One of the benefits of using Apple’s Mail application is its familiar look and feel, whether you’re using it on an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac.
Certainly, there are differences in how Mail operates on the Mac compared to an iPad or iPhone. The gesture-based touch user interface of iOS differs from the keyboard, mouse, and menu-driven interface on the Mac — and sometimes that results in different methods to accomplish the same tasks.
But the apps are not identical. While some features from Mail on iOS are finding their way into macOS–such as the ability to swipe to delete messages in a list using the trackpad–and vice versa, there are still a few features that are unique to each OS.
Here are a few examples that’ll help improve how you manage email on all your devices.
Smart Mailboxes — only on the Mac
These are available only on the Mac, although the VIP and new Filters feature — which was recently added to both iOS and macOS — is similar, but not as robust. Mail on the Mac comes with one smart mailbox built-in: Today — which presents in one place all the email messages you’ve viewed today.
The easiest way to think about Smart Mailboxes is as a saved search. You define and save a set of criteria for certain email messages — which may reside in a collection of different mailboxes — that match any or all the criteria. The messages don’t move from their mailboxes; they are simply displayed in a smart mailbox.
Again, smart mailboxes can only be created on a Mac. Once created, that’s the only place they will appear — they won’t even show up in your mailbox list on iOS.
Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you wanted to create a smart mailbox to contain all messages from your VIPs that had a high priority — maybe it’s mail from your boss that requires your immediate attention. Here’s how to do it:
- Launch Mail and from the Mailboxes menu, choose New Smart Mailbox….
- In the sheet that appears, give the smart mailbox a name — High Priority in our example –and from the first pop-up menu (labeled “From”), choose Priority is high.
- Click the + button to the right of the first criterion you’ve created to add a second criterion.
- Click the first pop-up menu for the second criterion and choose Sender is VIP.
- Click OK to finish and add the new smart mailbox to your mailboxes list.
Like Smart Playlists in iTunes, Smart Mailboxes in Mail are incredibly powerful. With no effort on your part, the contents of smart mailboxes will automatically update as new mail arrives and old mail is deleted.
Account Info — only on the Mac
You can get a rough idea of how much space your email messages are taking up on your iOS device by tapping Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > Manage Storage > Mail. You’ll learn how much total space is being gobbled up, but the information isn’t very detailed.
Things are a little different on the Mac.
- In Mail, right-click on any mailbox and choose Get Account Info.
- In the window that appears, you can chose an account and see its quota limits and how much storage space each mailbox for that account is taking up. If you’re starting to run out of space to store your mail online, this is a quick and easy way to identify bloated mailboxes that could use a diet. The Subscription List tab is used with some mail systems that allow shared or public mailboxes, while the Summary tab reveals basic account information (user name, email address server addresses, etc.).
Thread notifications — only on iOS
It’s easy enough to set up your devices to notify you of the arrival of new email. But it’s an all or nothing affair — turning on notification of new email applies to all email in a given account, all the time.
If you’re one of those folks who doesn’t want your phone to beep or alert you when a new email message has arrived, you probably have notifications off. But what about that time when you’re trying to get a head count together for a dinner party and you want to be notified right away about responses to your emailed invitation?
Enter Thread Notifications.
Available only on iOS, Thread Notifications allow you to mark a message so that you’ll be notified of any replies to it. The message and its replies comprise a thread.
Here’s how to do it on your iOS device:
With a new email message
1. Tap the create new message button in the lower right of your screen.
2. After you enter a subject, tap the hollow bell icon at the right end of the subject line.
3. Tap Notify Me. The bell on the subject line will turn solid.
4. Finish the message and tap send.
With an existing email message
1. Open the email message and tap the flag button in the lower left of your screen.
2. Tap Notify Me….
3. Tap Notify Me.
In both of these scenarios, you’ll be notified of future messages in this thread. A small bell icon will appear in the upper left-hand corner of messages that have thread notification turned on. And you can also set up notifications just for thread notifications in Settings > Notifications > Mail > Thread Notifications.
To turn off thread notifications for an email message:
1. Open the email message that has thread notification turned on and tap the flag button.
2. Tap Stop Notifying.
Previous recipients — more easily managed on the Mac
Every time you address an email message, Mail looks through your contacts for a match to help speed up the process of getting your email message on its way. In addition, the OS maintains a list of all previous recipients of email messages from you, even if they’re not in your contacts list. And Mail looks through this list for a match, too.
Let’s suppose a former friend — call him Fred — with which you’ve have a falling out keeps popping up when you start typing f–r– in the To: field of an email message. You hate being reminded of Fred and want to delete his address so it doesn’t keep happening.
You can do it on an iOS device, but it’s a bit of a laborious process. You need to create an email message and start typing Fred’s name, then tap an info button to get access to the remove command.
It’s easier on the Mac, because the list of previous recipients is directly accessible. Here’s how to get at it and get Fred out of your life forever.
