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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

iPhone observation: Mail application, Take Two

So my previous post about the Mail application was a bit limited, by definition: I'm trying to wrap the iPhone around what I need, not cover every single feature. However, I did get a number of interesting email replies, so I thought I'd follow up on what I've learned, both from readers and from the local Apple Store, where I spent the morning with the concierge.

The iPhone supports a few email services, if not natively, then at least specially. These are, in order of sophistication, from best to worst:

Yahoo! Mail. Unique to the iPhone, Yahoo! Mail is a special form of "push" email that is described as being IMAP-like, which is excellent if you use this service. Yahoo! will literally push server-based changes--like new folders, new email, and so on--to the device automatically every fifteen minutes.

.Mac. Users of Apple's .Mac email can take advantage of IMAP technology, which is a first-rate experience, but not as sophisticated as push email: Basically, the iPhone has to manually sync with the server on a set schedule (every fifteen minutes by default).

AOL. AOL uses IMAP on the iPhone. I finally did get this working, and from what I can tell, the big advantage is that the iPhone only requires your name, user name, and password, and then configures the server settings automatically.

Any IMAP email service. If you are using a third party email service that supports IMAP, and have access to the server information you need to configure it, iPhone is good to go. This includes, by the way, the supposed "Exchange support" that's advertised in the Mail Settings on the device: Exchange only works if its configured for IMAP.

Gmail. Though Google's email service is listed as one of the top-tier choices in the Add Account section of Mail Settings, it's just POP access. The only advantage is that you don't have to look up the server settings; the iPhone will do that automatically when you enter your name, email address, and password. As I noted in the last post, this is really unsophisticated and doesn't meet my needs.

Any POP email service. If you are using a third party email service that supports POP, and have access to the server information you need to configure it, iPhone is good to go. Note that POP email is unsophisticated but better than nothing.

Web mail. You can also access any Web-based email service, like Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, or whatever, through Safari, which ranges from OK to completely unacceptable depending on the service and various browser compatibility issues. I've found Gmail access to be decent (but not "good") via Gmail Mobile in Safari, and I'll certainly use that before I ever configure it for POP.

Basically, if you use Yahoo!, you're all set: Yahoo! Mail on the iPhone is a first class experience. I'd describe .Mac mail, AOL Mail, and any other IMAP-based email as a second class experience. Everything else is a joke, or at best better than nothing. In my particular case, I'm stuck using Gmail Mobile via the Web, which is what I was doing on the Windows Mobile-based Motorola Q, though Google does offer a (lousy) Java-based Gmail client on some smart phones too. So it's basically the same experience, with some pros and cons. On the iPhone, the screen is bigger and nicer looking, which is good. But you can't download attachments, which is terrible.

Anyway. Mail, like much of the functionality on the iPhone, remains a mixed bag, unless you happen to be a Yahoo! Mail user.

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[ Posted at 12:07 PM | Permalink ]


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