It’s hard to remember the last big innovation in email. The ability to snooze emails for later comes to mind. So does swipe-to-archive. You could make a case for Gmail’s huge storage limits that let you just archive stuff and find it later. In any case, it’s long past time for an overhaul. The folks over at AOL, who made the first email address lots of people ever had (and probably haven’t opened in ten years), think they’ve done it.
The company just announced version 2.0 of the Alto app, for Android and iOS. The key feature is the Dashboard, the homescreen of Alto. It’s where you find all the important stuff from your email. The confirmation number of the flight you booked six months ago but need tomorrow. The location of your hotel, and the number for the restaurant in case you’re late. It integrates with your calendar, too, combining everything to create an itinerary for your day.
In many ways, the Dashboard is like Google Now, designed to have the same “how did it know?!” effect. Except Alto works with your Gmail, your Exchange account at work, and that weird Yahoo account where you dump receipts and spam.
Alto’s always been good, and people like it. It has the swipes, and the snoozes, and everything else your inbox requires. The app also filters email into “stacks,” so you can see all your attachments or photos or receipts with one tap. But the Dashboard is the first step in a pretty major re-think of what email is for. Most people’s inboxes, the Alto team found, have fewer notes from loved ones than receipts, confirmation numbers, newsletters, coupons, and the detritus of online life. If AOL can get smart about parsing that data and presenting it thoughtfully at the right time and place, it could completely remake your idea of email. Your inbox could be something you don’t have to clear, but instead fill with as much data as possible so Alto can help you find it when you need it.
Right now, Alto’s focuses largely on travel and shopping. It plays nicely with Uber and Lyft, too, making it easy to book rides to your hotel or next appointment. But there’s more coming. Your email is the Internet’s most personal and useful source of data about you, and AOL’s building the cipher to figure out what it all means.