Spark has been on a roll. Just a few weeks ago, Readdle significantly improved search in its popular macOS email client. Today, Spark 1.4 for macOS takes another step further into professional app territory with the addition of several useful integrations with third-party apps, while Spark 1.9 for iOS adds deep PDF Expert support and other functionality.
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Spark, the email client from Readdle, received a strong update today that adds support for the latest iOS and iPadOS features, dark mode and multiwindow, while also introducing a design refresh that refines, rather than reimagines what was already there.
Multiwindow on iPad is excellent to have in an email app. I’ve been using Apple Mail in multiple windows since iPadOS first launched, and it’s especially handy for composing a message while still viewing other messages in your inbox, or that you’ve saved for later. Spark is no exception here: the flexibility to browse the app while writing a message, or even compose multiple messages at once, is fantastic. Where apps like the official Gmail client don’t even support Split View yet(!!), I’m happy to see Spark follow Apple Mail’s example in making multiwindow a core functionality.
Unlike many other apps that have added support for iOS 13’s dark mode this fall, today’s update for Spark is especially noteworthy because the app didn’t formerly offer a dark mode option at all. Now, Spark supports both light and dark modes and follows the system setting by default, though you can choose to perpetually keep the app in a single mode. I was happy to find that you can choose from both grey and true black themes, both of which look especially nice with the app’s blue accent colors; the only drawback is that just the grey theme can currently follow iOS’ system setting, so if you want to use true black, the app will stay in that mode until you manually change it.
Dark mode comes alongside a design refresh for Spark. While the app will still look entirely familiar to existing users, I think the tweaks to font details, spacing, and layout result in a better experience overall. The biggest standout of the redesign is that Spark can now display avatars next to messages, similar to what the official Gmail client offers, which I really value. Also, there’s a new option to customize the toolbar actions when viewing a message. Spark has always been great at providing customization tools, so it’s nice to see yet another added to the app.
Spark is one of the best email options on the App Store, and I especially recommend it for teams. Federico, John, and I use its team features to share and comment on emails together, which is an extremely valuable aid to collaboration. If you’ve tried Spark before and it’s not for you, there may not be enough different in today’s update to tempt you, but if you use an iPad at all, don’t underestimate how nice it can be to employ multiple windows while working through email.
Today Spark launched a new Delegation feature for teams, which is available on both the Mac and iOS. Delegation enables team members to assign emails to one another, with optional due dates attached, and follow the progress of those emails over time. It’s a feature that addresses well the workflows a manager or executive may have with their assistant or other team members.
Spark already included the expected bold, italics, and underline options, and its macOS version previously allowed creating bulleted or numbered lists, but those list options have now come to iOS as well. Additionally, both Mac and iOS users can now change the color of text in their emails, as well as add highlighting to text.
Rich text support is a particularly important feature for an email app, so I’m glad to see it come to Spark. While I likely won’t start sending messages with different colored fonts, it’s nice having the variety of options Spark provides here. Lists in particular were something I’ve missed having in the past, and I like the idea of employing highlights to call out anything of special importance in an email. I’ve historically used bold for that purpose, but highlighting definitely does an even better job of standing out.
I’ve made no secret of my complicated relationship with email over the years.
While I’m always trying to optimize my email setup and finding new ways to spend as little time managing email as possible (for instance, I let SaneBox categorize emails on my behalf), my underlying problem lies in the scarcity of desktop-class email clients for iOS with specific features I’m looking for. As I shared in an episode of AppStories, these include: modern email options such as snoozing, read receipts, or “send later”; the ability to customize the app’s sidebar with mailboxes and saved searches; and app integrations to save messages into other iOS apps either as links or PDFs.
I’ve tried dozens of different email apps for the iPhone and iPad over the years. Some of them stuck for several months on my Home screen, like Airmail; some turned out to be ill-fated experiments; others were stuck in the old mindset of offering a “light” companion version on iOS and a “real” counterpart for the Mac.
Spark, developed by Readdle, has been at the forefront of innovation in email clients since its iPhone debut three years ago. In my original review, I noted how, despite several limitations (such as the lack of iPad and Mac versions) and an unclear business model, Spark was a new kind of email experience that felt refreshingly powerful, especially when compared to Apple’s stale Mail app. Spark gained a host of welcome enhancements in the past couple of years: in addition to being fully multi-platform on Apple devices, Spark is now capable of snoozing messages and sending them later; on the Mac, besides smarter search, Spark can even save messages into apps like Bear and Things.
I’ve gone back to Spark as my primary email app a handful of times over the past three years. Ultimately, I always stopped using Spark because it lacked feature parity with the Mac version (app integrations were never ported to iOS); most recently, I started using Apple Mail again because its drag and drop support in iOS 11 allowed me to “manually” integrate it with Things, Notes, and other apps.
