The future of email is ...AI?

With all the AI-powered apps popping up and all the tech folks and investors hyping them up, we forget that in most use cases a more pragmatic approach, prioritizing user privacy, autonomy, and usability is the right way to go.

For the longest time, I struggled to find the one email client for me. There was nothing wrong with native email apps like Apple Mail in first place. But a shiny new app which lets you read and answer your emails is always exciting, right? Well, not anymore. Over the past few years, I used a variety of email clients, I even paid $30 per month for an alternative Gmail-overlay called Superhuman, simply because it was shiny. No matter what email client I tried, I always came back to Spark by Readdle. Spark always was this calm email client, featuring a beautiful and simple user interface, and those additional, smart features that made it a tiny bit better than any native solutions I have tried out. But as of recently, it turned into an overwhelming piece of software, packed with AI features. Sigh.

In an era dominated by technological advancements, the integration of artificial intelligence has become increasingly prevalent across various domains. However, the incorporation of AI within email clients has sparked debates regarding its efficacy and necessity. While proponents argue for the optimization of email management through AI-driven features, a critical examination reveals potential drawbacks and emphasizes the superiority of simpler email solutions. What is even more important is the fact that there are still a variety of privacy concerns when it comes to the implementation of AI-driven features. AI algorithms need a ton of data to work properly, which makes people worried about keeping their personal stuff private. Since emails often involve personal stuff, having AI scanning and snooping through them could be a big problem for privacy. Plus, there is the risk of data breaches or misuse, which makes the privacy issue even more serious. That alone, leads me to stick with simpler email solutions that do not rely on AI poking around where it does not belong.

Spark’s AI features introduced an email writing assistant that helps you craft emails faster and gather insights from emails and threads in a summary. Both not really feel like the groundbreaking features that will revolutionize how we interact with our emails. This gives me the same impression I got when loads of other productivity tools introduced their new AI-driven features, the sole purpose of having them is to jump onto the AI-train to create buzz and noise, without thinking about how a specific technology could really shape the way we are working. The future is not that an AI writing assistant will craft my emails. In fact, what is the point of that, if my recipient uses the same AI features to get a summary of an AI-written email? What used to be the most personal communication medium starts vanishing because “innovative” startups and their products are telling us that as busy as we all are, we should no longer write emails ourselves, but rather get an AI-powered writing assistant who crafts the better emails.

It is rare to find an app that tries to think one step ahead of the idea to simply create yet another ChatGPT-like interface within a productivity app. Nevertheless, Ultra managed to come up with a use case for AI that kind of makes sense. Ultra is an email client that relies on AI to 100%, it probably is the AI email client. While it features the just mentioned ChatGPT-like assistant, it also has a feature called AI-powered actions. That feature gives you the possibility to extract todos from your emails. Ultra will help you telling you what needs your attention. This could still go terribly wrong, because I am the only person who knows what needs my attention, but nevertheless, it prevents going through multiple emails and figuring out what you need to take action on. As email is still a common communication medium especially in a business sense, this is actually something that sounds useful. But do I want that AI crawls through my inbox? Nope.

Emails are not always as straightforward as those AI-driven email clients think they are. There is a lot of subtle stuff going on with language, tone, and context that AI might not quite grasp. Even though AI has come a long way in understanding language, it still messes up sometimes, leading to emails being classified wrong, responses that do not quite hit the mark, or recommendations that just do not make sense. These mistakes can really mess with communication, causing misunderstandings or awkward responses. At the same time, tools like Ultra could potentially resurface things that are not important to you at all, and that is the point. AI-driven apps create this illusion that you can rely on them to 100% although with the current technologies you still need (and should) double-check whatever they create.

When AI gets mixed into email clients, it can make people rely too much on it. They start getting used to letting AI do all the work for sorting, prioritizing, and even writing emails. But that means they are not using their own brains as much to think things through. So, when they run into situations where AI can not handle it, they might make mistakes or bad decisions. Going for simpler email options pushes people to take charge of their inbox themselves, which helps them stay in control and accountable for their email game.

With all the AI-powered apps popping up and all the tech folks and investors hyping them up, we forget that in most use cases a more pragmatic approach, prioritizing user privacy, autonomy, and usability is the right way to go.

As the ones responsible for how we communicate online, it is super important to tell apart the tech stuff that makes things easier from the ones that mess with our privacy, freedom, and how we enjoy our online experience. Choosing simplicity over all the fancy AI stuff helps us make the most of our emails while making sure our privacy stays safe and we stay in control of our digital world.

Till next time! 👋‌‌‌‌

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