The Tear-down of the iPhone: Mail

by rmtwrkr

Finally it’s here.

And straight in we go:

Mail on the iPhone. One of the original highlighted features around the iPhone announcement, the iPhone’s Mail.app is on one side an extremely friendly desktop-class email client. And on the other side, maybe not quite a ‘Blackberry-Killer’ yet. Here’s the good stuff first:

When you first get the iPhone and do the initial sync with iTunes, you are asked if you would like to sync your email. This is a great time-killing feature that understates the synergy between the iPhone and your Mac (or PC). Basically once synced, you are ready to collect email on your iPhone. No setup needed. Of course, you can still choose to set up an email account manually, via the ‘settings>mail’ on the iPhone. You have a number of different automatic-check-speeds you can choose from e.g. every 2hrs to every 15mins. You can also specify how many messages to ‘hold’ on the iPhone, from 25 to 200. It allows you to show To/Cc labels, you can setup to always Bcc yourself an email, and you can set up a default Signature style to finish written emails with. It’s a very friendly email app, in comparison with the default email client on Symbian smartphones. One thing that I love about the iPhone Mail.app is the way you ‘see’ your email. It’s identical to its Big Brother on the desktop. HTML email is no sweat to view. Attachments are inline, and can be viewed with ease (plus the screen auto-rotation works with attachments). Dare I say it, but the iPhone’s Mail.app makes email…..fun again to use on a mobile device.

You can really see the design choices made here by Apple: let’s make a beautiful Email application, that ‘normal’ people can use, in the same way they use their desktop version. While not the most technically advanced mobile email client, it is easily the most delicious, and combined with the multi-touch-swipe screen it just makes you actually wish you had more email coming into your Inbox to read. Ahh…the Inbox. Or Inboxes…….ok, on to the next part!

The darkside of the Inbox(es):
While the Mail.app is truly beautiful in its implementation of Mobile email, it also has a few annoyances. My own personal annoyance is the non-unified inbox. Whilst Apple’s Mail.app in OSX allows a one-click overview of ALL incoming mail via a centralized Inbox, the iPhone has all mail accounts split up with their own Inboxes. No problem if you have only 1 email account. But once you have a few accounts, it becomes quickly annoying. You have to continuously roll through the email account mailbox structure backwards and forwards to read mail. For example, I get a mail in my attomaaku inbox: touch Mail.app, opens to wherever I was the last time I looked at my email. then depending on if I was in that account I have to either go back>back>accounts>attomaaku>inbox. Then I receive a mail into my gmx email account. so I then must go back from Atto Inbox>Accounts>Gmx>Inbox…I think you get the point here. Why no simple unified Inbox? I don’t CARE what account received the mail, I just want to read it. This is an issue that Apple could easily fix via a firmware update. And I seem to be not the only one asking for this. I hope they do.

Other minor niggles that prevent the iPhone being taken up by ‘serious’ mobile emailers (Crackberry addicts) are things like no true ‘push’ support for email (Yahoo does not count in my book) and no IMAP-IDLE support. Plus the dyed-in-the-wool Suites want or say they need full M$ Exchange support. Also the 15min auto-check is still a bit too long in my book, as my Nokia E61 had the possibility of checking every 5 mins using the same email accounts as on the iPhone. Oh, and why can I not pick my own sound to be used for notification? the built-in one is just too low for my waxy ears. I never hear it. What was that you just said?

Improvements Apple could do:

UNIFIED INBOX!
More choice for Auto-Check function (5mins please)
Better push / Exchange support (methinks this will come with the SDK next year)
Louder / different email notification sounds.
Add in 10.5 Mail.app Data Detectors, to quickly add contacts and events.
hmm….did I say UNIFIED INBOX yet?

All in all for myself, the Mail.app has its shortcomings but none render the program useless for me. I have used mobile email clients on Palm and Symbian and by far the iPhone’s has been the nicest to use.

Coming up in the next Tear-down: Safari.

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