Why can't it all just be messages?

My mobile device is driving me crazy.

I have an iPhone 4.0. Normally when it's driving me crazy, it's standard stuff like the battery life sucks or that the iOS 4.0.1 update didn't fix the proximity detection or stop emails I send via Exchange from just disappearing into the ether.

This time, it's something else and I can't blame the iPhone; I think all modern smart phones have the same problem. The problem is that I constantly have to switch between apps to see my messages. Here are screenshots for 5 of the messaging clients I use reguarly:

Voicemail Exchange Email SMS/MMS Facebook Twitter

This list doesn't include real-time messages like IM, or notifications like Twitter or RSS. I'm just talking about plain ol' async messaging. We used to think of it as "email," but really voicemail, email, SMS, MMS, Facebook messages and Twitter Direct Messages are all the same -- they are meant to queue up until you get to them.

Now, some folks would argue that SMS/MMS aren't meant to be queued; they're meant to be seen and handled immediately. Personally, I find it annoying that there is a pop-up for every single text or media messages I get on my phone and there seems to be no way to turn that off. On the other hand, if I want that to happen for other types of messages, e.g. voicemail, I can find no way to turn it on even if I want to. Why are text messages special, especially since most mobile clients let you get over the 160 character limit and will just send them one after the other for you anyway?

iOS 4 takes a step in the right direction with the "universal" inbox:

iOS4 "universal" inbox

Here I've got a great UI for getting to all my email messages at once, but why can't it handle all my messages instead?

super-universal inbox

Not only would this put all my messages in one place at one time, but it would unify up the UI and preferences across the various messaging sources. Do you want your text messages to quietly queue up like email? Done. Do you want your voicemail to pop to the front like an SMS? Done. Do you want the same swipe-to-delete gestures on your voicemail as you have with your email? Done!

Maybe someone with some experience on the new Windows Phone 7 can tell me that there is a "messaging" hub that manages all this for me. Since they're already doing things like bringing facebook pictures into the "pictures" hub (or whatever they call it), that doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility. If that's the case, I'll say again what I've been saying for a while -- I can't wait for my Windows Phone 7!

Comment Feed 17 comments on this post


Chris, I'm more worried about your unreconciled expense record transactions with your employer. :) I have a Samsung Jack with good old Windows Mobile 6.5 and I get a nice summary screen of 4 icons each with a msg count for missed calls, voice messages, text messages and emails. It's not the holy grail you've designed here, but it's handy. Looking forward to a Windows Phone 7 too.

Sunday, Aug 8, 2010, 10:16 AM

Shawn Wildermuth:

I have a WP7 device and lots of info is on the message screen, but I can't Text with it yet so I don't know about texts but it looks like e-mails should show up but they're not in my build. Its shows you linked...try sending me an email to shawn@wildermuth.com and i'll see if it shows up in your 'person' info.

Sunday, Aug 8, 2010, 2:30 PM

Pete Clark:

Wow. Say hi to your mom and Jon for me.

Sunday, Aug 8, 2010, 3:34 PM

Chris Sells:

Thanks, Pete. Now I have another source of messages. Bastard!

Sunday, Aug 8, 2010, 3:42 PM

Chris Sells:

I appreciate your concern, Tyler, but I've had this trouble before and come out OK. : )

Also, I did so love my T-Mobile Dash. It was Windows Mobile 6.0 and it ran and ran forever. I miss having a phone that could last 12 whole hours...

Sunday, Aug 8, 2010, 11:03 PM

David Cornelson:

I have an iPhone 3G and with ios4 it's a dog. Maps barely functions, the UI freezes for long periods often, and sometimes I can't open anything and have to reboot. Prior to ios4, these things rarely happened.

My iPhone contract is up October 1st. The second the WP7 phones are available, I'm done with the iPhone. I'll live through the first-generation headaches because I believe the entire development story for WP7 is going to be a million times better than ios4 development. Really. Who wants to code Objective C when you can code in C# and XAML? It's not even close.

Monday, Aug 9, 2010, 2:12 PM

Chris Sells:

I agree with you David, that iOS4 on the iPhone 3G (not 3G3) was completely unusable. It works like a champ on the iPhone 4 however.

Monday, Aug 9, 2010, 2:24 PM

Waseem sadiq:

Hi chris, check out inbox2.com, its the ultimate inbox (still in beta tho) built on wpf, We are in the process of building mobile versions of the product. We did check out wp7 but are looking for a little bit more maturity before investing in the platform (for example the lack of an embedded database kind of sucks). Silverlight is very nice tho!

Take care,


Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010, 12:25 PM

Chris Sells:

That sounds interesting. When it runs on iphone or wp7, let me know. I'm anxious to try it.

Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010, 12:46 PM

Joao Freire:

Hate to say this, but...
Have you try the blackberry. They have this... many OS's ago.

Joao Freire

Thursday, Aug 12, 2010, 2:57 PM

Chris Sells:

I have tried the Blackberry -- I couldn't stand to use it. In fact, I loved my T-Mobile Dash so much that I tried half a dozen other phones, including a Blackberry, but the only one that I could stand to use with the iPhone.

Thursday, Aug 12, 2010, 4:52 PM

Ian Ringrose:

Please let as know how you get on with your Windows Phone 7 that Microsoft is giving all employees

Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010, 5:56 AM

Lars Wilhelmsen:

Chris - you're outing me as a Twitter DM spammer :-P


Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010, 2:32 AM

Chris Sells:

I think it's really just a cry for help, Lars. : )

Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010, 7:45 AM


Well as odd as this may sound at least you have a smart phone. You can always be that guy using a go phone instead!. OR hell my just gave me a BEEPER!.. year a beeper welcome to 1998!.. love your iphone and it will love you back.

<A href="http://fatbikez.com"> Doug </a>

Sunday, Sep 5, 2010, 3:28 PM

Steve Campbell:

"I think all modern smart phones have the same problem"

Not true. Android has a superior notification experience. It doesn't have any popups, and notifications are *all* (SMS, email, + other apps that support notifications) presented together in a single list.

It can also combine inboxes, at least for email, although I don't use that feature, so I don't know how good it is.

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010, 10:15 AM

Katharina Erickson:

Hey Your post is really very nice.

Friday, Apr 8, 2011, 5:32 AM

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