Apple Mail malaise (update)

There’s no program on my Mac that’s annoyed me more over the last year than Mail. Which is funny, because for years I held up that program as an example of Apple working to fix customers’ problems while Microsoft let Outlook Express decay.

Apple Mail about boxBut sometime during the development of OS X Mavericks, Mail went off the rails. It shipped with a bug that made syncing with a Gmail account awkward to implausible. Apple fixed that within weeks, but other problems lingered through many or all of its updates to Mavericks:

  • Searching for old messages was intolerably slow, to the point where it would be faster to grab my iPad, log into the relevant account and start the search… after first running up and down the stairs to find that tablet.
  • Switching back to Mail from other apps would leave the insertion point randomly shifted to a point months or years in the past–which, to be fair, is great for cheap nostalgia.
  • Some mailboxes would be shown sorted by subject instead of date, never mind that sorting by subject is a total waste of time unless a mail client can’t handle search (ahem).
  • More recently, Mail began forgetting the custom app passwords Google generates for mail clients and other apps that can’t process its two-step verification codes.

Apple’s updates fixed some of these issues before OS X Yosemite. I don’t think I’ve seen a mailbox randomly sorted by subject in months, and I haven’t had to open Keychain Access to copy a saved Google app password back into Mail since last month.

Yosemite, to judge from its performance on my MacBook Air, has also returned search in Mail to a state of good repair. I can only hope Apple keeps working on these other issues. Because between Web-mail’s issues with offline access and working with other apps and the lack of a compelling alternative client (understandable, given how many people rely on Web-mail or don’t spend as much time in a mail client as me), firing this app just doesn’t seem too practical.

And at least the prominent mentions of Mail in Apple’s product page for Yosemite suggests the company realizes it can’t leave this app in maintenance mode. If only I could say the same for iPhoto…

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Weekly output: e-mail security (x2), MacBook webcam

This week’s work involved the Virginia countryside, a space capsule, robots playing soccer, and some quality time with drones. And yet none of those things showed up in this week’s articles. But there’s always next week…

Yahoo Tech TLS post6/10/2014: Explained: How ‘TLS’ Keeps Your Email Secure, Yahoo Tech

I enjoyed crafting the photo for this, and not just because it gave me an excuse to flip through old postcards. I did not enjoy reading the comments as much: the repeated assertion there that nothing online can be made secure is both incorrect on a technical level and fundamentally defeatist.

6/10/2014: 4 Ways Your Email Provider Can Encrypt Your Messages, Yahoo Tech

I wrote a short sidebar–something we’ve taken to doing more often at Yahoo Tech–outlining how e-mail encryption has advanced over the last decade or so… at least at some providers.

6/15/2014: Revisiting a fix for your MacBook webcam, USA Today

Yes, you read about this topic earlier this year in my USAT column. But this time around the remedy may work a little more reliably. There’s also a tip about watching Netflix on a computer without Microsoft’s Silverlight plug-in–if you’re running Windows 8.1.

Why Web-mail alone doesn’t work for me

I installed OS X Mavericks on my MacBook Air Wednesday, and now I can no longer use my Google-hosted work e-mail account in my laptop’s copy of Apple’s Mail–an undocumented change in how that client treats Google IMAP accounts has made them borderline unusable, at least if you want to move a message out of your inbox.

Gmail Offline app(Thanks, Apple! Really, you shouldn’t have.)

My complaint about this issue yielded the responses I should have expected: Why not just use only Web-mail? That’s a fair question. Here are a few reasons why I’d rather not:

Offline access. Google does provide a capable offline app for Gmail, and I use it all the time–but its Chrome-only Gmail Offline can only download the last month’s worth of mail. To find anything older, I need to get back online. It’s also easier to take my e-mail to another host if all my old messages are already synced to my hard drive.

A separate tool for a separate task. Because a mail client has its own interactive Dock or taskbar button, it can show in real time how many messages have arrived–and can’t get overlooked among 20 other open browser tabs. And without ads or a browser toolbar that doesn’t help with mail management, I can see more of my mail.

Message management. It takes fewer clicks to select a batch of messages and move them to another folder–especially if they’re not contiguous–in a local mail client than in Gmail’s standard interface, much less the simpler Gmail Offline.

Quick Look. If somebody sends me a Word, PDF or some kind of complex document, I can get an instant preview of it by selecting the document and hitting the space bar, courtesy of OS X’s Quick Look feature. In Gmail, I have to wait for the file to download and preview in a separate window.

Better calendar integration. Both Gmail and Mail can create a new calendar event if they see a date or time in a message, but Gmail insists on adding that to your default Google calendar. Mail allows you to add it to the calendar of your choice.

Individually, these are little differences, but they add up. And while a better Web-mail system could address them all someday, I can have these things on my checklist today with a functioning client running on my Mac. It’s too bad Apple chose to break its own.

