The number of iPhone email clients has exploded over the last year, ever since Apple’s “no two apps that do the same thing” rule appears to have been retired in favour of common sense. Apple’s default Mail app isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just a little old fashioned.
Even iOS 7’s Mail client doesn’t appear to be a whole lot different according to initial Apple press releases, so it might be time to opt for a third party app. Alternatives range from highly focused companion apps designed to get your inbox to zero in as little time as possible, to hybrid reminder apps that treat your inbox like a big to-do list.
No one solution will be right for everyone, so here are six apps designed to solve a problem like your inbox.
Mailbox is the iOS email app that kicked up quite a storm at the start of 2013 when it opened registrations and starting building hype as a new way to tackle email on the iPhone. Well, perhaps that should be a “new way to tackle Gmail on the iPhone” because at present Mailbox only works with email accounts from Google (including Google Apps).
The app takes a fresh approach to email (a direction that many have since adopted) in that it allows you to schedule your email, a feature known as “Snoozing”. This means that you can essentially mute certain conversations until you are ready to deal with them, in essence increasing productivity by hiding so-called distractions. The app also allows you to quickly archive and delete messages using gestures, essential for cleaning out inboxes in a hurry.
Mailbox also features a permanent to-do list, so you can keep track of tasks you have assigned via messages and it allows you to compose outgoing messages too. That might seem like a silly thing to point out, but not all iPhone email apps support it. This means Mailbox is a complete solution for reading, responding, scheduling and composing email on the go – provided you’re a Gmail user, that is.
Another “complete” solution, Boxer is an email client that’s capable of replacing Apple’s Mail in its entirety thanks to a complete set of features. This includes smart and separate inboxes, the ability to compose new email and send replies and the usual archive, delete and spam controls for quickly eating up the contents of your inbox.
Boxer’s unique selling point comes in the form of quick replies, which can be sent with a tap. These allow you to “Like” a message which sends a generic “Tim liked your Message with Boxer” reply, as well as setting-up your own custom “Quick” replies via app settings. Other features include the ability to add images and even attach a file from your Dropbox account.
Boxer’s to-do list allows you to keep track of email in a similar way to Mailbox, but Boxer works with more than just Gmail and includes: Google Mail (and Google Apps), Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Outlook, AOL and iCloud. Boxer presently only supports push notifications for Gmail.
Ready for something a little different? Dispatch is an intentionally limited email client. This is because Dispatch bills itself as an action-based email client, that allows you to get things done with your email. It works with Gmail, iCloud, AOL and Yahoo! webmail accounts as well as other IMAP accounts but not Exchange, Outlook or Hotmail.
The app includes quick swiping gestures for quickly clearing an inbox, with quick controls for marking unread, starring, archiving and so on. Dispatch also includes actions, allowing you to take an email and use it to create a reminder, send to your Evernote account or save to Dropbox among others. Similarly, URLs in email can be saved to Instapaper, Opened in Safari or Chrome, added to 1Password and so on. The app also allows you to quickly quote text in a reply, and add snippets from boilerplate text.
It’s an interesting approach, but one that comes with a certain degree of compromise. There are no notifications, and no plans to add them (this is an email reader, not a true client). There is no support for POP or Exchange, with no plans and even basic functions like the ability to search or read your sent mail are absent. For this reason, Dispatch will never replace Mail entirely but might just make the perfect accompaniment instead.
If there’s one member of our team who knows a thing or two about email on iOS, it’s Bakari. In his round-up of time-saving iOS communication apps he featured Triage as his favourite “one-trick-pony”. To quote Bakari: “when I want to cut through my emails like slicing up an apple, I launch Triage”.
This is because Triage is a very limiting email app that presents you each message, one by one, and allows you to swipe upwards to archive and downwards to keep. You can quickly reply to messages, and it works with all IMAP email accounts including iCloud, Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. That’s pretty much it – very simple, but very effective (and with a staff recommendation to boot).
Mail Pilot ($14.99)
The most expensive app on this list, Mail Pilot takes the to-do list approach to email effectively turning your inbox into a tightly managed schedule. Just like Mailbox, Mail Pilot uses a combination of swipes and procrastination to hide unnecessary email until a later date so you can get on with items that need your input now. Email can be assigned to a date or a list, all of which sync with your mail account and are accessible from standard mail clients as folders.
The app includes bulk actions, so you can quickly clear whole folders of messages in no time. Mail Pilot is a universal app, and works with all IMAP email accounts including Gmail, iCloud and Yahoo! webmail accounts too. The price is probably the biggest concern, as $15 for an app is construed as expensive these days. Then again if this is the app that will save you time and increase productivity, $15 seems like a small price to pay.
Last but not least, there’s the hybrid app Cloze that is capable of tackling email and social networks. The app takes your inbox, conversations and contacts and links them with social media profiles and “key people”. It does all this while detecting bulk mail like subscriptions and newsletters and adding them to a bulk mail list. A number of factors such as frequency of interaction with a person go toward determining what Cloze supposes your relationship is, and then contacts are ranked accordingly.
By default Cloze condenses social media and email from contacts under the same sorting, but you can specify otherwise and tackle just social or just mail. A range of swipe gestures help you quickly tackle a screen full of correspondance while custom lists of people can be made for friends, family and coworkers to keep personal life and work life separate.
It’s an interesting and feature-packed attempt, and might appeal most to those who rely on social media for more than just posting a quick update. The fact that Cloze is free provides another reason to try it out.
So Which Did You Choose?
Now you’ve seen my shortlist, which is the right email solution for you? Maybe you’re happy with Apple’s in-built mail app? Add your thoughts and preferences to the comments, below.
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