Sparrow Hits The Mark (Plus A Giveaway!)

By Trevor Gilbert , written on February 17, 2012

From The News Desk

One of the common complaints you hear from iOS users is the lack of an adequate Gmail solution. Sure, the native Mail app provides very basic integration with Gmail, like archiving and starring, but what if you want to get beyond that and work with your Priority Inbox? You're out of luck. The only options left are the Gmail iPhone app (um, no), web Gmail (um, no) and Android (um, maybe?).

Thankfully, there is an application on the horizon, and it perfectly solves the problem. The app is Sparrow for iPhone, and it is coming out in the middle of March. The best part? Three of our readers will be given early access to it.

Before we get into the details of our little giveaway, let's look at Sparrow and the company behind it. The application has been immensely popular on the Mac, with close to 500 downloads per day, according to co-founder Dominique Leca. Leca noted that for the traditional model of applications when there is a free version available, the split is normally 90% free downloads, 10% paid downloads. However, Leca said that on the Mac App Store, the split is more along the lines of 50-50. Numerically? About 220 paid downloads a day, and 200 free downloads.

Why is the app doing so well, with free alternatives built-in natively, and available on the web? Well, ever since the introduction of Mac OS X Lion, people have been complaining about the state of the built-in Mail client. While it does get the job done on a basic level, it lacks advanced Gmail integration and isn't very fast. Sparrow, on the other hand, is designed from the ground up to be integrated with Gmail by the team of four engineers and designers. Throw on top of this an application that pays an incredible attention to detail, and a unique interface, and you've got a winner.

With this momentum and success, Sparrow started to look towards mobile (like any self-respecting company would do). According to Leca, the platform is underserved by Apple and Google, with no significant third parties. So, Sparrow did what anyone would do. They decided to take advantage of it.

The first step was to mobilize the application. That means taking the email engine being used on the Mac, and adapt it to be faster, lighter and simpler for mobile. Sparrow is happy to report that the application is now much faster (which I can verify with anecdotal testing). Mobilizing it also meant figuring out how a mail application should work with a touchscreen. This is something that you will have to use to believe. The best part about this? The faster mail engine will be ported back to the Mac, and the interface will be ported to other mobile platforms.

Ah, you saw that "other mobile platforms" there? Well, Leca also divulged to me that although their focus is on iOS right now, they did build the app with an eye towards the future. By that, he meant that the mail engine can be recycled for other platforms (Android) and devices (iPad).

The application itself is still being finished, and they are working towards approval with Apple, which they fully expect to receive. The fact that it is still being finished means that I'm not allowed to show you anything, or talk about the interface in detail. Which is a shame, because the application is fantastic.

Not only did they manage to reach feature parity with the desktop application (everything you would expect, multiple inboxes, fully native, Gmail integration, etc.), but they also layered on a very innovative and intuitive UI for touchscreens. It is the type of interface where you do something and realize, "hey, that's pretty cool!" every ten seconds for the first few times.

While I can't show the application itself, I can do one better. Which brings me to our little giveaway.

For three of our lucky readers, Sparrow has agreed to give away access to the beta. To win, leave a comment below explaining why you need Sparrow for iOS. At the end of the day (or tomorrow morning), we'll go through and pick the three winners. You will need a free TestFlight account to test the application, and of course, everything you see will be entirely confidential, so no screenshots to the public!