Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast
The Lure of Inbox Zero
Email. It never seems to stop. There is seemingly no escape. However, it doesn't need to be the nightmare that you fear. The iOS Mail app for iPhone and iPad is packed full of hidden features that you can use to your advantage. Yes, there are other email apps in the App Store, but don't abandon the Apple Mail app for iPhone & iPad until you have explored all that it has to offer.
1. Change “Sent from my iPhone” Signature
Email signatures are a great place to start. By default, Apple includes the now cliched, "Sent from my iPhone" or "Sent from my iPad" after each email you compose in the Apple Mail client. However, this is easy to change and customize to your liking. Here's how:
- Open the Settings App
- Tap Mail
- Tap Signature
- Tap in the signature box to add your own signature
If you have multiple email accounts, you can have a different signatures for each account. Just go to Settings > Mail > Signatures, and tap the Per Account option to set a different signature for each email account you send from. This is particularly useful if you want to create more of a separation between email sent from your work account, and email from your personal accounts.
2. Minimize Draft Emails for More Room
If you are composing an email, and you want to refer back to some information in another email, you can minimize the one you are working on and go back to your inbox to find the information you need. All you do is swipe down from the top of the compose window and your email will be minimized to a tray at the bottom of your screen. Once you find the information you need, tap the minimized email to open it again and continue working on it.
If you going between several emails at once, you can minimize them all by following the same method. To choose the one you need, simply tap on the stack at the bottom of the screen to choose from the drafts you are working on. If you decide you no longer need one of these emails, tap the X in the top left-hand corner to delete it, or swipe it away with a one finger gesture from right to left.
3. Summon Siri for Email Help
Siri can also help with your email. For instance, you can give a command like, "Email Dr Collins and tell her that I will drop by on my way home to pick up the paperwork." Here are some more things you can ask Siri to assist you with when using the Mail app on your iPhone or iPad.
- Send an email to my wife
- Email Karl about the change in plans
- Check email
- Show new email from Karen
- Read my mail
- Reply to this email
- Search Mail for email from Amazon
- Delete all emails
- Delete all emails from yesterday
4. Trash & Archive Email on iPhone & iPad
On my Gmail account there is an archive button to remove emails from my inbox, while my Outlook emails have a trash can. To be honest, I don't know why that is, but I can tell you a couple of easy ways to fix it.
If you press and hold the trash can icon, you will get the option to archive an email instead. The same is true for the archive button. Press and hold that and you will get the option to send email to the trash.
If you simply want the opposite of what you have, there is a more permanent solution. Follow the steps below:
- Open Settings and tap Passwords and Accounts
- Tap the email account you want to fix
- Tap your email address next to the Account label
- Tap Advanced Settings
- Choose Deleted Mailbox or Archive Mailbox for the mailbox where you want your discarded emails to go
- Tap Account in the top left-hand corner
- Tap Done to save your preferences
Completing the above steps will change your trash can to an archive button, or your archive button to trash can icon. Now go discard some emails!
5. Add & Scan Attachments in the Mail App
Have you ever forgotten to attach a file to an email? Don't worry. We've all been there. Thankfully, adding an attachment to an email on an iPhone or iPad is a simple process. Simply tap twice in the compose window to summon the black pop-up menu, then choose Add Document, (iPhone users need to tap the right arrow on to find this option). This opens the Files app where you can choose from your most recent files. You can also tap Browse to find a file from another app or to connect to cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and more.
In iOS 13, or later, you even have the option to scan a paper document and add that to your email. Here's how that works:
- Tap in the compose window to summon the black pop-up menu
- Tap Scan Document (if you don't see it, tap the right arrow to cycle through the available options)
- Hold your iPhone or iPad over the document that you want to scan
- When you see the blue outline around the document, tap the capture button
- If necessary, adjust the crop by moving the circles to the corners of the document
- Tap Keep Scan and scan additional pages if you have them
- Once you are done, tap Save to add the scans to your email
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6. See More Mail In Your Inbox
This is a quick and easy tip for Apple's Mail app. It lets you see more emails in your inbox at one time and will save you some scrolling to find the ones you need. All you need to do, is reduce the number of preview lines that are shown with each message. The preview lines are the first couple of sentences of the email that appear under the name of the sender in your inbox.
By default, you will see two preview lines, but if you reduce that to one, or even none, you will be able to view more emails in your inbox at one time. Simply head over to Settings > Mail and tap Preview to change the density of your inbox.
7. Using Smart Mailboxes on iPhone & iPad
You can sort emails automatically with Smart Mailboxes. These handy things collect and sort email for you, so long as they meet a certain criteria. For instance, there is a Today mailbox that only shows email that you received that day. There are also Smart Mailboxes for Attachments, Drafts, VIP Senders, and more. To get started, follow the steps below.
- Open the Mail app
- Tap Mailboxes in the top left-hand corner
- Tap Edit in the top right-hand corner
- Tap on the Smart Mailboxes that you want to use
- Reorder them by dragging the handles on the right-hand side
- Tap Done when you are finished
Once you have everything set up the way you want it, a whole new view for your mail is now only a couple of taps away.
8. Using VIP Senders in the iOS Mail App
VIP senders have a special status in the Apple Mail app. They get their own mailbox so you can quickly see the email that really matters to you. However, they also get custom notification settings so that they can bypass the rules you set for normal email notifications. Adding a sender to your VIP list is easy and painless. Here's what you need to know.
- Open an email from a sender you would like to make a VIP
- Tap on their name to open a contact card
- Tap Add to VIP to give them an elevated status in your mailbox
To see email from VIPs, tap Mailboxes, and then tap on the VIP mailbox. This is a quick way to filter out the email that really matters and to see the most important email in your inbox.
To set custom notification alerts for your VIP senders, go to Settings > Notifications > Mail and tap VIP to choose the alerts you want. VIP settings will override all other Mail notification settings. Learn more about notifications on iOS by reading "How to Turn Off Push Notifications on iPad and iPhones."
9. Create Calendar Events From Emails
The Mail app on iPhone and iPad is clever enough to detect dates that you might want to add to your calendar. If it finds a date and time in an email, it underlines it to give you a chance to save it. When you tap on that date, you will be given the option to create a calendar event for that day and time. If you prefer, you can also show that day in your calendar to see if you are available, or add a task to the Reminders app that you can check on later.
10. Use Handoff for Email on Apple Devices
Sometimes you start writing an email on your iPhone, and then realize that it's actually going to take a little longer to compose than you first thought. For times like these, it is helpful to have a bigger screen and a bigger keyboard. This is where Handoff comes in to play.
If you approach your Mac or your iPad with the Mail app open on your iPhone, you will see a Mail icon with an iPhone on it appear on the right-hand side of the dock on your other device. When you tap that icon, you can continue writing the email on your Mac or your iPad. Everything will be synced to the other device.
All you need to do to make this work is to make sure Handoff is enabled under Settings > Handoff, and that all your devices are connected to the same iCloud account with WiFi and Bluetooth turned on.
Bonus Tip: Sign PDFs in Emails
Ten tips are good, but eleven are even better, so here's a bonus tip before I finish! If you have been sent a document that needs your signature, you can take care of that quickly and efficiently in the iOS Mail app. Simply tap on the attachment to open it, then tap the markup icon in the top right-hand corner.
When the markup screen opens, tap the plus sign in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, and then choose the Signature option. Add your signature, resize and reposition it as needed, then tap Done. You will then be prompted to reply to the message you just received, or to create a new message with your signed document. Choose the option you need, and tap send to finish.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jonathan Wylie