Meet Alto, The Gmail Replacement You Won't Believe Was Made By AOL

Alto by AOL

AOL’s problem is it largely depends on two declining sources of traffic, people who use AOL to get online and Web-based email users.

The numbers seem to show declines in Web-based email aren’t worth fighting.  Teens don’t like to use email and older adults check their email in apps on their phones.

Across the entire Internet, Web-based email was up a mere 1% in September 2012 over September 2011. AOL Mail is down 8%. Yahoo Mail is down 16%. Hotmail is down 18%.

But there is one piece of evidence that shows good Web-based email design can still attract new users, if only from other services. 

That evidence: Google’s widely-lauded Web-based email product, Gmail, is up 14% year-over-year.

And so, in an effort to recapture some of that audience, AOL has released a new Web-based email app.

It’s called Alto. 

It’s not a Web-based email provider. There are no email addresses yet.

Alto is an inbox-replacement for your current email address. You can read your Gmail and Yahoo Mail there. You can also import Facebook and Twitter content.

If Alto works, it could solve one of AOL’s biggest problems: attracting new users on the Web.

So, does it work? We spent an afternoon with it and would love to show you around the product.

Alto works with AOL mail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, and iCloud. The first step is picking which one you use.

After a tiny amount of set-up (connecting Facebook and Google), it's time to check out the Alto inbox…

…here it is!

This is what an email looks like. It's a lot like the iPad mail app.

When you click in the first time, Alto brags about some of its features.

Next Alto asks you if want emails in this stack to skip the inbox. Great feature.

It looks like a normal open email page.

Again, you can have these emails skip your inbox.

Here's what it looks like inside the stack. The stats and graphics are cool.

The stack did not go through my archive, so it only found this one photo.

…download it…

…or view the message.

This is what it looks like when you view the message.

…an email opens up.

…where it will appear in your Timeline moments later.

Ah hah! That brings up some new icons on the bottom. Cool

This is what it looks like when you search for an email.

Here's the compose email button. And this is what happens when you click it…

You get a pop-up window to write a new email. It's oddly small.

If you write an email that doesn't fit in the box, it expands…

…until it doesn't expand anymore, and you get a scroll bar.

Attaching files is very normal.

Back in the main inbox, you can create a stack of your own. Let's click on the plus button.

You can filter a stack by senders, recipients, and subject.

Then you name it and save it.

Back in the main inbox. This is smart. Just like Gmail, Alto is connected to my Google Docs…

…and my Google Calendar. That'll make it a more likely Gmail replacement.

When you click on the Folders icon, you get your Gmail folders

Whoa! You get something like a Facebook News Feed. Very nifty. I blacked out some names, sorry.

Unfortunately, Alto doesn't work on the iPhone yet.

That's about it! What do you think of Alto? My thoughts below…

I'm in on Alto.

I've already removed the link to Gmail from my bookmarks bar in my browser, and have replaced it with Alto.

What I like most about it is how I can filter certain kinds of email out of my inbox, but still keep tabs of them in a fairly painless way. Also, the fonts are big and handsome and the UI just feels fun. I'm up for something new.

I won't be using Alto for my work email. I have a system for work email, and there's too much riding on seeing and acting on important emails for it to be worth risking screwing that up.

Taking a step back, Alto is the first wonderful new thing out of AOL in years, and it's very nice to see.

Webmail usage is declining for everyone, but maybe Alto can stem the tide for AOL for a bit.

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