Mossberg: A smart new email app for the iPhone – The Verge
Welcome to Mossberg, a weekly commentary and reviews column on The Verge and Re/code by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, now an Executive Editor at The Verge and Editor at Large of Re/code.
Once, Apple’s built-in Mail app for iOS was a revelation. It was easy to use, yet rich with features — like simple account setup, in-line photos, fast search, a good junk mail filter, the ability to handle all the major email services, and more.
But today, Apple Mail is, like the company’s other core apps, displaying what looks to me like a gradual deterioration in quality. Its biggest problem is a technical incompatibility that makes it slow to receive messages from Google’s Gmail, which now has a billion users. But there are other issues. Search is often sluggish and unreliable, especially with a large body of emails. And, in my experience, little glitches pop up way too often. For instance, on my iPhone, an email has been stuck in Apple Mail’s Outbox now for over three weeks, unable to either be sent or deleted.
Plus, Apple hasn’t tried to tackle the problem many others have tried to solve: intelligently separating different types of emails, like newsletters versus hand-crafted individual messages. It still just looks for spam and lets you manually designate senders as VIPs.
So, many iPhone and iPad users — especially the vast number dependent on Gmail — have been seeking out alternatives, even though Apple doesn’t allow users to designate third-party apps as the default for email. Here are some of the better ones, including a new one I’ve been testing, called Mail by EasilyDo.
A few of the decent ones
Some people, including me, have Google’s standard Gmail app for iOS on their iPhone’s home screen. But it’s pretty spare, a bit wonky, and lacks a unified inbox for multiple accounts. Others prefer its jazzed-up, more colorful, Google-made cousin, Inbox — also a Gmail-centric app, and also one that lacks a unified inbox.
Another good candidate I like is Airmail, which is fast, highly customizable, and isn’t just built for Gmail. It even supports old-style POP email accounts, if you have one of those you are loathe to discard. It also has a Mac version. (Yet another decent iOS mail app, CloudMagic, has also just added a Mac version.)
The popular kid
Perhaps the strongest alternative to date has been Microsoft’s Outlook for iOS, which is currently The Verge’s favorite iPhone email app. Based on an app called Accompli that Microsoft acquired, Outlook for iOS is fast and does a decent (but not always flawless) job of grouping your important emails into a “Focused” tab. It has a unified inbox, handles Gmail well, along with many other services, and has very fast, accurate search.
But Outlook’s biggest benefit is that it integrates your Calendar, Contacts, and Files into the app, and makes each of these accessible with a tap on an icon that’s always displayed at the bottom. This is a great convenience. The Files section even includes files stored in your cloud accounts. You won’t go wrong with Outlook.
The new kid
And now comes the simply named Mail by EasilyDo, a company previously known for selling a smart assistant app. EasilyDo’s new mail client handles Gmail very well, but isn’t just Gmail-centric. At launch, it can manage all kinds of email accounts except Exchange and POP, and Exchange is in the works for this summer.
The app’s major claims are sheer speed: built-in, one-tap unsubscribing; fast search; and smart assistants that extract, separate, and parse emails dealing with things like travel plans and bills. It also has a long list of other features, including a unified inbox, customizable message snoozing, and easy undo of sending emails and other actions.
And did I mention the one-tap unsubscribing?
In my tests, Mail by EasilyDo met all these claims.
First, speed. In nearly every case over five days or so, emails, and especially those to my Gmail accounts, popped up fastest in EasilyDo Mail — faster even than in Google’s own Gmail app, or Outlook.
Next, search — also fast, and with the keyword you searched for highlighted in the list of results. If you’re searching for a person, the results are sorted into separate lists for emails from that person and to that person.
You can also undo many actions, including the sending of an email, if you press a prominent, temporary Undo button within three seconds. This worked every time for me.
My favorite feature was one-tap unsubscribe. The app maintains a smart folder, or list, of messages it recognizes as subscriptions. You can quickly go through this list and hit an “X” to unsubscribe from the source that generated it. You don’t need to hunt for an unsubscribe link or go to a web page. You even get a little animation to tell you that the app has unsubscribed you.
In my tests, this seemed to work, judging by the confirmation-of-unsubscription emails I received. This is sort of like the standalone Unroll.me app, but built right into your email. EasilyDo’s unsubscribe function also works if you’re looking at an individual subscription email, rather than the folder it creates for them. The same button is there.
There are other intelligent folders. For instance, there’s one for travel. As soon as I installed the app, it found all the emails concerning flights and displayed the key information — like flight numbers, times, and seats — in a card.
There are similar smart folders for package-delivery emails, bills, and receipts, and entertainment-related emails, including restaurant reservations. Each of these groupings makes the relevant emails easy to find without searching, and the app parses the key info into easy-to-read cards.
An email concerning a Chinese food delivery from the service Foodler even listed the specific items I had ordered, like wonton soup.
There’s also a smart folder just for messages with attachments, so you can get to them more quickly.
(It should be noted here that Google’s Inbox app does something similar with intelligent categories for travel, purchases, finance, and more. But I prefer the overall feature set of EasilyDo Mail.)
Unless you don’t use Gmail, are a moderate emailer, and primarily use iCloud, I recommend you settle on an alternative to Apple Mail for iOS. You may have your own favorite, but I think the new EasilyDo contender is worth a try. An iPad version is coming this fall and an Android version later this year.
Now, it’s time for Apple to either up its email game significantly, or let users choose their own default email app — or do both.