There’s no shortage of great alternative email apps for iPhone, or for the iPad for that matter. In the past year, we’ve seen the introduction of some stellar options such as Spark and even Airmail, which has been my favorite email app for OS X for years. Yet ever since iOS 8 came out, I can’t bring myself to use any other email app than the stock Mail app, no matter how good the competition gets. Here’s why: Prior to iOS 8, I was a die-hard Mailbox fan. I used it on both my iPhone and iPad and relied on
Airmail when on my Mac. Then when iOS 8 brought auto-detection for contacts, events, flights, and more, I felt like I needed to give it another try. I quickly realized that auto-detection wasn’t the only thing Apple improved upon. Almost two years later and it doesn’t seem to matter what email app hits the App Store, it doesn’t end up staying in my dock for very long. While there are lots of factors for what keeps drawing me back to Mail.app, here are my top 5 reasons:
As I previously mentioned, iOS 8 brought with it the ability for Mail to automatically detect tons of data including calendar events, flights, and even changes to someone’s contact information. I spend loads of time communicating with developers, PR people, and clients. I love the fact that if someone changes their phone number, or an address, Mail can now detect that and alert me. It’s tough keeping track of everyone and Mail makes managing contacts loads easier. Flights are another big one for me. I hate trying to figure out time changes and typing different flights and info into my calendar. Mail automatically finds my flights in an email and I just tap add and I’m done. Not only does Mail import the correct times, it also lists the passengers, frequent flier numbers, reservation numbers, and anything else the airline may have included. This works for tons of other kinds of data too. Manually managing contacts and events from mail are a thing of the past for me, and every time I try and use a different email app, I instantly find myself missing this functionality.
Currently iOS doesn’t give any other email app the power to be the default client of choice like you can in OS X. That means that if I want to share an article from Reeder, or any other app that has support to share via mail, I’m forced back into Mail.app. That isn’t to say action and share sheet extensions haven’t made this somewhat more manageable in the past few years, but all developers don’t use the default share sheet. That’s where the problems come in. Is this a huge deal? No. But it’s something that makes the experience consistent, and that does matter. There’s also the issue that if I’m forced to use Mail.app to share from certain apps, that means I have to have my accounts set up in two apps. Even if I have a manual fetch schedule set up for most of them, that’s still annoying and wastes unnecessary resources and local storage.
3. Low power mode
Low Power Mode was introduced in iOS 9 and is a fabulous way to conserve battery when you’re running low. Enabling this setting automatically disables mail fetch, background app refresh, and many other system resources that may drain battery more than others. By its very nature, Low Power Mode was made to work seamlessly with Mail.app. That means if I have Airmail or any other third party mail app running, that app will still push and fetch mail like normal. Unless I manually disable those features inside that particular app, I’m not reaping all the benefits of Low Power Mode. To find out how much validity there was to my theory, I used Low Power Mode for several days. Some of those days I used Spark or Airmail and some of those days I completely uninstalled any third party mail app and strictly used Mail.app. The days I was only using Mail.app, I typically ended the days with 15-25% more battery life. Sure, some of that could be contributed to different usage patterns. I’m not claiming my tests were scientific by any means. Either way, it was enough to convince me that Low Power Mode is far more beneficial to me when a third party email app isn’t also polling 4 different email accounts for new messages.
4. Drafts, drafts everywhere
iOS 8 also added much more flexibility for creating draft messages. Just start typing a message and if you need to view your inbox again, flick it down. When you’re ready to continue working on your message, just tap on the bottom menu and select your draft. Prior to iOS 8 I used to hate the way I couldn’t access my inbox to refer to anything, or I’d have to manually tap into an account and dig for the drafts folder. Sure, there are other apps that offer this functionality, but it was one of the reasons I stayed away from the Mail app to begin with. Now that it isn’t an issue, it’s one more notch in my Mail.app bucket list.
Last but definitely not least is VIP support. There are other email apps that offer this kind of feature but it’s never implemented on a system-wide level the way Mail.app does it, because just like auto-detection, it can’t be. For most third party apps, they have to rely on funky labeling and sorting methods to implement VIP actions. This isn’t the case with Mail.app and that makes it even more valuable to me. I also love that I can have separate tones for VIP contacts. This way I immediately know if I should stop what I’m doing and glance at my iPhone. I also use VIP as a way to filter out noise. There are emails from certain people I want on my Lock screen, but many others I don’t want in order to conserve precious battery life. With Mail’s extensive notification options, I can choose to only show messages from VIP on my Lock screen while all others still get a tone and filter into Notification Center, but they don’t clutter up my Lock screen unnecessarily.
What’s missing All that being said, there are
still a few things I wish Apple would get right with mail. My big ticket item would be much faster search. This is something I’ve long struggled with both on iOS and OS X. Whatever indexing Apple uses in Mail.app, it sucks. I can hop into Airmail and find a message on both my iPhone and my Mac 100x faster than I can with the Mail app. I love that Mail indexes into Spotlight and Siri suggestions, but it does it so slow that it’s not of any use to me in its current form. I’d love for Apple to take a look at how Airmail manages to index emails so fast and do whatever they’re doing, but better. Next, I’d love to see snooze options. Unlike many people, snooze options aren’t a deal breaker for me and haven’t been for a long time. I almost never have more than 50 emails in my inbox at once, and that’s on a heavy day. I’m pretty good at triaging on my own, but clearing out clutter I don’t need to focus on right this minute would be a bonus. And since Airmail recently added snooze, I’ve been able to take advantage of that on my Mac. This way messages disappear from my iPhone and iPad until Airmail on my Mac puts them back in my inbox. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me. That being said, I’d love to know in the comments — what email app are you using on your iPhone and iPad, and why? And what would it take from Apple for you to stick with Mail.app?