Dear Apple: iPad Mail gripes.

Over the years, I haven't had much luck communicating with Apple (or, in fact, most large companies) about their products through official channels, but as it happens, enough technical people read this blog that sometimes just griping here about it reaches the people who matter.

So, with that in mind:

Dear Apple, here are some things about the iPad mail reader that I really wish you'd fix.

Currently my "real" computer is in the shop, so I've been using my iPad and iPhone exclusively for work and blogging for two weeks (and probably another two weeks to go.) Mostly this works fine, but there are a few things about the mail reader that are real usability problems. Worst first:

  1. Replies do not respect the email address to which the message being replied to was sent.

    I have a single IMAP server to which half a dozen different (role-based) email addresses are delivered. In the desktop Mail.app, if I reply to a message that was sent to "jwz@jwz.org", the From field is set to "jwz@jwz.org" by default; likewise if that message was to "booking@dnalounge.com", the From field is set to "booking@dnalounge.com" (because both of those are configured as my comma-separated return addresses.)

    On the iPad and iPhone, the From field is always set to the first address in the list ("jwz@jwz.org") and every time I reply, I have to click on "Show From/CC"; "From"; scroll; and select the proper address from the list. This is a huge waste of time that I have to do for every single reply, that I don't have to do on the desktop Mail.app.

  2. There is only one "signature" field, making canned replies very difficult.

    A big part of what I do all day long is reply to email with stock responses. On the desktop, I do this by having dozens of signatures. I hit reply; select the appropriate signature from the menu in the compose window; and send. This is perhaps not what signatures are designed for, but it's the closest thing to a "stationary" system that Mail.app has, and it works pretty well.

    There's no reasonable way to accomplish these kinds of canned responses at all on the iPhone or iPad.

    The best you could come up with would be to store your canned responses in the "Notes" app. The process would be to start a reply; switch to Notes; copy; switch back; paste. That's a hell of a lot more clicking, and takes way too long. (There are also some 3rd-party apps that do this sort of thing, but since the iPad mail reader has no plugin architecture, this still means app-switching so it's really no better than using Notes.)

  3. Does not synchronize all my mailboxes automatically.

    I use "Sieve" on the server-side to pre-filter my incoming mail into several different inboxes. On the desktop Mail.app, when mail shows up in any of these folders, the "unread" badge is updated automatically. On the iPhone or iPad, I have to manually select each folder before it will check the server for new messages in that folder. It only automatically checks the single mailbox called "INBOX", which I don't even use.

    This is with the same IMAP account and login on both desktop and iPad, and it works on desktop, so it's not a server issue.

  4. No way to turn off quotation in replies.

    I don't want to quote the entirety of every message I'm replying to. There's no preference to disable this. "Select All / Delete" works -- if you do it every single time you reply -- but only if you don't have a signature. Otherwise, it's a more complicated and time-consuming set of drag gestures to delete the quotery but leave the sig intact.

  5. There is no "load images" button.

    I have image loading off by default in Mail to speed things up, but every now and then there's a message where I want to see the images. No way to do that without going all the way out to the Preferences app.

  6. Mobile Safari does not implement "form upload".

    When someone sends me a flyer image for one of our events, I have to post that image to our web site. If I'm on a real computer, I can drag it to the desktop, and then either scp it, or upload it through a web form... if I'm on an iPad, well, there's just no way to do it at all. I can save the image into the "Photos" app, but the <input type=file> form element is ignored on Mobile Safari. One would expect it to at least let me select items from my photo gallery. I'd be thrilled if I could select from my mail attachments (e.g., PDFs or other documents that can't be stored into the Photos app first.)

    I solved this by implementing a magic, secret email address on my server -- when I forward a message to that address, it extracts all the MIME attachments and saves each of them in a tmp directory, where I can get at them after ssh'ing in. But this is dumb, and I shouldn't have been forced to resort to such an indignity. It's also not an option for most other people.

Like I said, I find the iPad mail reader to be really good for most things. These are just the remaining things that really get in my way, usually multiple times a day.

So... if any of you reading this who are Apple insiders could pass this along to the people who might be able to actually effect change here, that would be awesome!

Tags: , , ,

53 Responses:

  1. Tom says:

    For what it's worth (i.e. not much), only the current selection is quoted if there is one.

  2. Photar  says:

    Regarding #1 would be be a usable work around to have each email address set up as a separate account?

