What Could Sparrow’s Acquisition Mean for Gmail?

Sparrow, the little, alternative email client for OS X that featured a lean and trim mail interface emphasizing social communication and quick message management has announced its acquisition by Google on the front page of its website. The acquisition, which appears to be based on talent, promises to bring that sense of social integration to the Gmail product.

Sparrow? What’s That?

I’ve been a Sparrow user for some time, and found it to be not only strongly based on the official Twitter client for OS X, but a relatively straightforward approach to an otherwise outdated technology: email. Email is a pain point for a lot of busy users, especially with the amount of time it takes to address issues and get that inbox number down to zero. With Sparrow, I’ve been able to answer, star, and route email quickly in order to get it out of the way and back to business. In-line replies and file sharing integration with Dropbox are just a couple of features that help make that happen, and I’ve been a fairly happy Sparrow customer.

Sadly, the client was never made available for Windows. The UI makes email feel like a social stream, and I have yet to find an email client like it on Windows. It would appear that we never will as the bulletin posted on the Sparrow site indicates that, “While we’ll be working on new things at Google, we will continue to make Sparrow available and provide support for our users.”

What Could This Mean to Gmail Users?

This is a sign, to me, that Sparrow is no longer the product on which the team will be working. Efforts are being targeted to Gmail, which itself has become a favorite Web email app for users of both Google’s mail service and others through the POP protocol.
Perhaps this acquisition will enable the developers of Sparrow to bring their experience working with IMAP and stand-alone apps to the table to build something Google can really get users behind. Not everyone wants to use their Gmail account for everything, and I for one would welcome a Web-based or stand-alone mail app that fills the hole that Thunderbird and Sparrow are leaving behind.

What About Current Sparrow Users?

The Sparrow team has committed to providing existing users with critical bug fixes, but has not promised to do anything beyond that. Its efforts are now being turned entirely to Gmail and Google’s product family. For now, I’m still using Sparrow and don’t have any reason to stop. It’s a small and efficient mail app, and one of the few productivity-boosting solutions I’ve found in the world of email.

How do you improve on an experience that people have been using for 15+ years? Email is — and will continue to be — a stubborn communication platform that requires specific addresses and has limited file transfer capabilities. The addition of Facebook and Dropbox to Sparrow made it possible to use Sparrow a lot like you would a typical social network app. For the first time, email and private messages were handled by the same app. This is a value that users can still appreciate even now.

If Facebook changes its back-end coding again, this could break some of the functionality for existing Sparrow users, but I highly doubt there will be any major changes to the way email works any time soon. In fact, it’s almost certain that Sparrow will continue to work just as well as it does today for the foreseeable future.

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