Uh Oh: Google Is Buying Sparrow

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The inventors of Sparrow created a much-loved application for Macs and iPhones by stripping all the complexity and clutter out of Gmail. Google is apparently among Sparrow’s fans: It’s buying the company.

When these deals happen, they usually involve the acquired startup revealing the fabulous news and explaining that its cool product is being discontinued in favor of some unspecified grander project. Sadly, Sparrow’s announcement follows the template:

We’re excited to announce that Sparrow has been acquired by Google!

We care a lot about how people communicate, and we did our best to provide you with the most intuitive and pleasurable mailing experience.

Now we’re joining the Gmail team to accomplish a bigger vision — one that we think we can better achieve with Google.

We’d like to extend a special thanks to all of our users who have supported us, advised us, given us priceless feedback and allowed us to build a better mail application. While we’ll be working on new things at Google, we will continue to make Sparrow available and provide support for our users.

The news reminds me of another Gmail-related Google acquisition: In 2010, it bought the company behind reMail, the developer of an interesting iPhone app that let you store humongous amounts of mail on your phone. Google then immediately discontinued the program; while it released the code as an open source project, nothing much seems to have happened with it. And reMail founder Gabor Cselle, who said he was “thrilled” by the acquisition, didn’t hang around Google long before going off to work on another startup.

At least Sparrow apparently isn’t being yanked from the App Store, although it sounds like it won’t be getting further updates and my dream of an iPad version will remain a dream.

There’s a possible happy ending here: Maybe the Sparrow folk, who knew more about streamlining e-mail than Google did, will be put in charge of the Gmail interface, resulting in future versions of Gmail that feel more like Sparrow. (The current iOS version of Gmail for iPhone and iPad is blah at best.)

My fingers are crossed–but I’d feel better if we knew more about this “bigger vision.” It’s going to have to be pretty big to be more important than Sparrow has been.