IOS Third Party email Quandary

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In “Rethinking Email” I discussed the trend currently underway to reconsider effective methods of managing email. There are a variety of solutions available from both the local client to server based solutions that are there to help with email handling. One area of significance is IOS email.

We have seen a proliferation of IOS third party email clients. When I refer to third party email clients, I’m talking about those clients that are not the one included by Apple as part of IOS. Some of them are free while others charge money.

All the third party clients approach email though from slight change to the traditional approach to that of a radical departure. The radical approaches view the handling of email in a whole new way.

The Problem or Problems

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In particular, IOS, in this area specifically, is creating a number of problems around email in that the clients are somewhat unstable to very unconventional. Looking at IOS’s built in mail client, it is fully compatible with the desktop and approaches email in the more conventional folder driven approach to email. Mail, in the conventional domain, gets actioned (read) and filed in a folder such as “read”.

Veering away from Apple’s mail at the IOS level creates numerous problems. Firstly, I should point out that mail is also being rethought at the desktop however, it is being rethought in terms of value add or as an enhancement to the traditional approach rather than that of radical departure. Indev’s products for OSX mail is a good example. Another example would be Outlook’s value add feature set to the handling of mail.

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IOS comes at mail by and large from the unconventional position. First, in almost all cases, third party IOS email runs solely at the IOS level. If it were conventional in approach this might not be a problem. Since it is often radically different than the way you deal with mail using Apple’s mail or the desktop, you will be working in a schizophrenic fashion. One way at the IOS level and a dramatically different way at the desktop. This is ultimately not good for productivity.

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However, before I go further I want to qualify this. Gmail’s own client for their IOS mail works much the same way as does the desktop and in fact is probably a nice enhancement over the desktop. I do not call this a radical departure. It also works (doesn’t crash) and working is important.

On the issue of mail working, mail is complex. A lot of IOS third party products, a long with being very different, either don’t work or don’t work well. This is resolvable with time but if you are a first in you will experience the pain of mail simply not working. As an example, Mail Pilot, a highly touted email application for IOS when it was being launched, is only just now beginning to work. There are a still enough bugs in it though that it really isn’t workable. As an example, if you use a bluethooth keypad on your iPad, Mail Pilot won’t work. For a lot of people this is a show stopper.

Other programs might work but they tend to be buggy and either have trouble working or crash a lot. This is not to be unexpected considering the complexity of email and all the protocols involved in it’s operation. Regardless, for you the user it’s more than frustrating.

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Finally, let’s consider the radical rethinking of email that is going on at the IOS level. A number of IOS programs turn email into task managers. Email becomes todo items. One of the most prevalent pieces of thinking in IOS is “Inbox Zero”. IOS email has mechanisms for you too, as in the case of the email client Dispatch, to deal aggressively with mail to achieve inbox zero.

That’s great. You’ve achieved Inbox Zero with a swipe here and a tap there and you have no mail to deal with. In this paradigm you’ve succeeded. It doesn’t seem to oddly matter that you’ve answered no one’s query nor read anything or done any work other than empty your inbox. You’re a success in this paradigm. You’ve achieved inbox zero. I suspect you‘re a success in this paradigm only to the vendors of the systems that want to get you to inbox zero. As your boss is walking you to the door uttering the word incompetent an answer such as how could that be when I’ve achieved consistently inbox zero day after day. Well, with no customers left as a result of no work for them your boss might have any right to think of you as incompetent.

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Is there a Solution

There is more than one solution to this. Right off the bat, you could stop using these clients that stress inbox zero and if they seem at all radical in approach you might want to torch them. Does that mean that you don’t look for a more effective means of dealing with mail. Of course you do as with anything. It is valuable to look for productive solutions to improving the management of mail and increasing your efficiency and potentially your sanity. However, when the snake oil salesman approaches you promising gold at the end of the rainbow as you can achieve inbox zero in a few rapid swipes, it’s time to do some hard work first in really what is a good method of improving your handling of mail.

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There are definitely better methods of handling mail. What worked thirty years ago might not be as appropriate today. However, there is something to the tried and true. Yet, as with all things, we evolve and develop better techniques for managing any process. Where trouble can really ensue in anything is if you throw “the baby out with the bathwater.”

