 3. It's almost as breathless as Apple's marketing page for Mail.

The new Mail will bid to be a center of our personal workflow, incorporating to do lists, notes, RSS reader and smart integration with Calendar and Address Book and more—thanks to the return of Apple Data Detectors. (This bit of technology from pre OS X days can parse your email for events, addresses, contact info and intelligently offer to file it or act on it.)

Mickeleh's Take: Email isn't going away any time soon. Apple's approach has the potential to transform the way we deal with it. But exploiting the full potential of the features baked into Leopard's email client will require lots of behavioral change on the part of the user. I'm skeptical, yet hopeful. But the acid test is whether Apple's new mail client will seduce Scoble.

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Anonymous said...

I'm an apple mail user, but I'm not thrilled by the choices of additional features in leopard. I'm concerned there's too much focus on surface-level stuff and not enough on the core. e.g. when will Apple mail work better with exchange so I don't get grief for being an outlier at my company?

In fact, I feel that way about all of leopard... have you watched the official apple leopard tour?... scares me in too many ways. For some reason, I think of Microsoft when I watch it.

How about less color wheel? and safari crashes?

Of course, I'll buy leopard days after it's out. Maybe it fixes some of those things that don't make for good video.

Michael Markman said...

I'm not drawn to the cosmetics of fancy HTML stationery for email. I'll be watching my inbox to see if they catch on.

It's the functional aspects of notes, data detectors, to-do lists, and calendar integration interest me.

As for Exchange integration... it doesn't look as though corporate IT is a target market. I hear that Mac is making slow, small, steady advances there, but it's not a focus.

If you want better Exchange integration, have you looked into running actual Windows Outlook on Parallels? Or, you might wait for the opportunity to send Microsoft and upgrade tax for Mac Office 2008. I don't know if they have full parity with Windows Outlook, but the Mac Business Unit has posted an Entourage 2008 Preview.

Anonymous said...

six months after the release of leopard, still sucks. i am desperate for something new. Just tried outspring's mail and it took is very poor. Please le me know if you've found something worth using