The iOS Mail App is Better

Why I prefer the default iOS Mail app

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I am one of those people that actually likes email. Maybe it’s the fact that I came of age before texting, Facebook, Twitter, or even AOL Instant Messenger were things? Maybe I’m just weird? But the reality is, I really like email. I subscribe to a ton of newsletters, and I look forward to checking my inbox every morning. Yeah, it’s probably the weird thing.

I’m also one of those “inbox zero” people. For both work and personal email, I triage it as it arrives and deal with it accordingly. (Maybe in another post I’ll delve into the modified version of Merlin Mann’s system that I use.) Needless to say, as a person that has multiple email accounts, as a person who practices the “inbox zero” philosophy, and as a person who reads and responds to the majority of my email from my phone, a good email client is really important.

My Needs

I need an email client that does a few, basic things:

  • Allows me to view all my email from one, unified inbox
  • Allows me to choose which email account to respond from
  • Allows me to attach files and photos from any source
  • Has a clean user interface
  • Allows me to compose or respond to emails with formatting, if I so choose
  • Allows me to block external images (i.e. tracking pixels) by default and display images if I choose.

My Solution

As an iPhone user, I don’t have to look very far. The built in iOS Mail client does all of these things. Now, there are other email clients for iOS, such as the official GMail app, Spark[1], and Outlook, that meet some or most of the above criteria as well. Because iOS 14 allows the default email client to be replaced with a 3rd party app, I could just as easily use one of these. However, there are a few things that I prefer about the stock iOS Mail app that keep me using it above the others.

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The clean list of mailboxes

Scrolling though a text heavy email in the GMail app is not a smooth experience. The iOS Mail app does not seem to have this issue. Longer emails tend to get cut off in the Outlook app, whereby you have to click a “read more” link to see the entire email. This is annoying and sometimes disrupts my concentration. The iOS Mail app does not have this issue either.

The iOS Mail app mostly renders HTML emails as they are intended. The Smashing Magazine newsletter is a perfect example of this. This newsletter, when displayed in the iOS Mail app, has a very nice serif font. When looking that the same email in the GMail app, the font is a sans-serif, making the content not as pleasing to the eye. With the Outlook app, I have run into HTML display issues from time to time as well.

Between iOS Mail, the official GMail app, and Outlook, the iOS Mail client allows the most text formatting options when composing emails. The font and font size can be changed. You can add bullets and subheadings, and you can make text bold, underlined, struck through or italicized. You can indent, and even change the font color, which helps for responding to an email “in line”. The only thing I have not figured out how to do is embed a link.

Composing email in the GMail app is about as bare bones as you can get. You can only make text bold, underlined or italicized. That is it.

Outlook offers a few more options. You can make text bold, italicized or underlined, but you cannot change the font type or the font size, except to make the text “body”, “subhead” or “title”. A plus with Outlook is the ability to embed a link, and there are basic bullet and numbering options.

I’m not a big proponent of forwarding Mail from one account to another. In my experience, every time I set this up, I miss emails here and there. I have found that my iCloud account, which I use frequently, has syncing gremlins in GMail for iOS and Outlook. It works best in the iOS Mail app. I have also found that my Outlook.com account does not sync well in GMail, and my GMail account does not sync well in Outlook. I’m not sure if the problem here is between the chair and the keyboard, but I find that the iOS Mail app syncs multiple accounts from different email providers the best.

That said, GMail accounts, while they sync appropriately in iOS Mail, do not have the ability to have new emails “pushed”. There is only the ability to “fetch” email, for example every 15 mins. For accounts with no push capabilities (like GMail), I have iOS Mail set to fetch “automatically”, which means that my phone will only fetch new data in the background on WiFi and while on the charger. Frankly, I’m okay with this. I actually don’t want notifications of incoming emails, and I have notifications for email completely turned off. When I open iOS Mail, it will then pull down any email from the server. So, what some may consider a limitation, I actually consider a feature.

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Fetch settings

It must be noted that the GMail app for iOS only allows push for GMail accounts. If I were to add my Outlook or iCloud account to GMail for iOS, the best I could do would be to fetch email every 15 mins. There is also no “automatic” option as shown above.

I should also note that I am not a GMail “power user”. I do not use labels or other features like “snooze” or scheduled sending. If you’re a person who uses these features extensively, the official GMail app may be the better email client for you. However, Shawn Blanc also offers some pretty good tips for the iOS Mail client.

Other Things I Like About iOS Mail

The iOS Mail app opens quickly. GMail for iOS and Outlook both have a brief loading screen (even on the iPhone 11, which as of the time of this writing, has the fastest processor available in an iPhone). Additionally, the iOS Mail app just feels more responsive.

I have heard people complain that the search capabilities in iOS Mail are second rate, but that has not been my experience. I can easily find what I am looking for across multiple accounts.

I can read, archive or delete Mail from all my accounts on my Apple Watch. Outlook has an Apple Watch app, but I feel it is sub-par. GMail for iOS will give you notifications on the Apple Watch, but you can’t really do anything with them. The Apple Watch’s native Mail app works great, and while I do not check or compose email on my watch that often, it is nice to know that I can.

When viewed in the iOS Mail app, times and dates in the body of an email can be tapped. This brings up the Calendar app, and a calendar entry can be easily created. You can also create a reminder using the Reminders app.

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Options to create a calendar event or reminder when you tap on a date

The Outlook app allows this, but there is no option for this in the GMail app.

If you have an email that you want to follow up on later, you can easily add it to the Apple Reminders app.

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First, open the email you want to add as a reminder and highlight the subject line, then hit “Share…”. Next, choose Reminders from the share sheet. This will bring up a Reminders entry. Just add any additional notes you want, and you can also add a date/time to be reminded if you want. Next, just click “Add”.

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Sensible Defaults

Last but certainly not least, I am a big proponent of using the native apps that come on any platform when possible. Why install a third party app if the one that comes with it does everything you need it to? The iOS Mail app does everything I need and then some.

[1] A note about Spark. I referenced Spark because I know several people who love this app, and it gets lots of good reviews. While this application offers some pretty cool features, I do not choose to use it because all the mail you receive and send passes through their servers. They have a privacy policy which addresses privacy and security. However, I’m just not comfortable with this. Plus, please see the section above called Sensible Defaults.

Written by

Husband, Dad, Follower of Christ, PCI ISA, PCIP. Security nerd who loves basketball and Japanese cars. My opinions are my own…

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