Spark reignites love for email with app design

Simon McCade

The background

The self-proclaimed “best email client for iPhone, iPad and Mac” is not shy of bold claims, but it’s one that has great promise and an abundance of high-profile endorsements.

Spark pitches itself as “The Future of Email” and a revolutionary way to help you love your emails again – which is a cute way to tap into the constant complaints we hear around us about cluttered or nigh-on-impossible-to-manage inboxes these days.

It’s positioned as a collaborative tool that helps you work on projects as – you guessed it – a team and it comes at a time at which the likes of Slack have brought the convenience of instant messaging back to the fore in the work space.

Does it work for its audience?

Spark, which was created by Readdle Inc., has been well-received on the app store with 4.7 out of 5 from over 24,000 reviews at the time of writing, so they clearly have done and are doing something right. First impressions of the experience show that the value proposition is clear, too - much like the Headspace app review I conducted recently - it does what it promises, yet has a whole lot more to offer than basic email functionality.

Of course, you’d expect that from a specialist email app, but it's part of a whole suite of specialist apps that are focused on redefining productivity for everything from document processing to calendar management.

Spark has a great onboarding process – crucial in this hectic day and age – with a splash-screen overview and an immediate introduction to the unified inbox after a swift setup process (mine was via Gmail). The interactive tutorial really makes it easy to get to grips with the feature-rich app from the outset.  

It's part of a whole suite of specialist apps that are focused on redefining productivity

Given how personal email is and, indeed, must be, it’s wholly necessary that Spark offers a high level of personalisation. It does this very well for its audience by allowing them to make almost everything about their experience personal to them – even down to customisable gestures to access hidden menus. Widgets are also entirely editable, which means you can jump to ‘recently seen’ or ‘draft’ emails in a single tap.

Spark Email app - Personalisation

How does it sit in the market?

It’s 2018, so there’s no shortage of email clients out there, but Spark somehow seems to cut through the noise. Its clean branding, smooth design and impressive responsiveness make it a clear leader amongst its peers with a high level of market penetration.

We live in a world that sends and receives over 269 billion emails every single day – and that figure is only set to increase with a growing number of people working on their phones every day, too, whether they’re on the way into work or on the move. This means one thing: expectations are very high indeed.

Spark, it must be said, meets and exceeds them, though, which is clear from reviews that rave about the “super user friendly and interactive” nature of it. What’s more is that the free account stands shoulder to shoulder with Apple Mail and Outlook (and in many ways stands taller), so it’s easy to see why this relative newcomer really is making people love their email again.

We live in a world that sends and receives over 269 billion emails every single day

What are the UI and UX like?

The overall navigation in Spark’s app is intuitive and well-considered insofar as it is a breeze to jump between inboxes and folders within your accounts. On the whole, it’s difficult to find faults with the UX – it’s so easy and satisfying to use – but if I was to pick up on any faults (and they’re minor at worst), it is missing full interactivity with the iOS Watch app in that you can only receive email notifications. The experience would be improved with the functionality of being able to act on emails when they come in like this, but I’m splitting hairs here.

The logical hierarchy within the app makes it incredibly easy to navigate even the most complicated inboxes and the freshness of the design and the variety of themes make it a visual pleasure to do so.

There are some inconsistencies between the mobile and desktop versions of the app, but nothing that goes so far as to hamper perceptions of the overall UI.

Spark Email app - Inbox and email composition

How does it integrate into users' workflow?

Collaboration is one of the key features of Spark and it gets it spot on with integration between other popular work-based apps. It's a seamless experience sharing and managing documents between apps like Trello and there are no apparent glitches in the journeys between them. It's also super easy to discuss them with your colleagues in private messages within the app, so there's no need to break off to use Slack or something similar to collaborate on emails.

If you’re a user of services like Trello and Evernote when it comes to your working routines, too, Spark is the ideal email client to keep track of it all. This can only be a good thing.

Spark Email app - Collaboration and integration with Trello and Evernote

Room for improvement

Some people had reservations about the lifespan of the free version of Spark when it launched, but its feature-rich, intuitive design and endless amounts of personalisation make it easy to see why it’s so revered in the email world and difficult to pick holes in it in the design world.

My main (and probably only) gripe with it is the lack of complete integration with the Apple Watch

My main (and probably only) gripe with it is the lack of complete integration with the Apple Watch, but I can live without that for the time being and it’s certainly not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination.

Reasons to be wary

The only thing of note to pick out in this GDPR world of ours is that the privacy policy terms of Spark have been cause for concern for some people (although not many). It reads “To keep our services free for you to use, we collect and store information from commercial messages such as promotions and receipts.”

Of course, people are understandably warier now that they are more empowered with the knowledge of privacy laws, but it almost feels like it’s part and parcel of having such a well-honed product for absolutely nothing. Such a policy is acceptable by most people’s standards, but perhaps one thing to be aware of in future design and development plans for Readdle.

As Spark inevitably evolves along with the world it is designed for, this free model should be the primary concern for its developers. The paid version might be affordable in itself, but the kind of loyal usership it enjoys today can only be nurtured by looking after the foundations tomorrow.

Final thoughts

There’s no doubt in my mind that Spark is the most comprehensive, feature-rich email app I’ve ever used. There’s no shortage of options to integrate with apps you’re already used to and seemingly no significant delays to updates or bug fixes – at least in my experience to date.

Some minor concerns with design inconsistencies between mobile and desktop are only the kinds of things a design consultant would pick up on, so there’s nothing to worry about on that front when it comes to the overarching, everyday user experience. It’s just great all round.

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