Sparrow Takes Flight at Google

Doesn't "Spoogle" have such a nice ring to it? Although not of a magnitude that warrants busting out the portmanteaus quite yet -- though it does flow much more nicely than Googorola -- Google (NAS: GOOG) has acquired popular email app maker Sparrow. The purchase price wasn't disclosed explicitly, but reports estimate it at under $25 million for the five-person company that will now be moving from its Paris headquarters to Big G's Silicon Valley mothership in Mountain View, Calif.

I've been a longtime user of Sparrow's desktop and mobile email apps, and the bad news for existing users like me is that these apps will no longer get major feature updates any more. The company is committed to supporting the existing products with things like bug fixes and such, but it won't be adding new bells and whistles.

Sparrow was recognized and popularized for its advances in intuitive user interface design, CEO Dom Leca's specialty, and quickly garnered more than 100,000 daily users. With Sparrow, Google continues its string of mobile-related acquisitions in recent times, including Clever Sense for virtual assistant AI and QuickOffice for mobile productivity, among others.

Here's the email I received from Leca as a Sparrow user, viewed right in the desktop client itself.


Source: Author's inbox.

Source: Author's inbox.

Here's one of the more interesting tidbits about this purchase: Sparrow was exclusively developing its email clients for Apple (NAS: AAPL) platforms. It has a version for the Mac and one for the iPhone, and it had even teased an upcoming iPad version, with no talk of any Android offerings. Don't expect this iPad app to ever see the light of day under the Sparrow flag now, though.

Catering to the Apple/Gmail crowd
However, Sparrow was built initially as a Gmail client, and indeed its first version supported only Google's service, but Leca had previously said the team was simply using Gmail "as a pipe" since it was easy to implement. Sparrow subsequently opened the doors to Apple's iCloud and other email services, but its initial target audience was the cross-section of Apple and Gmail users.

Needless to say, Google will integrate the Sparrow team into its popular Gmail service. The Verge's sources imply that the search giant may be interested in building a native desktop Gmail client beyond its current Web interface, one that will run on multiple platforms. That would complement Google's immensely popular Chrome browser, which has quickly become the world's most popular browser, surpassing Microsoft's (NAS: MSFT) Internet Explorer a few months ago.

Industrial design is not enough
Interface design is one important area where Google has Apple beat. While the iPhone just turned five, its overall interface is relatively unchanged and not aging well, especially when compared with the advances in usability that Android has achieved. Google simply takes it more seriously than Apple, and it shows.

Apple eventually had to give in and effectively replicate Android's approach to notifications in iOS, finally addressing one of the biggest flaws of the operating system after years of criticism while Android nailed it from the get-go.

Palm's webOS was also renowned for its clever interface and usability, which was due largely in part to its head of human interface and user experience Matias Duarte. Almost exactly a month after Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) acquired the company on its deathbed for a stupid $1.2 billion, Duarte was poached by Google to become Android's head of user experience. That's why you've seen some characteristics of webOS make their way into Android over the past few years, such as its design metaphor using cards that can be swiped away to be discarded.

Apple takes industrial design pretty seriously. It needs to kick up its game in interface design now.

The broader consumer market doesn't seem to mind the interface of iOS, since people keep snapping up iPhones like there's no tomorrow. Well, there's certainly a lot for Apple to look forward to in the future as its growth continues to gain momentum. Sign up for this brand-new premium Apple research service to get all the details you need on the iPhone maker. Speaking of industrial design, manufacturing is about to undergo a new industrial revolution thanks to this breakthrough disruptive technology. View this free video report to learn how to get in on the ground floor.

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