So do I now switch to something like Postbox or Airmail–or do I get around Google’s wonky implementation of IMAP entirely by switching to, say, Microsoft’s newly IMAP-comaptible Outlook.com? That’s a topic for another post. But I welcome your input in the comments.

Weekly output: Doug Pray, mobile-app monetization, mugshot sites, T-Mobile, ad-free Web-mail, Shared Endorsements

I managed to head into D.C. four of the five workdays this week, thanks to various meetings. That’s unusual. And that won’t be possible this week coming up, as I’m departing Tuesday morning for the Demo conference in Santa Clara.

DisCo Doug Pray post10/7/2013: Documentary Evidence: A Director Opens Up About Distribution, Gatekeepers and Piracy, Disruptive Competition Project

After a visit to Seattle, I wanted to watch a great documentary of the mid-’90s grunge scene, Hype!–but could not, as it had vanished from all the legitimate streaming and downloading channels. So I looked up its director, Doug Pray, and wound up having a great chat over e-mail about the state of movie industry from an indie perspective. I appreciate his honesty… and hope it doesn’t get in the way of him lining up a new distributor so I can see this flick for the first time since 1996.

10/8/2013: Mobile App Monetization Models, Enterprise Mobile Hub

This Twitter chat covered ways to cover a mobile app’s cost: showing ads to the user, charging the user, charging for an upgraded version of the app, or subsidizing it through other means.

10/11/2013: Mugshot Mess Provides A Reminder: You Don’t Want “Search Neutrality”, Disruptive Competition Project

I wrote a response to a couple of thought-provoking pieces: David Segal’s long NYT feature about sites that make it easy to browse mugshots of arrested suspects and also charge to have mugshots removed, then Mathew Ingram’s GigaOM post worrying about how quickly Google and payment processors moved to cut off mugshots sites after they started getting press queries about them.

10/12/2013: T-Mobile to eliminate international data fees, WTOP

T-Mobile announced that it would give its users free 2G data service overseas, and WTOP’s Kristi King sought out my input. My voice sounds sharper than usual not because I was in studio, but because I recorded my end of the conversation with a desktop microphone and then e-mailed the MP3 to King.

10/13/2013: Are any e-mail sites ad-free?, USA Today

A reader asked a question I’d answered last May, but enough things have changed in the Web-mail market for me to revisit the question. And this time around, Outlook.com’s $19.95 ad-free option looks a lot more attractive now that Microsoft’s service supports standard IMAP synchronization. The column also includes a brief explanation of Google’s new “Shared Endorsement” ads and a comparison of them with Facebook’s “Sponsored Stories.”

On Sulia, I posted a couple of reports from an Intuit press event and reception in D.C. (one on how it “ended up distracting the Mint team for the greater good of the company,” another on how its SnapTax app unintentionally makes a case for the direct e-filing that Intuit has lobbied long and hard against), scolded Facebook for taking away the option to hide your name from its search, reported some startups’ testimony about patent trolling, and noted how the advertised prices for CenturyLink’s new gigabit fiber service in Las Vegas understate what you might pay.

Weekly output: Jawbone Up, Google Voice, international phone use

It was another week that ended with a couple of stories filed but not yet posted (look for a long item on the Disruptive Competition Project in the next day or two about the state of competition in browser layout engines). But it’s not every week that sees me finishing it on the other side of the Atlantic–I’m spending the next four days in Barcelona to cover the Mobile World Congress show.

Discovery Jawbone Up review2/21/2013: Jawbone Up Logs Your Days and Nights, Discovery News

I took an unusually long time to try this activity-monitoring wristband–starting after CES. That leisurely pace allowed me to note the recent arrival of a similar background exercise-tracking option in Android’s Google Now app. Something like that won’t replace this wristband’s scrutiny of your sleep, but it could prove good enough for reporting whether you get off your duff often enough.

There are some other devices like this coming out over the next few months–the Fitbit Flex and Withings’ Smart Activity Tracker come to mind–so hopefully I can do a follow-up review of them.

2/24/2012: How do I place a call from my Google Voice number?, USA Today

My annoyance at having two Google Voice calls via Gmail leave the other person sitting there in puzzled silence led to this cheat-sheet guide to dialing out from your GV number. The column concludes with a tip based on a reader’s query on my Facebook page–yes, I really do read the comments there.

On Sulia, I mocked HTC’s new One smartphone for including more resolution than people can see, then shipping an outdated version of Android; called out MBL’s At Bat app for once again not letting fans pay to watch their local teams online; questioned the price of Google’s new Chromebook Pixel laptop; and wondered if news publishers aren’t delighted about all the ink and pixels spent on Sony’s substance-starved introduction of the PlayStation 4

Weekly output: e-mail privacy, 3-D printing, TV antennas, smartphone competition, sports networks, bargaining over TV bills

It’s not a total coincidence that I wrote as much about TV as I did in the week running up to one of the biggest televised events of the year.