I’ll give you a non-IOS example based on a server system. Cute in name, there is a system called Sanebox. It’s whole theory functions on the premise that some mail is not as important as other mail and it probably can be deferred to later allowing you to concentrate on the important mail. Makes sense so far. However, you are not making the decision as to what’s important or not. The system is. Mail that it hasn’t seen before is deemed not so important. That mail goes to Sanelater. However, there is often mail we all deal with from people we have never dealt with before that is part of a workflow process that is critical and we need to see this mail immediately. However, Sanebox deems it unimportant and puts it in Sanelater. All of sudden, hours later you discover it there. So now how Sane are you. Not very I suspect.

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With tremendous feedback, the system is being trialed so that everything comes into your inbox and you train that which can wait till later to go in the Sanelater box. Now, here there is a potential for mail that needs to be dealt with immediately to be dealt with immediately and that which “you” deem can wait to be put off to the side. This could potentially improve your handling of mail. Does it. I’d say the jury is out on this one as you still always have to deal with all mail regardless. However, I’d say this does improve productivity through the structural handling of mail alone and since you’re in charge this is now a managed and not an out of control system.

IOS third Party Clients

In many instances, IOS third party clients are really no different and in fact worse than Sanebox. Not only can you swipe your way “unsparingly” to inbox zero you can set aside mail for your attention later. However, what if you forget about it. Well you can put reminders on it to come back later as in some cases mail now is nothing more than a Todo system. Yet, isn’t that what your task managers are for. Having swiped your way to inbox zero or set aside mail for actioning whenever you get to it, relief.

Back at the desktop though you are now dealing with mail in a whole different manner. You’re either dealing with mail in the traditional fashion or possibly with a few tools to enhance your handling of the mail. What though if you like working with mail in your new found fashion and you’ve got very proficient at destroying your email and obliterating your way to inbox zero only to be faced with mail at the deskop level that requires the old fashion techique to accomplish this. I call this the “effective use of the delete key.”

The problem here is you’re now operating at one level in one fashion potentially in a very dangerous way. At the desktop you’re working in a completely different fashion. Where’s the consistency. How can you be productive if you’re operating in this mode. It’s difficult to say the least.

The only answer, if you do prefer to operate in the IOS style you’ve become accustomed to is for that mail to be ported to OSX mail. You will need a comparable email client on the desktop. This may or may not happen but again mail is not such a simple beast.

Choose Wisely

When doing mail, choose wisely how you plan on managing your mail. I’ve mentioned the downside of Sanebox. There is an upside and as long as you request the non-aggressive system where you’re in control and you train the system to handle mail the way you want, it acts on your mail at the server level identically in either IOS or OSX. This is exactly what you want. A possibly enhanced method of doing your mail but equally managed in OSX and IOS.

As long as the departure betweent OSX and IOS is not overly radical yet improves on your management of mail then that is an acceptable approach. Using something that improves your handling of mail at both levels even with different clients as long as the discrepancy isn’t that great is fine. You can become quite proficient in the handling of your mail.

Finally, if IOS mail which is rather radical in it’s approach is ported to OSX then this is fine also if this is the way you like doing your mail. I would just caution anyone against making inbox zero a goal. Rather, you want to make your client or friend happy and if you can do that by managing your mail better all the more power to you. However, the effective deletion of all mail to achieve inbox zero will not help anyone.

The choice of something like AltaMail for IOS and Mail with Indev’s add-ons to enhance mail or the use of Outlook mail in OSX is fine as these systems do not radically deal with mail dramatically different. They all just assist in the management of mail.

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At the end of the day, choosing wisely, even if it takes a bit of an investment in time to assess the options makes sense. Improving how you manage your mail benefits all parties. It’s not necessary to feel overwhelmed by mail while at the same time it’s unwise to take a radical approach to dealing with the overwhelmed feeling. A logical configuration of mail, be it server based such as Sanebox or just some enhancement tools will allow you to achieve your goals of controlling your mailbox and ensuring all things are managed adequately.

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