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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When do you decide it’s time to fire an app?

I guess I don’t have to drag the icon for Apple’s Mail program out of the Dock after all.

Mail iconAn update shipped Thursday fixed the ugly Gmail-synchronization bug that I had been displeased to confirm in OS X Mavericks. Until then, I was about 90 percent sure that I’d have to dump the e-mail app that had been my daily driver since abandoning Eudora on the Mac at least a decade ago.

The likeliest replacement was Airmail, except its lack of support for the nifty data-detectors feature that lets me create calendar events from mentions of dates or times in messages had held me back.

Also, I’m really slow to move from one app to another, to the point that seemingly minor feature requirements like that become an enormous obstacle.

I still have Safari as my default browser in OS X, even though Chrome does a lot of things better–aside from automatically filling in contact information from my Contacts entry. And I continue to use iPhoto for my pictures, despite its glitches and Apple’s apathy about fixing them (although with 55 GB of photos, moving to a new photo-management app would be a non-trivial endeavor).

About the only major app that has exited my workflow in recent years is Microsoft Word. But since I’d have to pay for a no-longer-so-current version of that–while either Google Docs or TextEdit augmented by WordService provide all the tools I need for my formatting-free writing, leaving Apple’s Pages sufficient for the occasional venture into graphic design–that was a much easier call to make.

What was the last program you fired for cause? Tell me about it in the comments.

Weekly output: mobile mergers, future of music, Google+ image recognition, Mavericks Mail, Yahoo security

If I didn’t have a calendar to tell me November had arrived, the recent acceleration in the frequency of CES PR pitches would clue me in almost as well.

10/29/2013: M&As: Industry Pulse Check, Enterprise Mobile Hub

I returned to my occasional role as Twitter-chat host for IDG Enterprise’s site for this discussion of the upsides and downsides of mergers in the wireless industry.

10/30/2013: Streaming, Selling Scarcity And Other Ways To Remix the Music Business, Disruptive Competition Project

My recap of the discussions at this year’s Future of Music Summit spotlighted some enlightening data about where musicians make they money these days and conflicting views on the potential of streaming-music services such as Spotify. I left the conference thinking, once again, that more journalists should pay attention to indie artists’ attempts to find a more solid economic footing–our business-model issues are not too different, even if we’re a lot less cool.

Google+ image-recognition post11/1/2013: Google+ Gambles on Image Recognition, Discovery News

My final post at Discovery (see yesterday’s post for more about that), had a little fun with Google+ image recognition’s performance in some sample searches of the photos I’ve been uploading from various mobile devices since G+’s debut. If only the screengrabs I took to illustrate this were not so unavoidably boring…

11/3/2013: How to fix Mail glitches in Mavericks, USA Today

My editor said my first draft of this column was a little in the weeds, and she was right: The issue here isn’t just Apple’s Mail app reacting badly when asked to sync with Gmail, it’s Apple’s failure to give users a heads-up about the change or explain it later on. As you can see in the comments, I goofed about the price of Mailplane–it’s $24.95 instead of free–so we’ll get that bit corrected.

On Sulia, I applauded the maturity of iPad users who didn’t mob Apple’s stores to buy the new iPad Air, voiced a similar skepticism about the need to trade in my Nexus 4 phone for the new Nexus 5, predicted some awkwardness in Twitter’s automatically displaying many shared images and complimented Spotify and services like it for being a much easier way to discover the Velvet Underground (RIP, Lou Reed) than radio.

Weekly output: startup pitches, LG Optimus F6, Windows 8.1, OS X Mavericks

I feel like I should apologize or something for having only three stories to my name this week. I assure you that I was busier than this list would suggest–how else could I feel so tired on a Sunday?

10/25/2013: If Any Idiot Can Get Funding, How Do You Not Look Like Any Funded Idiot?, Disruptive Competition Project

After watching a few rounds of startup pitches at Tech Cocktail Celebrate in Vegas–then reflecting on all of the others I’ve seen at similar events in the Bay Area and around Washington–I felt compelled to write about what I think of some of the more common sales pitches.

10/25/2013: LG Optimus F6 (T-Mobile), PCMag

I initially gave this a three-out-five-stars rating, and one of my editors asked if I wasn’t being too generous, considering all of the flaws I’d identified with this phone. Should I have punished this model with a lower numerical assessment? You tell me.

USAT Windows 8.1 post10/27/2013: Tips on upgrading to Windows 8.1, USA Today

Devoting most of my USAT column to a Windows issue doesn’t happen that often–most of the time, I’m covering a mobile topic. But Microsoft’s release of a good update to Windows 8 that requires additional tweaking to deliver on its potential gave me an excellent reason to ignore phones and tablets for a change. And since Apple shipped an operating-system update of its own only days after Win 8.1, I could share a tip about OS X Mavericks as well.

On Sulia, I reported a successful installation of Mavericks but then had to confirm a serious problem with how its Mail app syncs Gmail accounts, shared some good answers the Celebrate judges had to a thoughtful question about mistakes, noted some quirky interactive demos (kids’ pajamas and LED lights, I kid you not) seen at that conference, and followed up on last weekend’s USAT column about a sketchy tech-support operation.

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.