Wanting Email Everywhere & Other First World Traumas

Remember when an email account was something you got from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and you’d have to update all your friends when you changed ISPs? Then that kind of went away when Apple started to give away free email accounts then Yahoo! then Gmail. And it started to look like it became a game of making sure that you got on these free accounts early enough to get your email address of choice on all the services. Then the collection continued to grow with the work Exchange account, then the school account… I don’t exactly know when it began but at some point my job looked like it was based on clearing out all of my various email inboxes. At last count I seem to have eight active e-mail account to deal with. For those with some tech-chops wrangling all of these accounts isn’t that much of a big deal because most of the services have a way for the email to be forwarded to one account or one could use an email app where all of the email would appear in one unified inbox. The joys of modern work life… of course there are those services that don’t always play with others. I mean, I work fully online with my students but the account that they send their queries to me is set up to only work when I’m logged in behind the firewall (e.g., in the office) and only if I’m using Entourage or Outlook as my email apps. Oh yeah, there is a web-version that I can use, but one thing we learned a long time ago is that tech should be setup to come to us and not be something that we need to manually go visit to see if anything has changed (although FaceBook seems to be turning that behavior back to the early manual check-in version).

I recognize that my email needs aren’t too typical, but such is the life of one who makes a living on technology. So, at some point I discovered that my Exchange account can be accessed outside the firewall on my iOS devices default email app. Weird, but I’m not going to complain. The complication is that recent tech hick-ups inspired me to rethink how I was using my many email accounts and I decided that I was going to primarily use my two gmail accounts, one for work and one everywhere else. Part of the decision was based on the desire to use the gmail labeling system of organizing my work correspondence because I was finding that email often comes in linked to multiple concerns and dumping it into a single folder for storage wasn’t getting it done. The problem is that the gmail labeling doesn’t play well with iOS Mail. So I’ve spent the past week looking for iOS and Mac OS email clients that can get the job done without complicating things. Silly me.

  • Gmail.app: Obviously this iOS app does the gmail labeling thing, but it doesn’t have a unified inbox and I cannot seem to be able to move email from one gmail account to another (without forwarding it) and it doesn’t do any other non-gmail kind of account.
  • Mailbox.app: Like many iOS email apps, this one is most interested in email triage: determine whether to answer the email immediately or reset to revisit the message at a later time or drop it into the archive, no labeling and no moving to specific folders and no Exchange support. Not going to fly.
  • Hop.app formerly known as “Ping,” is still going through it’s private beta phase, but it looks like it’s set up like Mailbox.app with a kind of IM/message model, but I won’t know until it’s available to the public.
  • Sparrow.app: I was a big fan of the iOS app but no iPad version was released before the company was swallowed up by Google and I’m guessing that future development has shifted to the official Gmail.app. In it’s current state when I try to set it up on my iPad it stays in Portrait mode but the virtual keyboard pops up in Landscape mode blocking the screen and making it impossible to input the set-up details. Fail.
  • Cannonball.app has an interesting mix of Pinterest card view on the right side and list view on the left side with the more urgent email automatically selected to stay in the left side list view. It’s a different triage model, but there’s still no way to label or select folders to store the messages and one is left to dump everything in the Archive folder. Outlook.com support but no Exchange support. Damn.
  • Boxer.app seems to be the most powerful of the iOS apps and the only one that I paid for ($5.99). It allows for the use of gmail labels or IMAP folders but one needs to choose in the preferences which one to use, eliminating the on-the-fly selection of using both labels and folders. Alas, when I tried to use folders to move content from the inbox the app crashed. Also I couldn’t find a way to move email from one account to another. And while it seemed to support Gmail, IMAP and Exchange accounts it didn’t work with my work exchange information. Ack.
  • Mail.app: The default iOS email app pretty much gets the job done, including being the only app, iOS or Mac OS, that works with my work Exchange account anywhere… at least for the moment. But it doesn’t do Gmail labels. Damn. It looks like after all of this work I’m back to square one.

On the Mac OS side I’ve been experimenting with Airmail.app. It does Gmail labels and folders and IMAP accounts and Exchange accounts, except that it won’t do my “special” work Exchange account. Ugh. I’ve already put in too much time and energy into this. I have been professionally troubleshooting technology since 1979, I’ve been doing some form of email since the Compu-Serve days in the early 1990s and I have master’s degree in educational technology. But, at the moment, I cannot seem to find a solution that doesn’t feel like a work-around kludge. I have some powerful tech at my disposal but every one of them is missing one or more elements or requires access that I do not have. Sigh. Tech is hard.

Resources:
– Gmail iOS app: https://itunes.apple.com/app/gmail/id422689480#
– Mailbox iOS app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mailbox/id576502633?mt=8#
– Hop iOS app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hop-your-email.-reimagined./id707452888?mt=8
– Sparrow iOS app: http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/20/google-acquires-iosmac-email-client-sparrow/
– Cannonball iOS app: https://itunes.apple.com/app/cannonball-email/id701582906#
– Boxer iOS app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/boxer-for-gmail-outlook-exchange/id561712083#
– Airmail Mac OS app: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/airmail/id573171375?mt=12#

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