Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Blog

IBM’s Mail Triage - a Peek into the Potential Future of Mobile Email

If we were to estimate the proliferation and popularity of various internet platforms and applications, judging solely by the ratio of news and industry coverage dedicated to each, we would see Google, Twitter and Facebook tower over other applications, such as email.  And yet, according to research conducted by Smarter Tools, the total number of posts on Facebook and Twitter combined comprise no more than .2% of email traffic.  This trend has carried over into the mobile world as well, with approximately 82% of smartphone owners regularly checking and sending mobile email.

So how is it that email, which has developed into a staple of personal and business communication, falls short in attracting the attention and recognition these statistics would suggest it has earned?  Lacking a serious challenger to threaten this nearly 50-year old technology, email has not been as driven to evolve and innovate to maintain relevance in the digital age – particularly for users in business settings where smartphone adoption continues to ramp.  

This may soon change with the introduction of a revolutionary new mobile email technology by technology giant, IBM.  Recognizing the importance of adapting email to the evolving needs of an increasingly mobile user base, IBM has been working on developing an improved user experience targeted to satisfy the unique demands inherent to the use of mobile email applications.  IBM’s Mail Triage Project enables users to “triage” emails, or sort them by the degree of urgency and intended follow-up.

Incoming emails will initially fall into the “Untriaged” box, indicating that the user has not yet addressed these messages.  Whereas traditional email clients generally identify “unread” versus “read” messages, analysis of consumers’ mobile email behavior inspired IBM’s researchers to dichotomize users’ new and unread messages.  Although mobile email users check their inbox throughout the day, these individuals frequently assess these messages without opening them.  Thus IBM’s email client enhances the value of the “inbox” screen by identifying several characteristics of the email.  Seen below, a blue background indicates a new message, while a blue circle to the left identifies all unread messages.  Additionally, another circle serves to illustrate the number of recipients, with a green circle indicating the email was intended only for this user, a half circle showing it has few recipients, the clear circle revealing many recipients or that this users was Cc’d, and no circle identifying an email in which they were Bcc’d.  

The functionality of this mobile email client extends to the desktop computer, where users may address emails they had determined to “defer” until reaching a computer email client.  While IBM’s Triage product may not represent the future of mobile email, this evolution of email to suit a mobile environment is a significant milestone for the email application.  The eventual launch of IBM’s Triage will likely drive further innovation and adaptation of email applications and the emergence of competitor products to better serve our increasingly mobile lives.  

IBM revealed some of the capabilities of their Mail Triage client back in the summer of 2010, when the company opened its Mass Lab in Littleton Massachusetts. The company has done well at playing the part of  a vendor/device agnostic participant in the mobile ecosystem, and is now emphasizing its software prowess – this can be evidenced by the Mail Triage client as well as a bevy of tablet oriented apps that were revealed just this week.

Check back next week for an upcoming blog post discussing business-grade tablet applications …

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