Why are (iOS) email apps so bad?

Continuing the discussion from Giving Airmail a second chance:

I’ve been meaning to start this thread for a while. Why do developers struggle to build and sustain good (iOS) email apps?

In most app categories, we have to compare the strengths of the different options in order to decide what tool works best for us. Writing, graphic design, illustration, publishing, notes, fitness/health, task management, reading, spreadsheets, data management… heck, even niche categories like smart home controls, time tracking, and VPN services have a plethora of options. In all of these areas, the choice is “which app is most best?”

Email, on the other hand, is a choice of “least worst.” Many have a highly opinionated look and feel. Few are built with sharing or integrations in mind. There’s usually a different key feature missing from each app.

Surely if there was One App To Rule Them All, consumers would be willing to pay for it. So what gives? Obviously, I’m missing something. Why is email so fraught?

I have actually given up on iOS email entirely. I keep mail around to be able to pull up messages on demand, but otherwise I only deal with email on the desktop (via Postbox; Postbox is great, but the developers are assholes about mobile: they’ve effectively stated that you can’t do real email work on iOS). This is unfortunate, because I loved working on email on my phone, but the experience is too inconsistent and frustrating with the existing options.



I think it’s to do with money, and the question wshould maybe be:

Why are we not willing to pay top dollar for a top email app?


I have communicated with the developer of Dispatch and tried to persuade him to update it and charge a subsciption, but he just isn’t interested in dealing with email issues anymore. He had the top email app for a while but I think people complaining about lack of POP and Exchange drove him out… He only wanted to do imap apparently.

I would pay $5/month for an email app that had configurable share menu and full textexpander support on iOS.

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The standard Mail.app on iOS works perfectly fine. I can read, delete, answer and move emails from 4 different accounts. Don’t know what more to expect from it.

Most important feature that works extremely well, swipe to delete. It works faster then on the big machine.


What to expect:

  • A premium task manager integration or at least the ability to access deep links (Newton, Airmail, Dispatch - Spark, albeit subpar)
  • Rules and/or automatic filtering (Sanebox, Airmail)
  • Send later (Newton, Spark - Airmail, albeit buggy)
  • Snoozing (Newton, Spark, Airmail)

If you look closely, you will see the Venn diagram has no intersection.

If Mail meets your needs, great for you. But this is not the subject here. It’s about power features that became quite commonplace and yet cannot be all found executed flawlessly into a single app. :slightly_smiling_face:

I’d be willing to pay too for such a tool. Or, you know, just try to develop one. :grin: (an undertaking which is likely to drive me even more insane.)


My suspicion is Spark 3 will be a subscription app like PDF Expert 7 became. That said, if it does not have:

  1. a configurable share menu
  2. more service integration than Omnifocus and that host of other apps that nobody uses
  3. textexpander support (assuming TE still exists)

It will be a nonstarter for me. I am already juggling 2-3 crippled email apps.


The problem is everyone seems to have a somewhat different set of needs when it comes to email apps. They need different features, need it to integrate with different task managers, have different visual and stylistic preferences, etc. Every email app takes a different cut at all of these features, but number of variables is high enough that the odds of an app ticking every one of your boxes is pretty low.


Good point. I’d honestly be more than willing to pay that subscription and I hope that’s what’s coming. I’m ready! and I have the same demands as you do (save TE, but if it does have it, it could make me revisit this app and even the use of an iPad)

If you look at the list I mentioned above, it does not seem that crazy and it would go a long way. What’s even more mystifying is that there are flawless executions of those individual features in the wild. Just not all in one place. And it has been the case for years. Before “reinventing paradigms” or “groundbreaking new takes on email” I’d like to see an app that does just all of that well.


Do you guys remember Accompli, or even Mailbox?
Many of these apps that show real promise end up getting acquired and stalled out, or they shift to B2B subscription per user basis and lose focus.

I’d add Inbox to this list too. A prime example that the leader (Gmail) cannot be upstaged, even by a derivative project.

Spark and Airmail are the exception so far. The former because Readdle is building their own suite of apps (and have monetization options), and the latter is pretty janky since it’s inception.

I also recently found out that Canary mail is the opposite of trustworthy or privacy first. There was a small feature on it a while back and it’s pretty much what Edison got a lot of heat for, but much worse.
Never bought into them, but a small warning for anyone considering them.

Preside is not pretty but it is pretty powerful. I also had great experience with Missive but it is purely team focused and very expensive. Now I am using ProtonMail for work (good iOS app) and have Spark+SaneBox for personal stuff.

Maybe iOS is just too restrictive for developers since people expect Mac OS like performance from their mail apps.


Like Chris said, there are tons of pet features users want. It’s really hard to develop them all well, and have different combinations of them interact well together. If an app just does a moderate feature list solidly, rather than standing out, too few users will pay.

On top of that, there are several different email sync/access formats and multiple of them are difficult to implement correctly and completely. There are many edge cases in Exchange, IMAP, API access, and even POP. All those edge cases interact with features, too.

And on top of that, effective mobile development is still expensive and UX is far from solved.

I am not an expert on email. But I actually think some of these features are already possible with Mail.app, albeit require some “hacking”.

  1. I always felt custom Integrations with specific task managers are not optimal for mail apps. It’s not possible to support every app. So the better option is to expose relevant data to Share Sheet and let users and task manger developers to decide what to use. Although Mail doesn’t have a share button, which is mind boggling. It does support drag & drop its deep links, email texts, and eml files. This is currently only available on iPad but will also work on iPhone with iOS 15.

  2. Don’t think there’s a way for rules. It’s possible to create script on server side say for Gmail.

  3. Send later can be implemented with Shortcuts, and Automation. But this can get quite messy. The idea is to create a shortcut to hold the message to send later and the time to send, and then create an automation to run this shortcut say every hour. The message is only sent when it’s the right time.

  4. Can snooze be substituted with task manager integration?

I know it’s like why bother for so much trouble to use Mail.app. But there’s just not many great options. Alternatives are either buggy or raise privacy concerns. To be honest the bare bone functionality of Mail.app is probably the most solid among all.

Preside might also be worth looking at.


I keep seeing references to a “Spark 3”. Is there solid evidence of it’s coming, or is more “wishful thinking”?

Spark seems to be focusing on the business/teams space - e.g. the latest shared inbox feature - not on the individual power user.

Yes, I ended up using Mail.app on macOS for many of those reasons. The OmniFocus clip-o-tron is exactly what I want: the quick entry form with a backlink (and I replicated it with undocumented AppleScript with Spark). I don’t personally need rules (I went back to Sanebox) but I know many people want them. As for send later, Mailbutler does it perfectly on macOS; the other problem with classical implementation of the feature on Mac is that you needed the machine to be online, which is not the case with Mailbutler.
Snooze can be substituted with task integration but in many cases (concert tickets, delivery reminders…) it’s overkill.

@dukelajolla Yes, it’s coming.

Check out Protonmail - the iOS app works great!

This is a good point. Maybe the iOS 15 drag and drop feature will resolve some of my key qualms with Mail…

Does it have the features being discussed? :slightly_smiling_face:

For now I’ve made my peace with Apple Mail. On balance, Apple Mail offers the most reliability, security, and cross-device compatibility for free. I’ve just learned to work around its lack of features.