AOL reimagines email with Alto web client for Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud

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Managing your email can be a chore with the never-ending stream of messages from social networks, newsletters, daily deals, retailers and other services we’ve signed up to over the years clogging up our inbox. AOL believes it can make things more manageable, but rather than expecting users to sign up for yet another email address, they’ve come up with a web-based IMAP client to handle your existing accounts.

Alto is essentially the online equivalent of desktop clients like Sparrow, Postbox or Outlook. It allows you to manage up to five email accounts from a single interface and supports a handful of services where IMAP is available -- currently that includes Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud and AOL.

After configuring your email addresses into the service Alto will automatically organize everything into different stacks for photos, attachments, social notifications, retailers and daily deals. This allows users to more easily go through emails they actually want to read and deal with other solicited yet less important stuff later.

Stacks basically function as a way to pre-sort your email through an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. You can create new stacks by dragging emails into the main dashboard, and customize the rules around each one based on specific senders, recipients, or keywords so future messages are always routed through them.

After clicking on a stack messages are displayed in one of three views: a traditional message list view, a visual grid that highlights images and attachments in messages, or a page view that lets you flip through email full-screen, page-by-page. Within each stack users can also see some analytics about their messages.

Besides stacks there are a few other notable features, like the ability to run an universal search through all of your email accounts, or a snooze button that will bring any messages that you need to respond but can’t at a particular time, back to the top of your inbox after 30 minutes, an hour, or longer.

There’s also a people tab that shows recent contacts and emails exchanged between you and them. Some level of integration with social networks is a given these days and Alto is no different, you can link your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts and pull additional data like job title, recent updates and more.

Another thing worth noting is that the web-based email client is free and ad-free, at least for now. The company is exploring several opportunities to monetize the product but hasn’t settled on anything yet.

Alto is built in HTML5 and is optimized for desktop use but will also work on tablets. AOL says it plans to develop native applications for iOS and other platforms in the future. In the meantime, the web-app is available in a closed beta (you can request an invite here), with a public launch slated for early next year.

Images via The Verge

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