Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Readdle’s Spark

I’ve been using Spark for a couple of weeks and it’s absolutely magical. It includes a lot of my favourite things from other apps; it has snooze filters and the ability to pin messages, well-formatted conversation chains, Share sheet availability within the app, and a Share sheet extension for when you want to email something using Spark from another app. It also has some very nice ideas of its own: an integrated heuristics engine that figures out how relevant a message is to you, and places it in the appropriate category for you to check later. You can even set up your preferences to only notify you when you get an email that’s more personal or important.

But because all of this processing — including notifications — is done on-device, it means the app needs to be running in the background for these features to work. Unfortunately, on my iPhone 5S, I often found Spark getting kicked out of the background processes, which meant I stopped receiving email notifications until I opened it again. While iOS is, ultimately, to blame for this, it tempers Readdle’s vision for the app. If there were a way for iOS apps to spawn daemon processes or elevate their importance, this vision would be unimpeded.

Most impressive, I think, is that Readdle has managed to innovate in a really interoperable way. Email is a decades-old technology that hasn’t really changed at the server level. Because Spark is only available on the iPhone (with a Watch extension), it means that actions it takes on a message cannot change the way that message displays in your desktop email app. They’ve been very clever with this. Pinned messages — probably my favourite thing in Spark — are just flagged messages with a different context and a different way of displaying in the app. It’s a subtle but powerful contextual shift that more precisely defines how you’ll use that feature.

I’ve linked to Federico Viticci’s review because I think it explains very well why you should try Spark. A taster:

When Apple introduced Mail for iPhone in 2007, they bragged about its desktop-class approach to email on a portable device. Today, being “desktop-class” is almost a liability for apps.

Our smartphones and tablets have a much deeper understanding of our schedule, files, location, contacts, and most used apps than they did eight years ago – a knowledge certainly superior to any desktop computer. To truly reimagine email – for many, still an essential component of a daily workflow – a mobile client would have to bring the intelligence and versatility of a mobile-first world to the stale nature of email protocols.

It’s a well-written review for an app that I really like, and want to use more often. It feels much closer to a replacement for Mail, especially with its Share sheet extension, but iOS’ limitations prevent it from fully getting there. Which is a shame, really, because it’s good. You should really give it a try.