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Posts tagged with "email"

The 2022 MacStories OS Preview Series: Everything New Coming to Apple Mail

Email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon despite its flaws. Tools like Slack have replaced the lion’s share of internal communications at many companies, and a long list of messaging apps have chipped away at conversations among individuals. Still, email has proven resilient.

One of email’s many problems is how hard it can be to manage the volume of messages so many of us receive. Over the years, developers have come up with innovative tools layered on top of the core email protocols to improve the experience. However, few of them are with us anymore. Remember Sparrow? How about Mailbox or Acompli? Notice a trend? There are still some bright spots, like Mimestream on the Mac and Spark, but with so few survivors, having a strong choice from Apple has never been more important.

That’s why the situation with Apple’s Mail app has been so distressing in recent years. Mail sat, barely touched on any platform for what seemed like forever. However, this fall, across iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, Apple is finally bringing many of the features pioneered by others to its own Mail app. You won’t find every cutting-edge modern email feature in Mail. Message collaboration and back channel chat about email messages among team members, which Spark and other apps offer, is a good example of a feature Apple has left to others. However, I expect most individuals and teams that aren’t looking to use email as though it were Slack will like what they see in Mail, so let’s dig into the details.

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Generating Markdown Links to Mail Messages with Shortcuts and AppleScript

One of the system app updates we covered on AppStories this week that I’m most excited about is Mail. The app will finally introduce several advanced features this fall, including:

  • Undo send, allowing you to recall a message for 10 seconds after sending a message
  • Message scheduling with suggested and fully-customizable future delivery times and dates
  • Follow Up, which surfaces requests you’ve made in messages for which you haven’t received a response
  • Remind Me, a snooze-like feature for scheduling messages to reappear in your inbox later
  • Missing recipient and attachment alerts
  • Improved search

For the first time in quite a while, that list makes Mail a much more attractive alternative to third-party apps. Mail won’t match every feature offered by third parties, but my needs for advanced email client features are fairly modest, which I expect puts me squarely in the demographic that Apple is targeting.

Mimestream offers Gmail's excellent search and other features in a native Mac package.

Mimestream offers Gmail’s excellent search and other features in a native Mac package.

Until recently, my email use was split between Mimestream, which is only available on the Mac, and Spark on iOS and iPadOS. The split wasn’t ideal, but because I handle most of my email on my Mac, I tolerated it.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been using Mail exclusively on all of my devices, which has been a refreshing change of pace. Still, it’s not perfect. Of the features I use most in third-party mail clients, the single biggest shortcoming of Mail is its clunky implementation of deep linking.

I drop links to email messages in my notes and tasks all the time as a way to quickly access important contextual information. Mimestream offers Gmail URLs, and Spark can create its own app-specific and web URLs right within those apps’ UIs.

I like the way drag and drop on the iPhone and iPad links a message to its subject, but having to use drag and drop is clunky.

I like the way drag and drop on the iPhone and iPad links a message to its subject, but having to use drag and drop is clunky.

In contrast, on iOS and iPadOS, you can only link to a Mail message by dragging it out of Mail into another app’s text field. I’ll take it, but I’d prefer if I could quickly generate a link from the share sheet or with Shortcuts instead. The situation on the Mac isn’t much better, requiring users to resort to AppleScript to construct a URL that links back to a Mail message.

With weeks of Ventura testing ahead of me, I decided to see what I could do to improve the situation. The result isn’t perfect: I still have no choice on iOS and iPadOS but to drag and drop messages. However, I’ve improved the experience on the Mac using a combination of AppleScript and a shortcut that I trigger using Raycast to link the subject of a Mail message to its URL. For added context, my shortcut adds the sender’s name too.

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MacStories Starter Pack: Why I Abandoned the Search for the Perfect Email App and Am Making Do With a Hybrid Approach

Editor’s Note: Why I Abandoned the Search for the Perfect Email App and Am Making Do With a Hybrid Approach is part of the MacStories Starter Pack, a collection of ready-to-use shortcuts, apps, workflows, and more that we’ve created to help you get the most out of your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

I’ve been revisiting my approach to email every year for what seems like forever. No matter which app I picked, I was never satisfied. On one level, that’s surprising because I don’t think my email needs are unique or complex. Even so, the features I value in an email app are ones that I care about a lot. The trouble is that a lot of MacStories readers could say the same thing but would pick an entirely different set of features they care about the most. This is a problem and conversation that goes back to the early days AppStories, and really, long before even that.

As 2021 came to a close, I knew something had to change and that I’d have to let go of my longstanding preference of using the same app across all of my devices. I don’t abandon that approach lightly because I don’t like the mental overhead of juggling multiple apps with different features to accomplish the same task. However, what started as patience as I waited for Apple to modernize Mail or a third-party developer to build something better, began to feel like stubborn inflexibility on my part. I knew it was time to make the most of an imperfect situation by cobbling together a hybrid solution that I hope will provide readers with some pointers on how they can improve how they manage email too.

Before I get to the apps I’m using to manage my email day-to-day, I want to cover how I dealt with my email backlog. My email accounts get messy as the end of the year approaches because it’s our busy season at MacStories. I used to feel bad about it, but I don’t anymore. It’s not my job to have a perfectly organized inbox, which is good because it can be a mess at times. Still, a backlog of messages makes any email app harder to use no matter how good it is, so I spent some time over the holidays tidying up.

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Setting Up a Custom Domain for iCloud Email

Custom domains in iCloud Mail.

Custom domains in iCloud Mail.

Following a tip by one of our members in the Club MacStories+ Discord server last night (if you haven’t joined yet, now’s a great time to do so), I came across the settings page on the beta.icloud.com website to configure a custom domain and email address with iCloud Mail. This is the direct link to the settings page; it was working last night, but it seems to be having some issues today.

