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TIMO ZIMMERMANN

balancing software engineering & infosec

Thoughts on HEY

posted on Wednesday 17th of June 2020 in , ,

The folks behind Basecamp were working on an email service for the last two years which launched on Monday. Hey.com is slowly starting to send out beta invites, got some drama with Apple and people already praise it after a few days (maybe hours) of use.

First of all – congratulations to anyone who was involved in shipping! Judging from some Twitter threads I have seen you build something amazing, ignoring the trends of the last few years, and instead actually opted to build a carefully thought out product with a focus on efficiency and user experience. I really appreciate it!

The high level summary of the Apple drama is Apple not approving any updates to the application as long as users cannot subscribe to the service via the app. This seems to be in line with their AppStore policy, but other apps which are considered a “viewer” can get away with this model. As always this is a rule not consistently enforced. And people rightfully point out that Gmail and others get away with the exact same thing.

This is one of the few times where I agree with the Internet mob screaming anti-trust and that Apple should course correct as fast as possible. Usually I like most of the things Apple does. I would love to like the AppStore too. But this means that I expect Apple to do better than this. What I do not agree with is the rhetoric the critics use which makes it sound like Apple is a mafia dictator eating children on live television. But that is the Internet for you.

I do not buy into the business vs customer argument. Especially because this would mean HEY will never be what I actually want it to be. One of my big hopes is having people move away from Gmail. To accomplish this the alternative needs to be on point from a usability and user experience perspective, provide unique features and work flawlessly for every day communication. HEY seems to check all those boxes. It is a well thought out product built by people actually using it.

While this might sound like a perfect pitch, there is the price. $99 might not sound like a lot to people living and working in a first world country for something as essential as email, but it means spending money on something you can get for „free“ somewhere else. And if you‘re less economically favoured this is some serious money. If you are using email professionally it will be a business expense in which case $99 are (hopefully) not even worth discussing.

But for regular consumers using email privately this is a big step. I believe HEY offers enough value to justify the price, but I am certain there are more than enough people to disagree. Being a product is cheaper for consumers, and the cheaper option has proven to be reliable.

The tech-savvy reader might now question why you need an app for your email service. And I am with you on this one. The absence of IMAP and SMTP is one of the reasons why I am personally not interested in HEY. (Well, and my hosting provider is awesome, so there is that.) In their FAQ they give you the reason for their decision:

Can I check my HEY email with my existing email app? In order to use HEY, you’ll need to use one of our custom Web, Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android apps (you can grab them right here). HEY treats email in all sorts of special ways, so off-the-shelf 3rd party email apps won’t work with HEY.

This is where I am willing to put my product hat on. The main issue with email is this: Many people consider it to be broken. They want features which would be hard to build with IMAP, POP and SMTP. They want a curated and customised experience. They do not want spam. They want many things. And building a traditional email client will not solve any of those problems. I can get behind this decision, especially if it drives adoption.

I will follow HEYs journey for three very different reasons:

  1. They seem to have a chance to get people off of Gmail. The fewer people using it, the better.
  2. The whole Apple AppStore thing will likely blow up and might change the playing field – especially considering the EU is getting involved.
  3. It will be interesting to see if they can monetise a service which many consider a business expense with regular consumers.

I wish HEY and their team all the best with their business and dealing with Apple. It is one of the services I hope will disrupt the email landscape and from what I have seen and heard so far it seems to be capable of doing so. And the company and people behind it have shown that they are able to run a company and work in their customers best interest while making sure the lights stay on. The way you should run a company.