- In Mail, choose Window > Previous Recipients.
- Previous recipients will be displayed in the window that appears. People who are in your Contacts app will have a small business card icon to the left of their names. Type “fred” in the search field.
- Select Fred’s entry and click Remove From List.
You can use the Previous Recipients list to add people to your Contacts. You can also click and command-click on multiple entries to remove them or add them to Contacts all at once. Take a scroll through the list and you’ll undoubtedly find some past recipients that you no longer need or might benefit from being added to your Contacts.
Rules–a powerful tool on the Mac
Mail rules were created to help users handle repetitive tasks with their email, be it automatic replies, filing messages into specific folders, or any other number of tasks.
As noted earlier, Apple has started implementing filters as a simpler way of applying rules. But if you need a more powerful tool than filters currently provide, then rules available in macOS Mail–but not iOS Mail–are for you.
Making a rule
Let’s say you are coaching your daughter’s 4th grade CYO basketball team and you need to send an email to a group of parents to see if their daughters are interested in trying out. You’ve already created a new mailbox on the Mac to hold all the correspondence related to the team (called Hoops and stored in iCloud), but you’d rather not have to deal with combing your inbox for the replies and moving them manually to the Hoops mailbox.
A smart mailbox is one possibility, but so is creating a mail rule. All incoming mail is compared to the mail rule, and if it meets the criteria, then it’s moved from the inbox to the Hoops mailbox, removing some of the clutter from your inbox.
So here’s how to set it up on your Mac:
- In Mail, choose Mail > Preferences.
- Click Rules then Click Add Rule and a sheet will appear.
- Set up the Rule as shown in the screenshot. Enter a title, the criteria to be met (Subject of the email contains CYO tryout–since that will be the subject of the email you are sending), and the action to be performed–move the message to the Hoops mailbox. Then click OK.
- You’ll be asked it you want to apply the rule to existing messages. You might want to do this if you’ve already been inundated with replies to your email and wish you had set the rule up ahead of time. Whatever you do, you’ll see the rule in the list.
With this rule in place, replies to your CYO tryout email will be moved to the Hoops mailbox, and you be able to find them there on all your devices.
But there’s more to it
A full-blown discussion of mail rules is beyond the scope of this article. Rules are really powerful, as a look at the pop-up menus in the rules sheet shows.
But there’s no way to set up or run mail rules on iOS. So if you check your email on your iPhone before you check it on your Mac, all the replies to your CYO tryout email will be stuck in your inbox, foiling your best-laid plans.
And here, interestingly, is where iCloud.com comes in.
If you log in to your iCloud.com account with a web browser, you can set up limited mail rules. Unfortunately, they are not nearly as full-featured as what you can create on a Mac. But the big benefit is that the mail rule will run any time new email comes into your account on iCloud’s mail server. You don’t have to be logged in to iCloud.com to trigger the rule. So when you check your mail with your iOS device (or Mac), the rules will already be applied–and in this case, the reply to your CYO tryout message will be in the Hoops folder where you intended.
So, to set up a simple mail rule on iCloud.com, do this:
- Use you web browser to connect to www.icloud.com and log in with your iCloud user name and password, then click Mail.
- At the bottom of the mailboxes list, click the gear button and select Rules….
- Click Add a Rule….
- Set up the rule criterion and action as shown in the screenshot and click Done.
- The new rule appears in the list. Click Done.
iCloud.com also makes it easy to implement two other types of actions that you could create with mail rules on a Mac. But doing them on iCloud.com is easier because it’s much more straightforward. And it’s better because the actions will be applied when mail arrives at the iCloud mail server rather than on your Mac…and not applied at all on your iOS devices.
With just a few clicks, you can set up your iCloud email account to automatically reply to every incoming message. This is typically called an out-of-the-office or vacation reply. Some people like it, some people don’t…and you can decide for yourself. But it’s really easy to set up.
- At the bottom of the mailboxes list, click the gear button and select Preferences….
- Click Vacation. Enter whatever text you want as your automatic reply message, check the box to enable the automatic replies, and click Done.
Remember to disable the automatic reply when you no longer need it.
Forwarding all your mail
If the day ever comes that you want all of the email addressed to your iCloud account to be forwarded to any other email address, then iCloud.com has you covered.
- At the bottom of the mailboxes list, click the gear button and select Preferences….
- Click General. Check the box to enable mail forwarding and enter the email address to which all mail should be forwarded. Optionally, you can delete the messages after forwarding them so they don’t pile up in your iCloud account. Then click Done.
Piecing it together
Apple’s Mail apps will cover the basics for most people. But if you need to take things a step further, mail rules and features unique to iOS and iCloud.com can help you get there. Let me know in the comments how you’ve used Mail’s capabilities on macOS, iOS, and iCloud.com to make your life with email better.