This context is necessary to understand Spark 2, which is launching today on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and which Readdle touts as the biggest update to Spark since the original app from May 2015. Spark 2 is a peculiar upgrade: on one hand, it won’t look that different to individual users, save for a couple noteworthy exceptions; on the other, it’s a major reinvention of Spark for teams, which explains why Readdle is hedging the app’s future on collaboration and a subscription-based business model (albeit with a generous free tier). The developers at Readdle are betting heavily on a vision that sees Spark as the centerpiece of email communication for teams – a platform in its own right, with all the upsides and potential issues that it entails.
For that reason, this can’t be a full, in-depth review of Spark 2. As a team, we’ve only had access to Spark 2 for the past three weeks, and we haven’t had a chance yet to test the app during one of the busiest periods of the year such as WWDC. I’m going to need more time for a full verdict and to understand how the MacStories team can be set up as a Spark organization. However, I believe that Spark 2 is the closest I’ve ever been to finding my ideal email client, and I want to explain why.
Send later works exactly as you would expect. When composing an email, hitting the send later button in the compose bar will present several default options for when you’d like the message sent: Later Today, This Evening, and Tomorrow. Perhaps the most common use case will be responding to emails late at night and wanting them to send as soon as the next work day kicks off, which the Tomorrow option is perfect for. Thankfully, you can also set a custom date and time. Once you schedule the delivery time, Spark will take care of the rest.
With follow-up reminders, there are five default options joining the custom date picker: Later Today, This Evening, Tomorrow, Weekend, and Next Week. This feature serves to stifle a key pain point I’ve regularly encountered in email management: reminding me to follow up on an email when I don’t receive a response.
In the past I’ve tackled this problem by pairing my email client with a task manager, such that after sending an important, time-sensitive message, I would assign myself a task to follow up with a second email on a certain date in the future. The problem with this approach is that it requires two apps, and that my task manager has no way of communicating with my email inbox – it doesn’t know if I received a response to the message or not, meaning I may end up with an unnecessary task on my list. Integrating this function within an email client is exactly the right move, and Spark does it well. When your set follow-up point arrives, if you haven’t received a response yet, the sent message reappears at the top of your inbox with an icon denoting it’s a reminder. It’s easy from there to open the original email and send a quick follow-up.
The team at Readdle continues adding functionality into Spark that sets it apart as a true productivity-focused email client. With third-party integrations, snoozing, deep customization options, and now the ability to send later and receive follow-up cues, Spark is growing into an email powerhouse that every power user should give a serious look.
Search isn’t the forte of many email clients. Too often I find myself resorting to gmail.com or the Gmail app on iOS to find a message because Google’s search is so good. However, a downside of Google’s approach is that it requires you to recall or look up special syntax to narrow your search using date, attachment, sender, and other parameters. An update to Readdle’s Spark for macOS avoids that pitfall with improvements to its search functionality that detect keywords in your searches as you type queries in plain English.
I haven’t used Spark’s improved search enough yet to give it a thorough review, but I like what I’ve seen so far. As you type a search query, Spark looks for keywords. For example, start typing ‘att…’ and Spark will suggest searching for attachments. Smart keywords include things like ‘to,’ ‘from,’ ‘attachment,’ ‘flagged,’ ‘forwarded,’ and dates. The parameters can be batched in plain English too, so I can type ‘emails from Federico from yesterday with PDF attachments’, and Spark knows to apply the sender, date, and attachment filters returning results almost instantly.
Spark is already a popular email client with a host of modern features, but the improvements to search have the potential to make a lot of new converts to the app.
Spark for macOS is available on the Mac App Store.
In my iOS 11 wish list for iPad and concept video, I focused on system-wide drag & drop – a feature that could reshape how iPad users move documents and data between apps. Readdle, makers of the popular Spark and PDF Expert, aren’t waiting for Apple to add a native drag & drop framework to iOS, though. Today, in addition to the release of Documents 6, the company is updating most of their iPad apps with a custom drag & drop feature that simplifies the transfer of documents between two apps in Split View. I’ve been testing this functionality for the past week, and, even if it’s not system-wide iOS drag & drop, it’s been enough to pull me back into Spark and PDF Expert – at least for now.
The hallmark feature of Readdle’s Spark email client for macOS is its Smart Inbox, which is designed to surface important email messages intelligently. That feature, along with a unified inbox and swipe gestures for common actions, goes a long way to simplifying email management. Nonetheless, email is one of those areas where personal preferences matter a lot. People are particular about how their email is organized, an area that was underserved by Spark. With version 1.2 for macOS, Readdle has begun to tackle email organization, which should make Spark a more attractive option for people who like Spark’s approach to email but want a little more control over how their messages are managed.