It’s not always easy to appreciate all of the hard work that goes into building mobile applications. This is especially true when they involved synchronizing data to remote servers, and even more true when they involve synchronizing data to remote servers when that data is also being synchronized with other devices. That’s one of the many reasons email is so difficult — beyond developing a novel and useful client, you also have to grapple with complex sync issues in order to put together a good solution.
Airmail for the iPhone is easily the best iOS email client the world has ever seen… but for me, it’s also completely unusable.
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Bloop S.R.L.’s Airmail app is a tremendous accomplishment. The app is $4.99 in the App Store and in terms of design and utility, it’s worth 10 times as much.
Airmail packs more features and options than any other iOS email client on the planet, and yet it’s somehow wonderfully simple at the same time. If you’re a power user, Airmail has anything and everything you could possibly need and more. But if you’re an average user who doesn’t want to mess with all the bells and whistles, they stay completely out of your way.
Bloop also makes an email client for Mac, and I use it exclusively. It has nearly all of the features I want and packs them into a gorgeous and simple interface. So you can imagine how happy I was when Airmail was first released for the iPhone. And now, as of Monday, the app also works on the iPad, connecting all of the dots in my digital world.
But for me, it’s still completely unusable.
Microsoft’s Outlook client for iOS is good, but not great. It’s missing a few things I would love to see and some key features like snoozing aren’t configurable or don’t even always work. I also have issues with the calendar and had to stop using the app as a calendar because of a few missed appointments. But Microsoft has been doing email forever and it has email sync down cold.
Here’s why that’s important: I don’t get one or two emails each day. I don’t get 10 or 20. I receive hundreds of emails each and every day.
When I’m on my phone, I deal with email on my phone. And when I’m using my computer… you guessed it… I deal with email on my computer. Because I switch back and forth constantly, I need everything I do on one device to sync instantly to other devices. And since the bulk of my emails come during the workday when I’m most often sitting at my desk, I deal with the majority of my email on my Mac.
Now, here’s where advanced sync tech comes into play.
When I get a new email, a notification appears on my computer and on my phone. (The one on my phone is silent, of course, and I explained why long ago.) If I open it, respond to it, archive it or delete it on my computer, I obviously don’t need to see the notification on my phone anymore right? Well, Microsoft knows that and Outlook syncs notifications not just when an email arrives, but also when an action takes place on another device. So when I read an email on my Mac in Airmail, Outlook dismisses the notification on my iPhone.
It might sound like a trivial feature but I assure you it’s not. It’s quite complex and for users like me, it’s incredibly important.
Why is it so important? As I work on my Mac, I often go for long stretches of time without picking up my phone. During one such stretch, I might receive 50 or 75 new emails. When I finally pick up my phone, I don’t want to see 75 new email notifications for 75 old emails I’ve already dealt with. I want to see notifications for events that actually might be important and informative, and might actually require my attention.
If I use Airmail (or most other iOS email clients), I don’t see those notifications because they’re buried under a mountain of email alerts I don’t need. With Outlook, however, those old alerts are all gone, and I see only what I need to see. It’s hugely important, and with Outlook it always works.
Airmail is a great app but if you want the best possible email experience, Airmail simply cannot provide it as-is.