OnMail - Did the new email service get it right?

The new email service launched this week tried to re-imagine the email experience. Did they succeed?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog post is purely based on personal experience. It was not influenced by any external factor.

User experience has become one of the hottest commodities in recent times. People are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of user experience and they are willing to pay a small price for apps that offer a kick-ass user experience.

One of the areas that have grown rapidly in terms of UX during the last couple of years is the email service. The market has grown beyond Gmail, Yahoomail, and Outlook. The market now has hundreds of different players who are determined to crack the market with something unique.

Although this is a huge market, making people pay for email is challenging. And, the only B2C app that successfully cracked this is Hey.com. I recently came across another email service (quite new) that also has the potential and the features to make it big in the B2C and the B2B market.

OnMail - The New Kid on the Block

A couple of months back, I was really in a fix to move my primary email address from Gmail. I wanted an email service that's modern, feature-rich, and focused on data privacy. I was even ready to pay a small fee provided I find the right service.

I considered several email services like Tutanota, Protonmail, Mailbox.org, Posteo, and Zoho Mail. Along with these services, I also found OnMail, an email service by Edison software who is famously known for Edison mail - their email client.

The webpage showcased some cool features and the service claimed that it is reimagining the email experience. (Hey.com was not launched at this time and was also under development).

OnMail looked cool on paper, but I couldn't try it out as they did not launch the service yet.

After careful consideration, I moved to Zoho Mail and I am loving it.

However, yesterday morning I got an invite to try out OnMail. Not that I am some big shot. I signed up to try the service and got an invite soon after they launched their public beta program.

I tried the service and I can't ignore but notice some features are a bit similar to Hey. They both worked on the idea around the same time and their approach towards certain parts of the email experience is similar and good.

In today’s post, I’ll mostly talk about the good things in OnMail, where it matches the capabilities of hey.com, where does it exceed Hey (it does in one area - custom domains) and what OnMail needs to get right in order to use this momentum and gain more users.

Let’s get started.

Sidebar is Strength

The first thing I saw as soon as I logged into OnMail was the neat look it had. It was minimalistic and clean.

However modern an email service is, I think it should have a sidebar. It is easy to navigate and is never a disturbance.

The one thing I felt difficult to use when I tried Hey.com was it did not have a sidebar. And, as a user, it often left me clueless as to where to go next.

Placing all the options in the middle of the page as a drop-down is cool (and useful in case of a mobile app). But, is it easy for the end-user?

Imagine Hey having a sidebar like every other email service. Something like this,

I know the sidebar is too wide (I just patched up two elements together), but you get the point right? Having a sidebar makes it so much easier to use an email service.

OnMail has realized the importance of the sidebar and executed it really well. The choice of options was also spot on. I wish they was a way to expand/collapse smart folders. But, I was happy with what I saw.

Screening Incoming Emails

The other important thing I liked was their screener feature that allows you to decide who can send you emails. It is similar to the screener feature in Hey.com where when someone sends you an email for the first time, it will be listed under the screener. If you accept it, it will land on the inbox (or Imbox) and if rejected, they'll land in the spam folder or a blocked list.

Similarly, OnMail shows all the first-time emailers on top of your inbox. It also shows which emails contain trackers (Hey.com also does it).

Once screened, the emails land on your inbox.

The only difference between Hey and OnMail is that in Hey you'll have to click twice to perform the screening, but on OnMail you can do it directly from the email home screen.

The email screen looks simple and neat. One thing I found useful was the right sidebar that displays the contact info of the sender with tabs displaying their past emails, photos, and files from the contact.

Personally, this would save a lot of time looking for the previous conversations I had with the sender or the file they shared.

Split Inbox

OnMail has renamed advanced filters/custom views as Split Inbox.

When you sign up, you can only see two email tabs: Primary and Other. However, you can create additional email tabs where you can view emails of your choice. For example, I can create a tab called Family and add the email address of all my family members and all emails from them will sit under that tab. They call this feature a split inbox.

This is a modified version of advanced filters, but it works well here. I tried creating a split inbox for newsletters and the experience was satisfactory.

They also provide additional options if you want to configure Split inboxes for keywords, subject, etc.

But, the only drawback I see here is whenever I get a new email, I will have to go to Settings > Split Inboxes and navigate through all the screen in order to add the sender to the split inbox. Instead, if it was provided as an option when I click on an email, it would be simple and a lot easier to use this feature.

The key to feature adoption is reducing as much friction as possible so that it becomes muscle memory for the users when they're in your product.

Hey does this part really well. When you click on the More option (the three dots), you can move the email either to the feed or to the paper trail.

Filters

The filters section allows you to set actions for emails that meet your condition. The UX is simple and easy to follow.

But, I can be a little confusing for users to understand the difference between Filters and Split inboxes as the conditions they offer are more or less the same, and the only things that different is the actions.

Inbox as a To-do list?

There is a checkbox next to every email you receive. After you're done reading or replying to the email, you can click on the checkbox. It's like saying I am done with the email and it goes to a section called "Done" which is located on the sidebar.

I think the thought process behind this idea is to use our email like how we use a to-do list. This way we can have a minimal number of emails in the inbox and can also achieve a zero inbox (for those who are crazy about it.)

But, the underlying action is you're archiving the email. I found out about this when I logged into OnMail using Edison's mobile app. The "Done" section was missing and instead, I found all the emails under "Archive".

It's a nice idea, but consistency across apps would be easy for the users to know where to access their past emails.

Custom Domain and Pricing

They have got a generous free plan that offers 10 GB of free space. Also, if you're in the free plan you can only create an email address that is more than eight characters in length (That's clever, right?). Shorter emails cost you $9.99 per month (or $99 per year).

They also offer other plans where you can get a free domain name and set it up to customize your email address (which was one of the most requested features when Hey launched their service. It is good to see new players like OnMail understanding the importance of such features when it comes to monetization).

What could be better?

Of course, OnMail is not perfect. It has its own set of flaws some even a deal-breaker for someone who is trying to migrate from their existing service. Let's take a look at those flaws now.

  • The compose button could be more prominent on the home screen. Instead of the icon, it can either say " Write an email" or "Compose"

  • The "Done" section in the web app is "Archive" in the mobile app. I panicked when I logged into the mobile app and unable to see any of my emails.

  • Split inboxes are not visible in the mobile app. I think the mobile app is a little behind compared to the web app. I hope they fix this fast.

  • The Attachments link section can also provide the option to add large files that the users can add when they're sending an email.

  • I couldn't find options to import contacts into OnMail. There is also no option to add contacts manually. As of now, contacts get added only if someone sends you an email. If not fixed, this could be a deal-breaker...

  • The Contacts and Blocked sections under Settings > Contacts doesn't look like section. They can be made more prominent, like tabs.

OnMail is pretty impressive for a public beta. They got a good set of features (The website lists them all) and provide the users with a wide range of pricing plans to choose from. But, they have a long way to go in order to compete with the giants in the industry and the popular newcomers like Hey. I hope they iron out the small things and come out awesome when they’re launching officially.

Check out OnMail by signing up for an account (please note that the service is currently in public beta). You can reach me at rkarthik@onmail.com.