I've had the recent opportunity to try out AOL's new Alto email service, a Web-based email client that attempts to re-work the way we read, sort, and archive email. Long story short, you log into Alto with your iCloud, Yahoo, GMail, and of course, AOL email address and you're greeted with a new kind of inbox.
On the left is the typical list of incoming emails, on the right (when an email isn't being viewed) is a series of thumbnails, or "stacks," representing specific types of email miscellanea:
You can also create your own stacks if you desire more control. However, this isn't a review of Alto, which is still in beta and isn't entirely baked yet. I bring it up because it represents an older technology that could do with some updating.
How many email client concepts and betas have been designed to organize email into pre-determined groups based on content and sender information? For example, GMail has folders that can automatically collect email blasts from merchants and filter them away from the inbox into one location for later review. It's convenient, but then I forget to go in there and after a few months, I come to find almost all my coupons have expired.
Enter Passbook, Apple's iOS-based ticket application that makes carrying a keychain full of loyalty cards a thing of the past. It's brand new, so retail adoption isn't as widespread as I'd hoped it would be, but if Apple opened up the APIs a little and merchants had their way with them, we wouldn't have to redesign email; We could redesign the way we interact with companies outside the store.
Currently, Apple has very limited coupon support within Passbook. For example, I can send Target coupons from the Target app to Passbook, but there's no notification of when they expire unless I open either app. And the coupons don't automatically delete themselves after the expiration date. There's a lot of manual interaction with something that should essentially run itself.
On the email side, I get weekly coupons from companies like T.G.I. Fridays, Red Robin, Macy's, Walgreens, Sears, and Petco. In the cases of Fridays and Red Robin, I'm unable to unsubscribe from their email blasts without unsubscribing from their rewards programs entirely. My only alternative is to build a rule in Mail.app that funnels their emails away from my inbox and straight into the trash.
What would happen if Apple was kind enough to open the gates a little further (which I'm sure it will do as iOS matures)? I might not have to receive any emails from Fridays or Red Robin at all. In theory:
On a much less "holy crap, it's the future!" scale, companies should be looking into ways to get away from sending emails and embracing tech like Passbook. Spam filters are getting more advanced, users don't want more email, and if the messages get diverted to any folder that isn't the main inbox, they'll probably be forgotten entirely.
As for Apple, I'm hoping Passbook will eventually just "know" when a coupon inside it has expired and then replace it with a current one without my having to intervene via a separate app first.
Additionally (and this will never happen), I'd love to see an open Passbook standard that could be adopted by other platforms, to give merchants the ability to easily change marketing tactics without incurring too many costs. Rather than having to design electronic materials for three different mobile payment systems, Apple's Passbook could rule them all, though I know this is just a pipe dream.
Passbook has the possibility of not only rattling the retail sphere, but email, as well. I don't need a stack of Walgreens coupons in an email folder I never check, I need them where I can use them: on the other side of my Walgreens loyalty card in Passbook.