Sparrow for Mac: a study in minimalist e-mail interfaces

Mac OS X users are about to have a new option for a native Cocoa e-mail client—as long as they use the IMAP protocol and prefer a very spartan user interface. Called Sparrow, the app’s developers recently launched a public beta to get some feedback on the features and design. With over 20,000 downloads in just one day, the developers are scrambling to massage the beta into a 1.0 release and answer the massive flood of user feedback.

We spoke with Dominique Leca and Dihn Viêt Hoà about their motivation to create a Mac OS X e-mail client, fueled by innovative iPad apps and frustration with vaporware projects. We also spent a little time with the beta of Sparrow to check out its Twitter-influenced user interface.
DIY Project

Leca cofounded an iOS development studio in Paris two years ago and hired Dinh, a former Apple software engineer, to code for the company. Two years later, both left to pursue other opportunities and decided to collaborate on Sparrow as a side project. Neither were prepared for the project to be so popular.

“We were amazed by the way Sparrow was received, and we weren’t imagining that it could make so much noise,” Leca told Ars. “We’re gearing up to make a final 1.0 version of Sparrow, thanks to the amazing feedback we have had.”

When he was at Apple, Dinh had worked on iCal and later iSync. He was also heavily involved in the development of the open source e-mail library libEtPan.

That library was used to build an open source Cocoa wrapper called MailCore, designed to be the basis of a Mac OS X IMAP client called Kiwi. Unfortunately, Kiwi has yet to materialize as an actual software product. However, both etPan and MailCore have been used in other Mac and iPhone e-mail clients, such as reMail and Notify. In fact, MailCore was considered as an option for another e-mail client project that was launched earlier this year called Letters.

Dinh had followed the early initial rush of work on Letters, but wasn’t happy with the choice of MailCore. He felt that as the main developer of etPan he could make a better library, which he calls etPanKit, and planned to offer its use to the Letters project.

However, Dinh’s offer was ultimately turned down. “First, it was decided not to integrate this new engine and to write a new IMAP engine from scratch,” he told Ars. “Secondly, Letters was going nowhere.” Ars confirmed that little progress has been made since the initial flurry of discussions got the Letters project off the ground in January.

With etPanKit in hand, and Leca offering to work on UI design and marketing (he has a business degree from French business school HEC), the pair decided to make their own IMAP e-mail client. And they forged ahead “against most advice of Mac developers around us,” Leca said.

“We kid a lot about it, but the Mac needs a great, alternative e-mail client, and in our coding fantasies we always talk about making the perfect one,” Panic’s Cabel Sasser told Ars back when Letters had just been announced. “What holds us back are only dumb, boring business things: it would take a lot of work, and we’re not sure the return would be worth it.”

The problem most developers fear is competing with Apple and “free”—Mail is already an adequate e-mail client for most users, and it comes free with every Mac.


Mac OS X users are about to have a new option for a native Cocoa e-mail client—as long as they use the IMAP protocol and prefer a very spartan user interface. Called Sparrow, the app’s developers recently launched a public beta to get some feedback on the features and design. With over 20,000 downloads in just one day, the developers are scrambling to massage the beta into a 1.0 release and answer the massive flood of user feedback.

We spoke with Dominique Leca and Dihn Viêt Hoà about their motivation to create a Mac OS X e-mail client, fueled by innovative iPad apps and frustration with vaporware projects. We also spent a little time with the beta of Sparrow to check out its Twitter-influenced user interface.

DIY Project

Leca cofounded an iOS development studio in Paris two years ago and hired Dinh, a former Apple software engineer, to code for the company. Two years later, both left to pursue other opportunities and decided to collaborate on Sparrow as a side project. Neither were prepared for the project to be so popular.

“We were amazed by the way Sparrow was received, and we weren’t imagining that it could make so much noise,” Leca told Ars. “We’re gearing up to make a final 1.0 version of Sparrow, thanks to the amazing feedback we have had.”

When he was at Apple, Dinh had worked on iCal and later iSync. He was also heavily involved in the development of the open source e-mail library libEtPan.

That library was used to build an open source Cocoa wrapper called MailCore, designed to be the basis of a Mac OS X IMAP client called Kiwi. Unfortunately, Kiwi has yet to materialize as an actual software product. However, both etPan and MailCore have been used in other Mac and iPhone e-mail clients, such as reMail and Notify. In fact, MailCore was considered as an option for another e-mail client project that was launched earlier this year called Letters.

Dinh had followed the early initial rush of work on Letters, but wasn’t happy with the choice of MailCore. He felt that as the main developer of etPan he could make a better library, which he calls etPanKit, and planned to offer its use to the Letters project.

However, Dinh’s offer was ultimately turned down. “First, it was decided not to integrate this new engine and to write a new IMAP engine from scratch,” he told Ars. “Secondly, Letters was going nowhere.” Ars confirmed that little progress has been made since the initial flurry of discussions got the Letters project off the ground in January.

With etPanKit in hand, and Leca offering to work on UI design and marketing (he has a business degree from French business school HEC), the pair decided to make their own IMAP e-mail client. And they forged ahead “against most advice of Mac developers around us,” Leca said.

“We kid a lot about it, but the Mac needs a great, alternative e-mail client, and in our coding fantasies we always talk about making the perfect one,” Panic’s Cabel Sasser told Ars back when Letters had just been announced. “What holds us back are only dumb, boring business things: it would take a lot of work, and we’re not sure the return would be worth it.”

The problem most developers fear is competing with Apple and “free”—Mail is already an adequate e-mail client for most users, and it comes free with every Mac. Leer más “Sparrow for Mac: a study in minimalist e-mail interfaces”

Sparrow for Mac Simplifies Gmail for the Better

Quick Pitch: Sparrow is a minimalist mail application for Mac. It was designed to keep things simple and efficient. No fancy stuff here — just your mail and nothing else.

Genius Idea: E-mail has become such a large part of our lives that everyone from Google (Google) to individual developers are looking to build the best solution for faster, better e-mail management. Yet all of the bright new features sometimes make our e-mail inboxes more complex (and sometimes slower) than ever. But not Sparrow.

The free Mac desktop client for Gmail (Gmail) approaches e-mail with Tweetie (tweetie)-like finesse and simplicity. If anything, Sparrow feels like a mobile e-mail client optimized for your desktop, which means it eliminates the chaff to focus on the wheat: exchanging e-mail.


Jennifer Van Grove
Jennifer Van Grove
http://mashable.com/2010/10/08/sparrow/

Name: Sparrow

Quick Pitch: Sparrow is a minimalist mail application for Mac. It was designed to keep things simple and efficient. No fancy stuff here — just your mail and nothing else.

Genius Idea: E-mail has become such a large part of our lives that everyone from Google (Google) to individual developers are looking to build the best solution for faster, better e-mail management. Yet all of the bright new features sometimes make our e-mail inboxes more complex (and sometimes slower) than ever. But not Sparrow.

The free Mac desktop client for Gmail (Gmail) approaches e-mail with Tweetie (tweetie)-like finesse and simplicity. If anything, Sparrow feels like a mobile e-mail client optimized for your desktop, which means it eliminates the chaff to focus on the wheat: exchanging e-mail. Leer más “Sparrow for Mac Simplifies Gmail for the Better”