, Airmail 2
and of course Gmail
: those are just the email apps and services I've tried this year. Any of them could've become my regular email software, but they haven't: I'm using Apple Mail, and it always seems to go this way: I try something, I come back.
I come back willingly. There is a convenience to using Apple's own email in that it just fits in well with everything else, most especially on iOS, where you can't change that: it's the default. Click a mail link on the web on your iPhone, and it will open Apple Mail. No choice. I can see how that narks people, most especially those who relish the power and flexibility of Gmail.
I'd like some power and flexibility, please. Yet Gmail just irritates me: it's an ugly design, it feels Windows-like in how the feature list is long, but the stuff you can readily use is short. I'm alone in this, probably, but it means I return to Apple Mail comfortably rather than reluctantly.
Familiarity is a big thing with all email, no question: we spend some extraordinary portion of our working and even our waking hours knee deep in email. It's how I get most of my work, it's how I deliver almost all of what I do, it's certainly 100 percent behind every invoice I send out -- that means I get to eat occasionally. It's a conduit for great and for terrible news. Whatever email system you use, it is something to dread opening, and it is also something to look forward to.
It's a crucial cog in my work, and there are definitely things Apple Mail could do to help me out more than it does. Actually, I'd settle for one, and I'd wish for a second.
The one I really want and was hoping to see in OS X El Capitan and iOS 9 is an ability to share emails to other apps. Share sheets that let you hand off information to other apps, that's what I'd really like in Mail: I specifically want to be able to select some text and send it to my OmniFocus To Do list. You can do that through an OmniFocus feature called Mail Drop (not to be confused with Yosemite's similarly-named, but completely different, feature) that lets you forward a mail or part of it to a personal, secret email address, but it arrives as just another task in your inbox. I'd like it to work the way events do: to have them appear in another app with a button to take you right back to the original email when you need it.
We didn't get that, and I'm now hoping it'll be in iOS 10 or OS X Orange County, or whatever it gets called.
The other thing I'd root for, but seem to get away without, is a better system for rules. There are some detailed rules you can set up in Mail on OS X, such as rerouting certain mail on receipt, and that's fine. It's just that rules on OS X Mail don't stop messages coming through to my iPhone, or now my Apple Watch. If I want to catch and deal with something before it gets that far, I have to set up the rules on icloud.com now. I think it's a bit un-Apple-like that I have to go somewhere else and do something else to get a feature to work, but I'm more cranky about the fact that iCloud rules are so much more basic than the ones on OS X.
Then there's spam. I go for a long, long time without any junk mail at all on Apple Mail, and then abruptly I'll get a lot of it for a while. I have become used to forwarding it to Apple's spam-catching account, and it's true that abruptly it'll all stop again. It just takes ages to get to that point again, and that's despite how you'll get dozens of spam emails that are near-identical, and so one would imagine easy to spot once you've seen one.
Yet dozens of spam emails seems like acceptable losses next to when I've used Gmail, and waded through them all the time. What is this, I'd say, Hotmail?
I can't account for how many friends find the reverse of all this: they get spam on Apple, and nothing on Gmail. It is just preposterously the opposite for me. More, I had to give up a particular Gmail account because of Google's keenness. I had an archive email account specially created to store every draft of everything I ever write. For many years, whenever I finished a piece or just finished the day, I would email it to my archive.
The kicker was that I had it set up with rules that meant unless I sent the email from that account and to that same account, everything else was deleted. For years I had a pristine archive with not one single non-archive email in there. Then Google+ came along, and despite my never giving that Gmail account address to anyone -- literally not anyone, nobody, ever -- and despite my having another Gmail account that I did use and did tell people about, I kept getting Google+ invitations to the archive.
Once that had happened, spam went up through the roof, and enough so that I was now seeing it despite my rules. What I wasn't seeing was any of the Google+ invitations, so I was getting great deals on Viagra and watches, but I was also unknowingly irritating lots of people who believed I was ignoring them.
I can't remember the details of how bad this got, I just know that I abandoned this email account, and instead moved everything into Evernote. It didn't go well: it was a chore and a pain, and I've ended up with years' worth of Evernote notes that do include the attachments, but also raw MIME texts by the ton.
In comparison, Apple Mail's been fine. I go in, find what I want quickly, get it out easily, move on. I've not used it for archiving like that, it's been my working email account, but that work includes sending documents to people, and I've often enough got them back by searching my email.
Searching is a boon in Apple Mail: the ability to say you want messages, sent from this person, between these dates, and including an attachment, is excellent. I always struggle to remember how to say the dates part of that, but I get it, and it works.
I'd have said that this what I think of Apple Mail: it works, I get on with things. I'd have said that I don't have the same affinity with it that I do with, say, Drafts 4 or OmniFocus: that it wasn't one of the apps that define me. Yet in trying out Postbox, Airmail 2 and others for MacNN
, I've realized that maybe I am
an Apple Mail kind of person. I was always comparing the others to Mail, which is reasonable since these all cost money, and they have to give you a compelling improvement to make you move away from the free Apple offering.
They all do, by the way. Each one has different features that are well done, and I don't think there was anything they did that I really disliked. I just found weeks would go by, and I'd still be nipping back to Apple Mail to do something. It would be fractionally faster at receiving email, so it was the first thing to ping, that definitely helped.
Plus I like the look of it, the typography and the design. It feels clean and unfussy, modern and not too busy. I like the keystrokes, I like being able to archive off one email and send the next to a Follow Up folder I keep.
Right now I also like how Mail works on my Apple Watch. I'm having an issue where I get more notifications than I should -- there is some bug in the way you select which mailboxes can ping you -- yet still it's handy having everything there. It's not as big a deal as what's happened to text messages: those have now moved permanently to my wrist, I read all texts and reply to most of them there. Yet I'm reading more Mail on my watch, and so far there are no third-party Mail apps that I'm keen on.
I feel I'm sometimes sounding like an Apple Mail apologist, other times like somebody who'll dump it for anything shiny that goes by. There are features I want that it hasn't got, and some of those features are in the alternatives -- yet for over a decade, I have come back to Apple Mail every time.
Apple Mail is home to me, and I'm good with that.
-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher