As Google sharpens the focus on its new Inbox email app, the company has quietly made another move on the email front: it appears to have pulled the Sparrow iOS and Mac apps from their respective Apple App Stores. Google, as you may remember, acquired the French startup Sparrow, including its staff, its email management apps and its technology, back in 2012.
Google’s last cache of an active page for the $2.99 iOS app was made on February 12, while the $9.99 Mac app was last seen on February 13, and the free Mac app Sparrow Lite was also last seen February 12. Right now, if you really want it, you can still download Sparrow for Mac directly from Sparrow’s own web site.
Inbox — the “smart” email app that helps you manage your inbox — got a mainly positive review from us when it launched in October 2014. It has been in a closed, invite-only service since then, with occasional, strategic openings of the floodgates to let in more users quickly. In January, Google released some early stats about usage that noted 70% of early adopters were Android users, and how many people were using its other features like “Snooze” to read later, Highlights and Bundles.
Sparrow flying away for good shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but it has been a long time coming. At the time of Google’s acquisition in 2012, reportedly for under $25 million, Sparrow/Google more or less stopped big developments but kept the apps operational and pledged support for existing users.
“While we’ll be working on new things at Google, we will continue to make Sparrow available and provide support for our users,” co-founder and CEO Dom Leca wrote on the site’s homepage at the time of the acquisition. The sale to Google saw a lot of backlash and lament about the eventual fate of the apps.
At the time of the sale, Sparrow was one of the most popular iPhone utility apps. When it first launched on iOS, people praised it for offering a simple, easy-to-use, gesture-based email management service, managing to create what Apple itself, and Google, had completely failed to do for email on the iPhone. It managed to hold on to is high ranking for months after the sale to Google without any apparent effort, before eventually tumbling into neglected obscurity, ending as the 842nd most downloaded app, according to AppAnnie.
(The last update to the iOS app was made in October 2013, to add iOS 7 compatibility; it never added iOS 8 support. Sparrow/Google also played around a bit with the price, changing it from $2.99 to $4.99 at one point. The Mac apps never got updated.)
Meanwhile, former Sparrow team members joined Google. Some, such as product designer Jean-Marc Denis, went specifically to work on Inbox. And many other competing email apps have been launched and updated in the meantime. Currently, Gmail and Yahoo Mail are in Apple’s overall ranking of most-popular free apps.
Now it appears that with Google’s bigger push to make Inbox is clear Gmail alternative, Google has done some of its infamous and regular spring cleaning. (Could it be that Google’s on a mini-spree: just last week, Google shut down Helpouts, a Hangouts-based service where you could pay to get people to help you with tasks over its video conferencing service.)
We have reached out to Google, and the Sparrow support email, to ask for further details and will update this post as we learn more.