    • jwz says:

      Having "get mail" initiate 6 to 10 separate, simultaneous connections to the same server sounds like something that would work out somewhat less-than-great in practice.

  3. Sean Graham says:

    Regarding #4:

    This isn't a solution but if you select text in the message before tapping reply, only that selected text will be quoted. In messages which you don't want to quote anything, you could select one word and then have less 'quote' to delete manually.

    • jwz says:

      Oh, cool! I knew that desktop Mail.app did that but I hadn't noticed that it works on iPad too. (Maybe it didn't used to?)

    • jwz says:

      Turns out this still kind of sucks in practice, since it puts the quoted text below my sig, which means it is always off-screen, so there's still a big pain-in-the-ass scrolling and dragging dance necessary. Even if only one word is selected, it's faster to do select all and drag the top mark down to below the sig.

      • Sean Graham says:

        Yeah, I don't use a sig on my iPhone or iPad, which is probably why I never noticed that. Not to mention that selecting text on iOS, while serviceable, is pretty shitty itself.

      • That's part of the modern day "You will use top-replies, Citizen" regime that we can thank MS Outlook for getting 95% of the world (who never used Usenet and don't frequent mailing lists with any shred of etiquette) into the habit of. It's the primary reason that I still use mutt(1) for email except when no other realistic option exists (eg, smart phone), although I'm not about to recommend anyone else do that.

        There exist (clumsy) hacks around this for desktop Mail.app, but absolutely no resolution for the iOS Mail, and I wouldn't hold my breath. This is a "VHS won" situation.

  4. Lun Esex says:

    Some things that might help when using Mail on an iOS device:

    When you go back up to the top Mailboxes/Accounts level and select "All Inboxes" it will then synchronize all mailboxes at once.

    The "Reply to" address is auto-set to the account whose Inbox you are viewing, or the Default Account in your Settings when you're viewing "All Inboxes." So if you go into the "jwz@jwz.org" Inbox to read and reply to all email sent to that account, the "Reply to" address will be auto-set to "jwz@jwz.org." (This may not be how your flow-processing works. It also means doing the opposite of the above, but at least if you go to "All Inboxes" first and then go back out you'll know how many new emails are in each individual Inbox all at once, before going into each one to read and reply to them with your "Reply to" address auto-set correctly.)

    To quote only part of a message you are replying to, select just the portion you wish to quote, before hitting the Reply button.

    There are no (easy) workarounds I know of for multiple signatures, loading images only in individual emails, and form uploads.

    Hope this helps.

    • jwz says:

      Not sure I understand what you mean, but:

      I have a single account. That account's address is a comma-separated list of email addresses.

      When I back all the way out in the landscape-mode UI, I see a list that says:

      Inbox
      Drafts
      Sent
      Trash
      DNA
          Inbox
          Booking
          Archive
      jwz
          Inbox
          Lists
          Blog
          Archive
      Cron

      (And a few others.)

      The DNA/Inbox, DNA/Booking, jwz/Inbox, jwz/Lists, jwz/Blog, and Cron folders are my "real" inboxes, that Sieve delivers unread messages in to. That top-level Inbox above Drafts is unused and never has messages in it.

      When I hit the "reload" icon at the bottom of this pane to check for new mail, it does not detect new mail in DNA/Booking, etc. I have to select each folder manually to know whether there are new messages in it.

      No matter what folder or message is selected when I hit Reply, the From field is set to jwz@jwz.org (the first address in the account's comma-separated list of addresses.)

      • Lun Esex says:

        What I was saying can be summed up as "The way iOS Mail is set up it'd work better for you if you had everything set up with multiple IMAP accounts." Sorry.

        • Jon says:

          A compromise might be to set up multiple IMAP accounts, with valid outbound server definitions, but deliberately incorrect inbound ones. Therefore, syncing/fetching mail won't mean duplicating the same account for each role address jwz uses. However, The "Add mail account" wizard is too helpful and pretty much refuses to let you add an invalid server name for an IMAP account.

          • Lun Esex says:

            I've done it. I think the "Add mail account" assistant used to be less robust and more forgiving of junk data in prior iOS versions, though, and I've just carried the settings over across OS updates. It may also be possible to do by setting it up on your desktop system and synching the account info.

    • Lun Esex says:

      Replying to my own message after re-reading the OP...

