Aside from a few scrawled lines on a birthday or sympathy card, you probably haven’t written anything resembling an old-style letter in a long time. But would you be more likely to take up writing again if someone else addressed and stamped the envelopes and put them in the mail?
Still too much work? How about if you could send a letter without actually writing it?
That’s the idea behind urLetters, a new app created by Sudbury entrepreneur Martha Humphreys. It works like this: A user dictates or writes a message using an Apple iPad. When the writer is done, the app forwards an electronic copy to a Virginia mailing service, which prints, packages, stamps, and delivers it to a post office within a day for delivery anywhere in the country, as well as to military bases worldwide. A sister app, urFonts, can even duplicate a person’s writing style, down to every slant and squiggle.
“E-mail and these other ways we have of quickly communicating now are fine, but if you want to put heart and soul into something, a letter is the way to do it,” said Humphreys, 53, whose company, Until Now Creations LLC, markets the software. The apps cost $2.99 apiece to download, and there’s a $2.99 charge for each letter.
The original intent was to help people for whom handwriting is challenging or impossible, like Shirley Band, who lives at Epoch Assisted Living at Boylston Place in Brookline
Band, 87, and other residents at Epoch have been using urLetters for about a month. It allows them to easily dispatch letters to faraway grandchildren, quiz their doctors about medicines, or sound off to politicians about pending legislation. They are part of a generation that believes how a person communicates matters almost as much as the content of the message.
“A letter is something you hold in your hand,” Band said. “You open it and it’s personal.” She’s particularly enamored of the app’s dictation feature, which works with Apple’s Siri speech-to-text software.
As more people communicate through text messaging, social media, and e-mail — often employing abbreviations and jargon that read more like code than actual sentences — traditional letter writing has dropped off sharply. According to the Postal Service, the volume of first-class mail has decreased by about one-third since its peak in 2001.
Goran Loncaric, a 39-year-old New Yorker who recently moved to Stockholm for a job, said urLetters lets him use modern technology, but still be distinctive in a world flooded by electronic messaging.
“Everybody sends e-mails,” Loncaric said. “They’re immediate, they’re efficient, [and] can be as informal as you want. But in the business world, if you need to stand out from the crowd, a letter is what really makes an impression.”
Etiquette specialist Lizzie Post, a spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute Inc. in Vermont, called the urLetters concept “brilliant,” but she advised using the app in moderation. “I wouldn’t always do it if you are able to handwrite, you have legible writing, and you’re in the country,” Post said. “Something I really wouldn’t use it for is a thank-you note, because it is important to maintain that personal touch.”
It took Humphreys nearly two years and more than $160,000 of her own money to develop urLetters and urFonts, but she expects Until Now Creations, which has four employees, to be profitable within eight months to a year. Android, iPhone, and online versions of the apps will be available by August, she said, which should boost their popularity.
Humphreys did not provide sales figures, but said the company will be well in the black if it can reach about 30,000 downloads per month of both urLetters and urFonts.
While sending a letter through the software is considerably more expensive than a 46-cent first-class stamp, Humphreys is counting on people being willing to pay for the convenience.
For Band, however, it’s more about feeling.
“In such a cold world today, with all this technology surrounding us. Sending and receiving a real letter is a particularly emotional thing,” she said. “It just makes you happy.”