Three years ago, AOL released a Pinterest-like platform for desktop email called Alto, which Co.Design hailed as "email's next UI paradigm." Alto has kept a low profile since then, as its developers refined the desktop product with a small group of early users.
On Thursday, AOL officially launches Alto for iOS and Android after nearly a year of beta testing. The app's design is based on the idea that email has shifted from a communication tool to more of a transactional system—today's inboxes are filled with receipts, order confirmations, and reservations, rather than personal messages. To combat this flood of data, Alto automatically sorts email into stacks, such as "travel," "photos," "files," "shopping," and "personal."
But Alto's most interesting feature is the Dashboard, which creates easy-to-view cards for things like upcoming events, shipments, flights, and hotel bookings. The cards pull only the relevant items from emails (such as a reservation confirmation number) and rise to the top as they are needed—a boarding pass will appear prominently on the morning of your flight, and will be automatically replaced by a car or hotel reservation once you land at your destination.
The Alto Dashboard seems most useful for business travelers, who need to juggle multiple reservations, meetings, and events. The cards make it easy to get directions or summon a Lyft or Uber ride without leaving the app.