A screenshot from the Spike app on the Oculus Quest.
Wading through emails can be a harrowing experience, but the virtual reality messaging app Spike shows that sometimes the medium can be the message.
Spike is the first email client for the Oculus Quest 2 headset, and after using it for a few days, I can say that it makes even work emails fun. It’s a full-featured collaboration tool that includes things like video meetings, voice messaging, and notes.
There’s nothing like answering emails while sitting in a virtual Japanese inn with crickets chirping in the background. The experience of being able to focus while in a virtual world checking messages made me realize how much more productive I could be.
At first glance, virtual reality doesn’t seem like the best place to work with an email program. First of all, it’s not as easy as pulling out your smartphone and tapping away. Powering up a VR headset, putting it on, and launching apps takes minutes, not seconds like on an iPhone.
We’ve gotten so used to having messaging instantly available that it took me a few days of using Spike (free for personal use) to realize its advantages. Most email programs, whether on a Mac, PC, or phone, compete for your attention with dozens of other apps.
But once I slipped on my headset and launched Spike, I understood there could be a better way to focus. The Oculus isn’t made for multi-tasking, and when you are trying to crank through email responses, that can be an advantage. I was much more productive spending half an hour alone with my inbox rather than checking it constantly throughout the day.
Of course, it’s a lot more cumbersome to compose emails while in virtual reality. I tried using the virtual keyboard and Logitech’s K830, which is a real keyboard made for typing with the Oculus Quest. Do yourself a favor if you are serious about typing in VR and get the K830. Trying to compose long emails while tapping on the virtual keyboard is painful.
It helps that Spike’s design and features seem remarkably mature even though it just recently was released for the Oculus Quest 2. The developer also makes desktop and iOS versions of Spike.
Setting up your email involves just a few clicks. The interface is minimalist and sleek in a way reminiscent of Gmail. Still, it has an airier look that suits virtual reality better, since you can take advantage of what amounts to a giant monitor floating in front of your face.
Spike bills itself as an email client, but it’s much more. It turns email into simple conversations, so you can work and collaborate seamlessly with other people in a natural way.
I also was impressed at how easy it was to launch features like the calendar and use the team chat. Spike invited me to send my contacts a message asking them to use these features, and within seconds I was chatting away with a friend.
Other surprisingly handy features were the To-Dos and Calendar functions. As a chronic multi-tasker, I often spend too much time in virtual reality taking the goggles off to see what’s next on my schedule. With all these features baked into Spike, it felt like I could do most of my work in VR. One feature that was lacking, and I sorely missed, was the ability to attach files to emails.
Spike is currently the only email app available for the Oculus Quest 2. Using web-based email programs in the browser is possible, but it’s a far more awkward experience.
The only real problem with using Spike is that wearing the Oculus headset gets uncomfortable after half an hour. Hopefully, future generations of VR headsets will be less cumbersome, but in the meantime, Spike is a great way to boost your productivity in VR.