Once upon a time, email was one of the fastest ways to communicate with other people. Today, in the era of zippy alternatives such as instant messaging, text messages and video calls — and inboxes bulging with less-than-vital mail — it’s become one of the slowest.
Back in October, a free iPhone app called Hop debuted. It aimed to modernize email by making it feel like real-time messaging, folding in voice and video calls and generally emphasizing quick-hit efficiency. And now it’s getting an update with several new features, the most notable of which is support for the iPad.
As in its original iPhone incarnation, Hop starts with a primary screen that shows only messages from people you’ve sent email to in the past, since that suggests you have a higher-than-normal interest in what they have to say Everything else, including bulk mail, gets dumped in a separate section you can peruse at your leisure.
There’s a list of messages on the left that looks like a conventional inbox, but it’s more like Facebook‘s messaging feature: It’s organized in reverse-chronological order but also strings together every exchange you’ve had with a particular correspondent into one never-ending conversation. And then, in one of the best approaches I’ve seen to threading, it shows each of these discussions as a series of word balloons, with a field for your next message at the bottom — again, like an IM client or text-messaging app. You can correspond in real time much more easily than in conventional email programs.
All of this works with all the email you get and receive. But if you’re talking to someone who also uses Hop, it’s even more IM-esque: You can see when the person on the other end is in the process of typing, and messages fly back and forth even faster. And you can also chat via built-in options for voice and video calls.
For the first time in this new version, Hop also supports multiple e-mail accounts — it works with Gmail, Yahoo, AOL and iCloud — and lets you look at them either as one unified list or separately. The company is also releasing an alpha version of an Android edition, and working on a web-based one for use on PCs.
Hop does have a few quirks. Some of the touch gestures, such as the one that lets you pull down the list of conversations to get to the search feature, need to be executed with a higher-than-normal level of precision to work properly. The first time you use certain features, you get a snippet of spoken commentary in a robotic female voice — inspired, founder Erez Pilosof told me, by the current movie Her — which I found annoying and charmless, and which can’t be turned off. And the video calling feature was broken in the pre-release app I tried, though Pilosof says it’s about to be fixed.
There’s also stuff that Hop just doesn’t do, such as let you organize messages with labels or folders. Useful though that might be, it would make the app more like conventional email, which might violate the whole concept.
Overall, though, this app is well done. If you’re sick of email the way it’s always been done, or just open to a new approach, it’s worth a look.