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Mailbox CEO on building a better mail app

Lex Friedman | Feb. 8, 2013
Gentry Underwood's company released its free Mailbox app for iPhone today. Underwood spoke with Lex Friedman about his plan for Mailbox's success, profitability, and more.

Orchestra CEO Gentry Underwood is a busy man these days; his company launched its new iPhone email app Mailbox on Thursday. But Underwood still managed to find some time to speak with Macworld about the app, its rollout, and the company's plans for profitability.

Mailbox aims to be a true replacement for Apple's built-in iOS Mail app. From your inbox, you can swipe on messages to archive them, delete them, or snooze them. That last feature hides a message from your inbox for now, but brings it to the forefront again after an amount of time you specify. That way, it's easier to get to Inbox Zero, and messages pop up later, when you're better prepared to act on them.

Demand for a better way to manage email is high, and early reviewers (including Macworld) have heaped praise upon Mailbox. So the developers of the app are prepared for an onslaught of users.

For example, that clever snoozing feature requires that Orchestra maintain a cloud server backend for the app. Underwood said that the company isn't too worried about Mailbox buckling under the load as customers start using the app. "The fear of the system falling over has been mitigated by having spent a bit of extra time setting up the reservation system, so it takes a lot of the anxiety side out of it away." That reservation system, available within the app, presents you with a code to unlock the app, once your spot in line is reached.

Underwood says that more than 250,000 users already signed up for Mailbox access through the reservation program (which started on the Web), but he warns that the initial rollout of access will start slowly. Though you can install the free app right away, at first you'll see nothing but your current position in the reservation queue--including both how many people are in front of you and behind you in line. "We'll monitor the early load, and we expect that we'll be able to increase the number of users exponentially over time," but Underwood's primary goal is keeping the system online for early adopters.

Tip your server

That said, Underwood says that even if Mailbox's servers were to find themselves overloaded, its developers have built in numerous failsafes. "We built a very intelligent offline queue, so if you're on an airplane, or in large portions of San Francisco or New York City where cell service is abysmal, we won't let that degrade your experience. So you can do everything you imagine with your already downloaded email" even when your phone is offline. "As soon as you get access to the server again," Underwood said, "all those changes propagate."


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