- Design: Visually, it’s a stimulating, elegant, and looks modern with clean edges for the inbox stream which is located on the left as you would find in Outlook, Thunderbird, or Opera. The larger portion of the screen includes "stacks" on the right (more on that later) that have the appearance of a shuffled stack of photos or paper that elicits a more informal feel. Usability also leverages established scenarios such as a nav bar on the left for getting to the inbox, various folders, and opening your calendar, as well as tabs for opening different functions of the client.
- Tabs: Tabs have been in Opera and Thunderbird for a long time in order to view a calendar, a web page, or plug-in content. Alto uses these tabs to open individual messages or display message content contained within your stacks.
- Analytics: As a long time user of Gmail Meter, Graph Your Inbox, and wannabe Quantified Self enthusiast, I value the analytics software can provide. In it's current form, Alto provides rudimentary charts about the stacks such as the number of messages in the stack, the most active, and the top recipients. I have no doubt this feature will continue to grow and include more.
- Stacks: It's this concept that really took Alto to the next level for email clients. On the right side of the message stream are groups of content much in the same vein as Pinterist boards or Evernote notebooks. Although a user can establish a new notebook for any content, when you first log in there are a few pre-loaded to help demonstrate what is possible. Here are 3 reasons why this makes an improvement:
- Hidden content: Good software can add tremendous value when it enables access to data that was previously hidden from the user. In this case, one of the pre-populated stacks extracts all of the photos in my mailbox and displays them in a photo album. This feature makes it easy for me to discover content (fast) that would otherwise be buried or inaccessible through a normal search query. As we move towards visual search, it’s these types of features that can reveal hidden information while simultaneously makeing it fast for me consume, arrange, and organize the information I need. For this particular stack, one could imagine Alto leveraging the tools from traditional image search engines such as organizing by size, colors, date, and other defining features.
- Sorting content: Stacks enable email to be separated out instead of taking up visual line space in the inbox tsream. One such pre-loaded stack sifts out the hundreds of coupons and daily deals that float through my inbox. Although this can be achieved with rules in other email clients, stacks keep them visually present for me to view later.
- Stacks scrolling: I discovered this tiny UI feature by accident but it's actually pretty cool. On the stack that contains my flagged and starred message, I can move the mouse from left to right over the stack and it will scroll through the messages in that stack.