      I guess you only have it checking a single IMAP account. I wouldn't expect iOS to ever be changed so that it always checks for unread messages inside each and every folder on IMAP. Aside from the newer AppleTVs iOS devices are inherently battery-dependent, so for power savings they'll surely keep it only checking the Inbox folder on any account. It's a lot more clear to users that they're explicitly going to loading messages from multiple locations when they go to "All Inboxes" than if they go to a single account and it starts checking all of that account's folders. Also, imagine the amount of power used if someone goes to "All Inboxes" with several accounts set up and each one had dozens or hundreds of folders that were all being checked at the same time. It a lot easier, conceptually, to understand if you have say five accounts that going to "All Inboxes" is going to open five connections and check for new mail in the Inbox folder (only) of each one of those accounts.

      • jwz says:

        Having separate IMAP accounts for each of jwz@dnalounge.com, booking@dnalounge.com, orders@dnalounge.com, manager@dnalounge.com, etc. would be idiotic. Also it would slow down mail retrieval, since I'd have to wait for connect() a dozen times instead of just once! Not to mention multiplying the configuration pain by 12 (Change your password? Change the server name or port? Have fun! Don't miss any!)

        I'm sure I'm not the only person in the world who runs a business that has "role" addresses.

        Let me reiterate that this all works fine in desktop Mail.app.

        If you think you can make assumptions about available bandwidth or network quality based on whether the OS is iOS or MacOS, you're wrong (and will presumably be more wrong in the future). Laptops and iPads all use the same wifi network no matter what OS they happen run.

        • Lun Esex says:

          No doubt there are a fair number of other people who have "role" addresses. The percentage of iOS users who have them is likely to very small, right now.

          Desktop Mail.app is a much more mature product. The Mail app on iOS had only a bare minimum of functionality when it was first released, and it's taken four years to get even to where it's at now. (Originally you couldn't even manually change your "Reply to" address when composing an email.) I'm sure a large amount of the work that's been done on it has been on Exchange integration, which is useless to you, but highly appealing to a very large number of other businesses and business users that Apple would like to sell to.

          In the consumer-centric view of iOS, outside of Exchange integration the simpler conceptual way to do what you are doing is multiple email accounts. It's easy for users to understand that to check a single mailbox they tap on one account's Inbox, and to check them all they tap on "All Inboxes." Probably 99% of all iOS users are simply not even going to have the ability to set up their mail accounts the way you have yours.

          This is not an excuse for Apple to never fill in features of Mail on iOS to match Mail.app on Mac OS X, but it's simply not surprising that they're not there, yet.

          • Tyler says:

            One man's Sieve is another man's Gmail labels.

            I've met a lot of people, even non-technical people, who are using forwarded accounts and Gmail labels as a way of integrating multiple role-based accounts, so the set of users with a similar problem may not be as insignificant as you suggest.

            I considered using a similar setup to get around the pain of checking five accounts from iOS Mail, but having to manually check each label-based folder prevented me from using that solution.

            I'm now stuck with the five accounts. It's slow but at least it is automatic, and reply works correctly most of the time.

            • Yeah, I basically hit this same issue just using my GMail with labels. I have some mailing lists etc that get filtered to apply a label and skip the Inbox, and if I want to check them in iOS Mail, I click on the folder and wait for it to sync. I'm not sure I'd want every folder to be auto-synced, but it'd be nice to have a toggle per-folder at least.

            • Lun Esex says:

              Ahh, better Gmail integration. Now there's a reason for Apple to get to work on something ASAP.[/snark] :)

      • Bret Martin says:

        For Exchange ActiveSync accounts, iOS Mail lets you choose which folders should be enabled for push. Others are only updated if you "go into" them.

        I don't see any reason something similar couldn't be done for IMAP folders.

        I also wish they would support IMAP IDLE. That worked great for multiple IMAP folders on my old Symbian phone.

  5. What I'd personally like to know is: the new iOS development guidelines (pdf link, sorry) brought down from the mountain last year by Steve Himself don't seem in any way to ban the development of a third-party IMAP client, at least to my non-lawyerly eyes. So... why the hell aren't there any? You'd think there would be an obvious market to cater to here.

    • Jon says:

      At some point in the past they definitely did refuse to accept mail apps. That might have killed the desire.

      • Yeah, I get that. What I'm curious about is whether they're still turning them down (or warning people away from it) despite the new "more open" guidelines.

    • Why would you ever risk it? Apple have been pretty brutal on anything that competes with what they consider the core of the iOS app suite. You would probably spend a lot of time and effort on something that would almost certainly sooner or later get kicked in the nuts.