1/28/2013: Why Can’t Web Services Compete To Protect My Data From The Feds?, Disruptive Competition Project

Reporting this one made me feel a little dumb when I realized that I could have had a nice little scoop weeks or months earlier if I’d just asked Google, Microsoft and Yahoo what they require before turning over a user’s e-mail data to the government. It turns out that all three go beyond the strict requirements of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in requiring a warrant–but that none seemed to think this was something worth bragging about.

1/29/2013: Hold Your Fire Before Freaking Out Over 3-D Printed Guns, Disruptive Competition Project

I started writing this post in December, then decided I didn’t like the last third of it and set it aside. I finally picked it up again after CES. Somewhat to my surprise, it only got one “you want to ban all guns” reply.

Discovery TV antennas review1/30/2013: Two Flat, Stick-On Antennas Tune In Free TV, Discovery News

I revisited the subject of over-the-air TV for the first time in over a year to review a couple of flat, lightweight antennas. Somewhat to my surprise, they worked better than the old set of rabbit ears I had plugged into the set downstairs (and unlike that antenna, I could put each one high enough on the wall to avoid becoming a plaything for our toddler). So I bought one of these models, the Mohu, and am now trying to figure out exactly where on the wall it will get the best reception of the three trickier network affiliates: ABC’s WJLA, CBS’s WUSA and PBS’s WETA.

2/1/2013: Will A Two-Party System Adequately Represent Smartphone Users?, Disruptive Competition Project

BlackBerry has a new operating system, but will it do any better than Microsoft’s Windows Phone? (I’ve been testing Windows Phone 8 on an HTC 8X; there are things I like about it, but the app selection really holds it back.) In this post, I express the possibly-futile hope that either BlackBerry or Microsoft can become a viable alternative to the increasingly entrenched duo of Apple and Google.

2/3/2013: How sports networks inflate your TV bill, USA Today

One of the people on my neighborhood’s mailing list asked about a new fee that Verizon was going to put on her bill to cover regional sports networks. I told her I’d see what else I could find out. The column also includes a reminder that TV rate hikes can, at least sometimes, be negotiable if your service thinks you’ll leave.

Sulia highlights this week included two more rants about the TV business–one on Verizon’s extortionate CableCard rate hike and another about the stupidity of making some Hulu content “Web-only”–and a post noting that the “Apple tax” is real when you look at what it costs to get more storage on an iPad.

Weekly output: Chromebook, newspapers and search engines, Amtrak, photo spheres, Google Calendar, Gmail

What’s not on this list? Any gift-guide pieces or reports about Black Friday sales. I can’t say I miss those two staples of Thanksgiving-week tech coverage… and yet I feel vaguely guilty about dodging them.

11/19/2012: Google’s cheaper Chromebook: enough of a computer, Boing Boing

Having this fall’s implementation by Samsung of Google’s Chromebook laptop concept priced for half of last summer’s made the results easier to like. But Samsung also gave this $249 model better battery life and faster performance, while Google contributed more offline-compatible Web apps. I’m tempted to pick up one to have as a backup computer, which was not the case a year ago.

11/19/2012: A Business Perspective on the Snippet Tax, Disruptive Competition Project

My second post for this tech-policy blog picked up where a 2009 rant over stupid newspaper publishers whining about news-search sites had left off. Now, it’s news organizations in other countries complaining that Google News and sites like it are taking away readers; I’m not any more persuaded by that logic three years later.

11/20/2012: Amtrak’s New App: Does It Actually Make Travel Easier?, The Atlantic Cities

I like trains, and I like smartphone apps that simplify my life a little. I wasn’t sure that Amtrak’s offering for iOS and Android would be worth keeping around, but after using it to book and manage a round-trip from D.C. to NYC, I see where the railroad is going with it.

On Wednesday, USA Today was kind enough to publish a condensed version of last weekend’s Q&A about adding a Start menu to Windows 8 in its print edition. That was the first time I’ve appeared in a newspaper of any kind since Roll Call ran a version of a post I did for the Consumer Electronics Association just over a year a ago , and my first spot in a general-interest paper since I logged off from the Post in April of 2011.

11/24/2012: Spherical Panoramas from a Phone, Discovery News

Writing about a feature confined to a new Android release that most users of Google’s operating system won’t see for months, or ever, seems unfair, but the 4.2 edition’s “photo sphere” option genuinely intrigued me. Alas, I initially neglected to note that the older iOS app Photosynth–from a Redmond, Wash.-based software developer called Microsoft you may have heard of–can also generate interactive spherical panoramas from a phone’s camera.

11/25/2012: How to sync your Google calendar with your iPad, USA Today

Credit for this Q&A item goes to my wife, who asked me about this problem on her iPad. Credit for the tip about a new Gmail search option goes to the Google Operating System blog, an old favorite of mine, which brought that change to my attention last week.