App a Week #3 – Don’t email in anger…

Good, simple advice. If you go ahead hit send on that email, there’s a very good chance you’ll regret it. You could lose a night’s sleep, a friend, a job. Please don’t send it. Please.

On the other hand, writing in anger can be a positive cathartic experience – ask any 15 year old with a journal. There is something about the process of writing what you really think that allows you to get those thoughts out and on to a page, out of your head so that you can take stock and approach the problem in a more considered way.

So here’s an idea – how about an email client specifically designed for writing emails that you know you shouldn’t send?

I mentioned the other week a thought I had about developing apps that have structural qualities that are designed to modify a user’s behaviour in a specific way. The idea behind this app is that the mere act of using it should help the user consider their email content just a little bit more than usual.

So that’s what I’ve been working on this week – an email app that gives you a chance to change your mind.

An aside: read the instructions first.

When I was quite young, maybe eight years old, I remember buying a new plastic model WWII tank. I was never a particularly diligent or careful model maker and this was the largest and most complex model I’d ever bought. In my hurry and excitement I skipped over the instructions and started cutting an gluing, and (much to my parent’s amusement I seem to recall) within a short amount of time I’d somehow managed to glue the hubcaps on before the wheels. Anyway, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now…

It turns out Apple’s MessageUI framework explicitly doesn’t allow any interference with the email process – you can present a mail composition view (designed by Apple), but you can’t modify the view in any way apart from pre-populating editable fields – no custom controls or colours. You may set a delegate to receive a message after the mail has been sent or cancelled, but not before.

I have now gone so far as to build a prototype of the whole app using a dummy messaging view – I’d just assumed that I’d add in the messageUI after I’d done the complicated part (I’m also using this app as an exercise in animating with the CoreAnimation framework so I’ve had a lot of learning to do). Unfortunately, the entire flow of my app as it stands depends on me being able to intercept the email before it is sent. Which I would have known was impossible if I’d just taken the time to look it up.

So I’m rethinking (late in the game again) – how can I keep the general idea intact and still make it a useful app? Updates to follow…

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