      Just ask the guy who did iCab. Now *there's* a reward for being the last browser make to support classic Macs...

      • Not that Apple would necessarily make a logical decision on this point, but your logic doesn't scan.

        Apple doesn't charge for the base iOS apps. Apple DOES take a healthy cut of the sale price of apps sold in iTunes App Store. Therefore, a for-cost IMAP MUA app that implemented features that Mobile Mail does not would make Apple money.

        Apps that have been rejected because they're "redundant" are those apps that would cut into Apple's or its partners' (AT&T or Verizon) profit margin (alternatives to the iTunes Store, whether for apps or music; VoIP that functions on mobile, rather than wifi, data connections).

        For an example of an app available in the iTunes App Store that duplicates basic functionality provided by the base iOS apps, consider the third-party "Atomic Web" browser (which, admittedly, just wraps Mobile Safari for rendering, but provides features like tabbed--rather than horizontal page switching--browsing).

        • fantasygoat says:

          It's not so much about Money as it is about Image, which I believe Steve cares very deeply about.

          An alternative email app would undermine the Image and is therefore forbidden.

        • Lun Esex says:

          Apple has in the past decided to not accept apps whose functionality didn't duplicate what was in the current suite of built-in apps, but was about to be released with the next OS update. An example of this is Podcaster, which was denied because it "duplicated" iTunes functionality. Apple later integrated over the air podcast downloading in the onboard iOS iTunes app. In the meantime the developer of Podcaster created a more barebones app called RSS Player. At some later point the developer revisited Podcaster and re-submitted it, and it was approved.

          Another example is that several third party developers started working together at the second iPhone Dev Camp to integrate a copy and paste mechanism before Apple did. They were quickly told that the trick they were using to pass data between apps was against the rules (I'm not sure the URL schema for officially passing data between apps existed yet).

          There seems to be a fine line to walk regarding apps that implement features that Apple believes should exist, or is planning to add, with at least minimum functionality in the core suite of onboard apps. It may be they want to ensure that everyone gets certain functionality in a universal way before allowing others to release apps that have more advanced features. It may be even more likely that they don't want to be sued by third parties for "stealing" features that were first released in third party apps, since they've had to deal with this in the past in Mac OS. In this way, Apple holding some App Store submissions back can be compared to how some content creators won't even look at unsolicited submissions for the fear of being sued for plagiarism when they come up with similar ideas independently.

          • Ian says:

            Or, in other words, the sooner a certain control freak dies, the better.

            • Lun Esex says:

              ...allowing us to be returned to our regularly scheduled programming from Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Acer, RIM, Nokia, Motorola, Sony, Adobe, the RIAA, the MPAA, etc. That'll be a day the sun shines bright in the technology world.

  6. Will says:

    Anyone entering this space would have to contend with a free, pre-installed competitor. Jamie might have a story or two about how well that goes.

    • Thunderbird, Eudora, TheBat, MailSmith and half a dozen others seem to do okay despite the existence of Mail.app and whatever horror replaced Outlook Express. Netscape's business goals were pretty epic-scale, but you wouldn't have to displace iOS Mail to keep a developer or two in beer and skittles selling a replacement.

  7. josh says:

    Does iPad/iPhone Mail.app allow the comma-separated "role" e-mail addresses now?

    • jwz says:

      So, it always has -- but the on-screen kbd in that prefs field doesn't have a comma on it! You have to paste that character in from elsewhere. But, if you had set up your iPhone By syncing your mail settings from your Mac, and you had commas in there, it had pulled those, commas and all.

      So it is lame that that prefs kbd doesn't have a comma on it, since this has clearly been supported at a deep level since day one.

      • Lloyd says:

        Quoting this Apple support discussion:

        Actually there is no need to put a comma between email addresses, just hitting return when you are finished with the first one will put the address in a bubble and allow you to type other addresses.

        Given that Microsoft Exchange and Outlook insist on semi-colons instead of commas (arguably makes sense as more visible?), sticking to just return and forcing it by removing comma seems reasonable.

  8. Adam Lindsay says:

    Poking around in that prefs kbd, I seem to have found a comma buried in num-shift-p (or shift-0). Odd.

    But this comment thread seemed like a helpful hint for the occasional role-based mailing I have to do.

  9. You should submit all of this to Apple's Bug Reporter, which will be tracked internally at Apple.

    • You should read the first paragraph of the post.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, I know that in theory I "should", but I don't bother doing that any more because I have reported many bugs to Apple (and other similarly-huge-and-pathologically-secretive companies) in that way in the past and have never gotten any feedback on them, ever.

