Email on iOS
Let’s talk about the state of email on i(Pad)OS. Before I dive deep into my expectations and what bothers me, a few general information:
- I do not use Gmail / Google Calendar and do not plan to use it
- I do not use MS Exchange and do not plan to use it
- I do use IMAP / ESMTP / CalDAV / CardDAV and plan to continue doing so
- MUA means Mail User Agent, or in layman’s terms: email client / email app
In addition, a short disclaimer: this is a highly personal perspective on the features a MUA needs to have. YMMV.
No that we got this clear, let’s dive in.
IMHO there’s literally not a single good MUA on i(Pad)OS, Mail.app included. However, it shouldn’t be that difficult to build a good one. Here are my requirements and expectations (in no particular order).
I don’t like apps that implement their own UI and don’t use system conventions (looking at you, Spark…). As one of the biggest strengths of i(Pad)OS is its uniform and consistent UI, a good email app would follow that. This includes having a good-looking UI on iPad that is not just a scaled variant of the iPhone layout.
There are hundreds of MUA in the App Store that aren’t maintained. A good MUA should be maintained and updated frequently to support the latest OS features (such as keyboard support on iPadOS) and receive bug fixes. As a bonus, a Test Flight program would be nice to have.
A MUA should NEVER EVER send your credentials to a remote server (other than the configured IMAP/SMTP server). If this means that push notifications aren’t available: okay, no problem. But storing email credentials on some third-party’s cloud server is a no-go.
A MUA isn’t functional, if it doesn’t handle text/plain emails well. Period.
Yes, text/html viewing is a nice feature for senders that don’t get their emails right, but text/plain is essential.
There’s absolutely no valid reason why a MUA would support fancy WYSIWYG editors but does not offer a simple text box (ideally with automatic text wrapping at 72 columns). Therefore a good MUA should at least offer a plaintext editor. If it wants to convert that text to text/html and send a multipart/alternative message, fine, I don’t care.
And while we’re at it: reply quoting should be configurable, so that top posting can be disabled.
A: Because it reverses the logical flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting frowned upon?
For more information on plaintext email I strongly recommend useplaintext.email, which is where I got that top posting joke from.
When the MUA includes an HTML message viewer, I expect a setting to disable the loading of any remote content. If, and only if I decide that I want to view the images in the message, there should be a button that loads the images once. Some advanced feature would be to allow remote content from some senders, however that’s not that important to me.
As a heavy user of mailing lists, I want the MUA to support message threading, at least in the message reading view. Even better would be to have threading support in the message list.
I use Inbox Zero as a workflow to keep up with my emails. A good MUA offers a quick and intuitive way to archive messages from the message list and the message detail view. The former should be available as a swipe gesture, the latter as a single-tap action.
The archive folder should be configurable, most people seem to use
Archive, however some people prefer other names. A nice-to-have feature would be to offer archiving by year/month like Thunderbird does it.
No Tracking Bullshit
Some MUA drift into the business mail tracking business. Don’t do it, please.
Nobody wants to be tracked
invisibly, therefore keep any of this tracking shit out of the MUA, please!
As a compromise, a MUA may examine the usual read receipt headers (if opted in in the settings) and prompt the user before sending a read receipt. Same goes for message composition.
It’d be nice if the app was Free Open Source Software, even if it isn’t available for free in the App Store.
I may be a bit biased here, however I’d appreciate it if the MUA was a good IMAP citizen (no abuse of the SEARCH command, not using STATUS for new message checks, etc.) and implements modern IMAP RFCs.
If the app was able to parse event invitations or at least offered a quick way to open them in a calendar app, it’d be neat.
Last but not least: PGP support would be awesome, at least for decrypting and verifying
CalDAV / CardDAV
Since MS Exchange is capable of handling this and for some people it counts into the email domain, I felt the need to mention it here: i(Pad)OS supports CalDAV / CardDAV natively. The integration works well and I never had any trouble in the past few years. I don’t need any fancy contact or calendar integration in my MUA.
If you’re looking for a good calendar app, I recommend Fantastical by Flexibits . I’ve used it for years and it’s great! Also, they’ve recently released Cardhop for managing contacts.
Most of the features I expect from a MUA aren’t that difficult to implement. In fact, I mostly discourage the implementation of complex features such as HTML composition or push notifications.
Sadly, I’m not an app developer and don’t really see me becoming one, otherwise I’d probably build the MUA of my dreams.
If however you are an i(Pad)OS app developer and intend to build such a MUA, I’d be more than happy to help you where I can.
Drop me an email or ping me on Mastodon.