June 21, 2010, 4:22 PM — In the time since the first iPhone was released, I've been one of Mobile Mail's biggest fans and its biggest critics. I'm a fan because, for an e-mail client on a mobile phone, Mail is surprisingly usable. But I'm a critic because, as good as Mail is, it's long had a number of glaring feature omissions that hamper its usefulness, and some of my biggest wishes for iOS 4 included filling those holes.
So I was understandably excited that Mail improvements received prominent mention during Apple's preview of iOS 4 this spring. Now that iOS 4 is here, it's time to take a look at the major improvements and new features in iPhone Mail.
Easily the most-requested feature for iPhone Mail (or at least the one I've heard the most over the past few years) has been a unified inbox--a single inbox that displays incoming messages from all your accounts. Mail in iOS 4 provides just that: The top level of the Mail-screen hierarchy continues to display a list of your Mail accounts, but above that you'll now find a new Inboxes section.
Tap the new All Inboxes item to see a list, sorted by date and time, of all the e-mail messages in the inboxes of all your mail accounts. Once you're in this list, you work with messages just as you would if you had navigated to a specific inbox. It's a welcome change, and one that will dramatically reduce the number of taps required by those anyone with multiple e-mail accounts.
On the other hand--that's a nice set of teeth you have there, Mr. Gift Horse--a day or so using this new feature reveals a few puzzling omissions. For example, when browsing All Inboxes, there's no way to tell which account received a particular message. And if, like me, you've set up an e-mail account to handle messages from mailing lists, places you've shopped online, and other "bulk" mail, you'll quickly wish there was a way to disable a particular account in the All Inboxes display.
Below All Inboxes, but still in the Inboxes section, you'll see your individual e-mail accounts. These items provide quick access to just the inbox for each account, letting you switch between individual inboxes without having to navigate down and up each account's hierarchical screens. This is a significant improvement that makes it easier to overlook the inability to disable accounts in All Inboxes.
When you want to navigate a particular account's list of mailboxes, you can use the Accounts section, now below the Inboxes section at the top level of Mail.
Multiple Exchange accounts