      Whereas, when I just post on my blog instead, I often get a reply from the person actually working on the product. (Usually that reply begins with, "Don't tell anybody I told you, but...")

      Your mileage may vary.

    • Scott says:

      In my experience, it will get tagged as a duplicate and you won't be able to track it any more, since you can't see anyone else's bug submissions. Or it will just be left open forever. I'm not surprised anyone would find it frustrating.

  10. chad says:

    As a potential workaround (not solution) to #6: there are a number of `document readers' for ios that add themselves to iOS Mail's `open in' hook. I use GoodReader (and recommend it), which supports uploading in a variety of ways (I primarily use it with dropbox and google docs). For your case, you'd tap-and-hold on the attachment in Mail, and then choose `Open in GoodReader' or the generic `Open In...' option from the popup menu, and then upload from whatever app you chose.

    Certainly not a solution, but perhaps less painful as a work-around (it avoids the ssh-into-server step, at least).

    For #1 & #3, I'm currently having my ipad check the 4 accounts I care about most, and while it's not pain-free, it's not eye-gougingly horrible. I don't know that it's good enough to recommend changing your infrastructure investment, but it might be worth trying it on one additional account.

    Hope that helps.

  11. hurk durk says:

    when I forward a message to that address, it extracts all the MIME attachments and saves each of them in a tmp directory, where I can get at them after ssh'ing in

    can you post this? is it similar to your ljpost script?

  12. gryazi says:

    As I discovered when asked to have-a-look-at-something, lack of "form upload" also breaks eBay selling. And helpfully, while their *iPhone* applet supports uploading something like 3 pictures max [from a classily pixellated scaled interface - how's that Display PDF working out for you?], the *iPad* applet has yet to grow the feature at all.

  13. I really wish they'd implement a file picker that at least let you upload photos. I can't imagine it's a huge amount of code--all the actual HTTP/form encoding bits are already in desktop Safari, and the photo picker is a standard UIKit widget. This is the only reason I use the Facebook app, which is pretty awful compared to the Facebook webpage.

    • Lun Esex says:

      Practically everything that's in iOS and its bundled apps has existed as bits of code in one form or another in desktop Mac OS X, Safari, Mail.app, iPhoto, iTunes, Address Book, iCal, iChat, QuickTime, Preview, System Preferences, etc. etc. So yeah, all they really need to do is click their heels together and it'll be done.

      Plus the lack of a file picker in Mobile Safari on iOS is so totally holding these iOS devices back. I can't imagine how Apple can ever hope they'll get any kind of traction in the marketplace without it.

      And it's not like it's so hard to make an HTTP form file picker that can always tell when a web site specifically wants an image file, and is otherwise inactive. Not that Apple cares about people being confused or frustrated about a file picker that only works some of the time. Or by one that works all of the time but only allows them the option of picking photos instead of files such as office documents and PDFs that they already can view as email attachments, or edit as files in the iPad versions of Pages, Numbers, Keynote, etc.

      But again, since the bits of code exist to deal with these kinds of files at all on iOS devices, really all they need to do is snap their fingers to integrate it all and make it work nice together. Plus some Photoshop pixel pusher guy to make it look pretty. The rest, of course, is just marketing (which they shouldn't need to bother to do, regardless, since the iSheep will buy one of everything Apple puts out anyways).

      It's all so simple.

      • I didn't say "simple", I said "not a huge amount of code". But seriously, I would rather have a file picker that only allowed me to upload photos than none at all. Considering there's no general-purpose file storage on iOS, I think that would be a reasonable improvement. You can take the rest of your snark and shove it up your ass, because I'm not buying it.

        • Lun Esex says:

          I'd rather have a file picker that only allowed me to upload photos than none at all, too--but I understand why they haven't done that so far; and that what I would find acceptable, reasonable, and/or most desirable doesn't necessarily match Apple's opinion of the same. Love it or leave it, their consistent success vs. their competitors seems to hold out the validity of those opinions.

      • Scott says:

        Oh please. Apple has no problem driving additions to HTML to make this kind of thing easier. Just have the upload field provide a mime-type that it wants, and then Safari will work right on those fields at least.

  14. Brian Ashe says:

    For #6: I haven't yet tried it myself but according to this, the iCab browser lets you upload images. Seems to be a universal app so $1.99 gets you that ability on BOTH of your iDevices.