Productivity apps exist to economize time and boost efficiency. Ideally, they enable us to get stuff done fast so we can have more time to get other, presumably more important stuff done later. TL;DR Email (short for “Too Long; Didn’t Read”) is a new iPhone app that takes that idea seriously, imbuing your inbox with at-a-glance functionality. It works like a filter that only gives you an email’s most pertinent information, so you can decide where it ranks in your busy schedule.
It’s a great idea and one that’s been explored before on other minimalist communication platforms like Yo. TL;DR Email is a work in progress that does the best it can, encouraging users to fire off quick messages and effectively turn their inboxes into email-based newsfeeds. It works with Gmail for now, with support for additional clients coming in the future.
The hook here is that every “TL;DR” message that accompanies an email is limited to 30 words. Since most emails exceed this, the app adds a notification below the summary that gives you an idea of the size of the message behind the curtain, should you choose to take a deeper look. This is conveyed in time (e.g., “3 min read”). Shorter messages that don’t extend far beyond the initial 30-word preview limit display no estimates for the length of time it’ll take you to read them.
A single tap of your screen launches the full email message. You also have the option of a couple of pre-programmed swipe functions that’ll either archive a message or save it for later, a la Mailbox, Google Inbox, or the new Outlook app. A right-swipe sends the message to the Archive folder; a left-swipe to Later. Unfortunately, there’s currently no option to customize swipes.
Furthering the social media feed feel, when replying to an email you have the option of either composing a response or firing back with a Facebook-style “Like.” When you opt to “Like” an email, it sends a message back to your recipient with a big blue thumbs-up icon in the message field.
The hope is to make reading and writing your emails less of a slog by encouraging you to treat them like iMessages. When you compose a TL;DR message, a word counter at the top right corner of your screen keeps track and counts down how many words you have left to reach the 30-word limit. If you can’t say all that needs to be said in 30 words or less, you still have the option to “add long text” and compose a normal message – even if that more or less turns TL;DR into any other email app.
Alongside its emphasis on brevity, TL;DR also makes your inbox more colorful than a traditional client. Outgoing emails can be customized to include a small number of background color palettes with automatically adjusted text color, and you can also add image attachments. A handy microphone icon also gives you the bonus option of recording an audio message to be sent to your email recipient.
As an iPhone email reader, TL;DR works well and has the potential to become an effective noise filter. It’s not without shortcomings, though, the biggest being the fact that you can only use it with one Gmail account at a time. You can still access your other Gmail accounts; you just have to sign out and log in with your credentials for each individual one. It also offers no option to save your login information, so you have to go through the painful steps of keying in your Gmail ID and password each and every time.
TL;DR Email’s ideas are great in theory, but the app works best as a counterpart to more productivity-oriented email apps you probably already have installed on your iPhone. The app requires iOS 8.0 or later and is available now as a free download from iTunes.