Custom domains in iCloud Mail is a feature Apple announced for the “rebranded” iCloud+ service at WWDC, which I’ve been curious to try for two reasons: I have a personal domain laying around I can use to test this, and iCloud Mail – unlike Gmail – supports proper push notifications on iOS. Given the beta nature of this feature, I am not recommending you try this with your primary email address right now; I set it up with a secondary email address I barely used before.

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How Matt Birchler Is Using Hey Email, Almost One Year Later

Great overview by Matt Birchler on how he’s using Hey for email, almost one year into switching to the service exclusively.

When I was using Gmail and Outlook as the back end for all of my email, I had my pick of the litter when it came to email apps. Apple Mail, Spark, Outlook, Gmail, Airmail, Edison, Blue, Newton, Spike, Polymail…the world was my oyster, and I took part in that game of switching email apps every few months. Spark would release an update and I’d go to it. Then Outlook would do something new and I’d be back there. Then Outlook would have a bug and I’d run to Apple Mail, which would inevitably grow bland and then I’d move back to Spark and the whole cycle would start again.

Was that choice? Absolutely, but was it good for my email? No way.

I switched to Hey for my personal and work email a few months ago (we talked about it in this episode of AppStories), and I haven’t looked back since. The system provided by Hey for managing and organizing incoming email is what sets it apart from the competition, and it’s so good I don’t mind being locked into a proprietary service. Unlike Birchler, I use The Paper Trail a lot and open The Feed less frequently, but I plan on following his suggestion regarding Hey’s widgets by adding a large one to the second page of my Home Screen.

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One Week After Launch, Users Already Have Several Options for Alternative Browsers and Email Clients on iOS and iPadOS 14

iOS and iPadOS’s 14’s customization options don’t end at widgets. The OS updates also let users change their default email and browser apps for the first time. The feature is a little buggy in iOS and iPadOS 14.0, but I wanted to share how to set it up and explain what your current options are for anyone looking to switch away from the default Safari and Mail apps from Apple.

Switching is simple. The first step is to download a browser or email client that has been approved to serve as an alternative to Apple’s defaults. Developers must request permission to offer their apps as an alternative browser or email app, meeting certain requirements for each type of app. It’s an extra step in the app submission process, so not all browsers and email apps can be swapped in for Safari and Mail from the get-go. Still, less than a week after the public release of iOS and iPadOS 14, users have several options.

Microsoft Edge, Outlook, and Google Chrome are all default browser and email client options now.

Microsoft Edge, Outlook, and Google Chrome are all default browser and email client options now.

New alternatives are being released all the time, but so far, it’s possible to swap out Safari for:

Probably the most popular browser that hasn’t been approved as a Safari alternative yet is Brave, the privacy-focused browser, although The Verge reports that the feature is coming.

Email apps available include:

Between the two quartets of alternatives, a significant portion of the browser and email markets have been covered already.

Picking a new default browser or email client from the Settings app.

Picking a new default browser or email client from the Settings app.

Getting back to the process of switching apps, once you’ve installed one of the approved alternatives, go to the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad. Scroll down to the entry for the app you’ve just downloaded, and tap it. There you’ll find a new entry for ‘Default Mail App’ or ‘Default Browser App,’ depending on which you’re changing. Tap it and pick the alternative you want to use, and that’s it.

As easy as the process of switching is, though, the feature is not bug-free. I have been unable to get iOS or iPadOS to recognize my new default email client after I switch it. I’ve tried several apps and email links in multiple apps and on the web, but every time I tap one, the system Apple Mail-based compose sheet opens. Federico has had the same issue. I read somewhere that switching email apps only works if you change your browser first, but that didn’t work for me either. Perhaps MacStories readers will have better luck than I’ve had, but at the moment, I cannot change email clients.

9to5Mac also reported last week that if you restart your iPhone or iPad, any default browser or email changes you’ve made are lost. It’s not hard to reset your defaults, but it’s an annoying bug that I expect will be fixed in a later update to iOS and iPadOS 14.

Personally, I use both Safari and Mail and am happy with them, though I wish Mail would adopt some of the modern features of apps like Spark. Still, I’m glad users have been given greater choice when it comes to the default app experience.


Josh Ginter’s First Impressions Review of HEY

Despite all the drama surrounding the App Store launch of HEY, the new email service from Basecamp, I never got around to actually trying out the service for myself. As a result, I was excited to see today that Josh Ginter at The Sweet Setup had published an in-depth first impressions review following a couple weeks of use. In short, he loves it:

To say this is a glowing first impressions review would be an understatement — in just two short weeks, HEY has shown itself to be the most revolutionary app or service I’ve ever tried.

While I may not be alone, I also know many folks who feel otherwise.

Which makes a lot of sense, I think. Email is one of the oldest digital technologies and it’s worked a specific way for a very, very long time. There will be some deeply engrained email habits out there, and old habits die very, very hard.

I also recognize that HEY likely works for a specific type of emailer. HEY appears to thrive with a multitude of daily email and may feel out of place for someone who has either worked out their email workflow, someone who incessantly unsubscribes from anything unworthy, or someone who relies on other forms of communication to get their stuff done each day.

I found Ginter’s review an excellent primer on HEY’s unique approach to email. If you love in-depth app reviews – and I hope you do – and have been wondering why some people are calling HEY the next Gmail, I highly recommend Ginter’s piece.

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Spark Updated with Multiwindow and Dark Mode Support and a Design Refresh

Two Spark windows open in Split View.

Two Spark windows open in Split View.

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.

Customizing Spark's toolbar.

Customizing Spark’s toolbar.

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.


Spark Launches Email Delegation Feature for Teams

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.



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