Out of the 250+ new features in Apple’s Mac OS X Lion, the Mail application seems to have received the biggest number overall. No doubt for most of us, checking our email is a bittersweet daily task. We may look forward to receiving messages from friends and family, or notices about a cool software update, but checking emails and managing them can sometimes be a sheer hassle.
In its latest version of Mail, Apple streamlined the user interface of the application so that emails can be previewed, sorted, and searched more effectively. I have already written about one new feature in Mail, but there are several others that you may have overlooked. Let’s see what time-saving features the new Mail has to offer.
The most significant streamlining that Apple did to the user interface of Mail is to incorporate column views. The left column is for mailboxes and folders; the center section contains your Inbox of email messages; and the third column consists of selected message(s). In the column view, you can now streamline and group messages into “conversations,” with senders you have replied back to.
Also, with the new bookmarks bar feature (which I will talk about next) in Mail, you may find less need for the first column. So you can simply hide it, especially if you’re running Mail on a small laptop Mac.
Notice also that the Inbox includes a preview, consisting of the first two lines of each message.
One of the best and, I think, most useful new features in Mail is the favorites bar that sits right below the toolbar. The favorites bar includes a few default Mail folders, such as Inbox, Drafts, Sent, and Notes.
With these folders at the top, you may not need the first column as much in Mail. Also, what you may not realize at first – because it was not obvious to me for several weeks after using the new Mail – is that you can drag other mailboxes, folders, and accounts (in the form of an alias) to the favorites bar. This feature essentially works like the Bookmarks Bar in Safari.
Apple has also improved the search capabilities of Mail. Now when you search for a name or other subject, the search results get broken down by “People“, “Subjects” and “Mailboxes“.
When you select a search result, you can further narrow the type of email you are looking for, for example, “From“, “To” or “Entire Message“. I think Apple understood that for many users, searching for a name or subject is often faster than using mailboxes and folders.
You can also refine your search by using what is called “Tokens“. For example, if you want to find all the emails you received from Amazon.com in the month of August, you can simply type, “Amazon August 2011“. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive list of tokens that can be used for searches, but a few that worked for me include: “last week”, “last month” and “last year”.
One more time saving feature is that you can actually save searches. After conducting a search, you can click the Save button on the right side of Mail, and from there a Smart Mailbox rule will be initiated for you. You can add and change the rules, and save the mailbox, which automatically updates itself based on the rules you set. Smart Mailboxes, which I have written about before, and in my MUO Guide to Mac Automation, are huge time savers when it comes to managing e-mails.
Flagging & Sorting
For Mail power users, Apple has also made it easier to sort messages in the Inbox – by Attachments, by Date, by Flags, Subject, and so forth. This type of sorting is also useful when you want to sort and delete messages in bulk.
For those of you who like to flag messages, Apple included multiple colored flags, which are similar to the multi-colored labels in the Finder. Just right- or control-click on a message to select and add a flag to it. As you will see, you can also filter messages by flags. You can change the label for flags, by looking under the Reminders > Flagged section in the first column of Mail. Flags that you have applied to messages will appear in that section. Double-click on a flag’s label to change it.
If you have a batch of emails that you would like to archive, the new version of Mail makes it easier to do so. Simply select designated messages, and choose Message> Archive in the menu bar.
Archiving messages is a great way to de-clutter and manage messages in your mailbox.
As you tinker around and use Mail more you will discover a few other small changes that might make the task of reading and managing emails a little less troublesome.
Tell us what you like and dislike about Mail in Mac OS X Lion, and what features you find the most useful.