The iOS 5 Report: Mail Still Unfinished

June 14th, 2011

It’s clear that Apple paid close attention to the needs of the user when crafting new features for iOS 5. The Notification Center, and the sensible changes in such warning prompts, is clearly logical, and it doesn’t matter that Apple “borrowed” a few ideas from the Android OS. Innovation also means being able to distill good ideas from others in making the final product.

With iOS Mail, I’m pleased you’ll be able to drag and drop addresses, style and indent the text in your messages in a limited way, flag important emails, and search all the text. That’s well and good as far as it goes. I suppose the first and the last are most important to me, though, as I really prefer my messages remain plain text so that my recipients have no problem whatever reading everything.

But what most troubles me are the features Apple omitted — or at least nothing has been written about them by Apple or those who claim to have the iOS 5 beta — and I find it difficult to believe that these features aren’t just as important as the ones that will appear.

Sure, your priorities might be different than mine, but these features seem to just make sense.

So, for example, why are you saddled with only one email signature? Whether you include “Sent from my iPhone” or not isn’t the issue. I remove it, for the same reason that I remove a dealer’s license plate frame when I get a new car. I do not wish to give Apple free advertising any more than the car store from whom I spent a huge sum to acquire my dream car, or at least the best car that I could afford.

However, with or without the free plug for Apple, I find it difficult to believe that the iOS development team doesn’t realize that many people have legitimate reasons to have more than a single email signature. It starts from having both your home and work accounts on your iPhone or iPad. For a business account, your name won’t be sufficient. You might add your company affiliation, phone number, and other contact information, which has no place on your personal signature. Apple is also assuming one and only one user per iOS device. While that may be mostly true for the iPhone, I expect the iPad is often shared in many homes and businesses. It is in ours, and, though Mrs. Steinberg doesn’t use email all that much, I do not think she wants to sign my name to her messages, any more than I want to sign mine to hers. Making it a manual process for each message is just plain foolish.

The second feature, perhaps more important, is junk mail filtering. Apple has a pretty decent spam blocker in Mac OS X Mail. It gets better every release, and though third party apps, such as Spam Sieve, are more powerful, Apple’s solution is certainly adequate. So why not have a junk mail filter on your iOS device too? I assume you’ll be getting the same sort of spam as on your Mac; spam doesn’t discriminate.

A year or two back, Adam Engst, my friend from TidBITS and Take Control Books, suggested Apple was concerned about using too many system resources from an additional background process. Granted that was a problem before Apple devised a multitasking scheme for iOS 4, and iOS gear became much more powerful. Macs with far less computing power than possessed by Apple’s A4 and A5 chips existed with a spam filter without clogging the system.

The third missing feature is email rules. There are times when even a home user would prefer that certain messages, with content about specific subjects, or from specific senders, automatically go into different folders. It’s easy with most any Mac, Windows, or Linux email client. You can even do it with some Webmail clients, so why must it be different in the iOS?

Sure, if your Mac is running and retrieving email, messages will be treated appropriately, particularly if new messages are checked often. Even then, you may confront the curious phenomenon of a message appearing in one folder on your iPhone or iPad, and then, of a sudden, being transported to their proper destination folder on your traditional personal computer. If your Mac isn’t running when you get your iOS messages, suddenly you have an extra organizing step to confront. Isn’t the iOS supposed to make managing your email simpler?

Yes, there are email enhancement utilities for the iOS that offer multiple signature management, and other missing features. I’m also sure that, once iOS 5 is out, developers will be there to fix the things that Apple failed to fix. But the features I’m listing here should be part of the core OS, not something tacked on later. I hope I’m not alone in these opinions, and that we won’t have to wait until iOS 6 for these features to become a reality.

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14 Responses to “The iOS 5 Report: Mail Still Unfinished”

  1. rwahrens says:

    I especially agree with the signature issue. I’ve got twelve or thirteen signatures I use on my Mac, associated with all my email accounts in Mail. I’d like to see those signatures sync with Mail on my iPhone and iPad, so I don’t have to type them in three times…

  2. Ken Heins says:

    I don’t use multiple signatures now, but should and would if they were easy to use.

    • Kishi23 says:

      I agree with the signature problem. AND they still do NOT support RTF in the signature, just plain text…that’s just plain annoying…I’m tired of copying and pasting my signature into my work emails

  3. Bill says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I haven’t seen distribution lists even discussed. The lists exist on the phone in Contacts, but can’t be used.

  4. Sulis says:

    What Mail is mainly missing is a Delete All option.

    Why it is still absent is unfathomable – people have been asking for it since the iPhone 1.0…

  5. Thomas says:

    I will not buy an iPhone until multiple signatures are supported!

    • Don’t you think that’s a mite extreme? Have you searched for third party alternatives in the App Store?


      • Ron says:

        @Gene Steinberg, I don’t believe its extreme, I consult for a few companies and they each assign an email address to me for internal security reasons or even optics. I have an iphone 4 and I was shocked at signature handling. I love the iPhone but I’m definitely switching to another device at the first opportunity. Having 1 plain text signature on a device meant to allow you to work on the go is a 100% deal breaker. Especially if you consider that one wrong finger press can break an NDA that you have.

        If someone wants to use an iPhone as a work on the go solution, this one shortcoming is enough to make most people with multiple accounts re-think the iPhone.

  6. century8 says:

    The iPad has no user profiles that would lock certain content and enable me to share the device with others. I don’t want others to read my email, see my contacts, read my notes.. heck, everything is so open.
    You can’t even lock the device with a password.
    also it is just weird to experience how advanced Mozilla’s free Thunderbird email client is compared to the primitive iOS email client on the iphone or ipad.
    So what use is it then to use spam filtering on your pc when you still get that same spam on yor ipad and have to weed that out manually?
    Seriously Apple?

  7. Simon says:

    So true!
    My work signature also include a .jpg, wich is a real pain to add from the iPhone.

    But it is the junk-filter that really pisses me off! How hard can it be? How many lines of code? I bet it’s even a matter of copy-pasting for the iOS developers. I have custom filters on my Mail-app on Mac OSX, wich clears about 60% of the spam I receive. I would like that filter to sync to my iPhone as well.

    Let’s just hope they add the filter to the cloud and move everything to iCloud. That way it’ll be in sync everywhere, on all devices. And how hard can that be?

  8. Wade says:

    I’ve been annoyed that the Mail app in iOS lacks a spam filter, and it’s more annoying with every update. And the inability to sync properly with the Mail app on a home machine. How hard is it to make folders? And the still lacking ‘choose all’ feature to get rid of emails. Apple continues to offer the best user experience, albeit with those little annoyances.

  9. Julian says:

    I use an app called Quick Signature. It works great for this exact purpose of multiple signatures.

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