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Read Mail Messages

Before the iPad, I thought the iPhone’s implementation of Mail was fine. Not great, but after all, email is mostly just text, right? Now that I’ve used Mail on the iPad, though, the iPhone version seems like I’m viewing my messages through a keyhole. It works, but the added screen real estate of the iPad makes a huge difference.

Mail presents two different views of your messages, depending on whether you’re viewing the iPad in landscape or portrait orientation. The widescreen view displays mailboxes in a pane at left, with the currently selected message at right (Figure 4.2). Tap a message to view it.

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2 Mail in landscape orientation

The tall view displays only the current message. To browse messages one by one, tap the Previous and Next buttons (Figure 4.3). Or, to view and access other messages in the mailbox, tap the button at upper left, which is labeled with the name of the active mailbox. The list of messages slides into view.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3 Mail in portrait orientation

Check for new mail

When the iPad is connected to the Internet, it can check for new messages, even when Mail isn’t the active app, using two methods: Push, where new messages are delivered to Mail as soon as they’re available; and Fetch, where Mail contacts each account’s server to see if there are any new messages. Of course, you can also perform a manual check whenever you want.

Check mail manually

Opening the Mail app triggers a check for new messages, so that’s usually all you need to do. If you’re eagerly awaiting a response from someone, you can also use a technique called “pull to refresh.” Drag the message list down (Figure 4.4). When the icon turns into a spinning progress indicator, you can remove your finger from the surface.

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 Pull to refresh

Get new mail using Push

Push is available for iCloud, Exchange, and Yahoo accounts. Do the following to enable it:

  1. Go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
  2. Tap the Fetch New Data button.
  3. Make sure the Push option is set to On.

Generally, Push applies to all of your accounts that support the feature. However, it’s possible to disable Push for some accounts: On the same Fetch New Data screen as above, tap an account name, and then choose the Fetch or Manual option instead of Push.

Check mail on a schedule

For accounts that can’t use Push, you can specify an interval for when Mail does its check, which happens in the background no matter which app is running and even if the iPad is asleep.

  1. Go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
  2. Tap the Fetch New Data button.
  3. Tap a time interval to select it (Figure 4.5). If you choose Manually, the accounts are checked only when you open Mail or tap the Refresh button.

    Figure 4.5

    Figure 4.5 Specify how often Mail checks for new messages.

When new mail arrives, the Mail icon on the Home screen appears with a badge indicating the total number of unread messages in all accounts. The mailbox navigation button within Mail also displays an unread message count in the portrait orientation (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 New mail indicators

Read email conversations

Email is a time-delayed medium: You could send a message to a friend, who replies several hours later, and then you respond to his message a few minutes after that. Meanwhile, other messages are arriving in your Inbox. Mail helps you keep conversations sensible by grouping them.

Look for a double angle-bracket (>>) symbol to the right of a message’s preview (Figure 4.7). Tap that message to reveal a list of the messages in that conversation.

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 Viewing an email conversation

Navigate accounts and mailboxes

It’s not unusual for someone to have more than one email account. Mail’s unified Inbox displays all incoming messages as if they’re in one mailbox. The unified Inbox is the default view, as you can see in Figure 4.7; the title of the message list indicates you’re viewing “All Inboxes.”

When you do want to dig into specific mailboxes, you can use the controls in the navigation bar that appears either at the top of the left-hand pane (landscape orientation) or at the top of the list slider (portrait orientation). This works for accessing any account’s mailboxes, such as Sent Mail, not just the Inbox.

  1. Tap the Mailboxes button to view the Mailboxes and Accounts lists (Figure 4.8).

    Figure 4.8

    Figure 4.8 Navigating an account hierarchy

  2. Tap the name of an account.
  3. Tap a mailbox to open it.
  4. Tap the message you want to read.

View file attachments

Although email isn’t the most effective delivery mechanism for sending files, people frequently attach documents to messages. Mail on the iPad does a good job of handling most common types of files you’re likely to encounter, such as images, PDF files, and Microsoft Word documents, among others.

A file attachment is included in the body of a message (Figure 4.9). The appearance of the attachment depends on the file’s type and size:

  • Images generally appear unaltered, as long as Mail can preview the format.
  • Large files are not automatically downloaded, and they appear with a dotted outline and generic download icon.
  • A file that Mail cannot display within the message body shows up as an icon containing the file name and size.

    Figure 4.9

    Figure 4.9 File attachments

To preview or open an attachment, do the following:

  1. Tap the icon to see a full-screen preview (if Mail can read it), which Apple calls Quick Look.
  2. In the preview, tap the Share button in the upper-right corner of the screen. A popover displays which apps can work with the file; tap one to launch the app and open the file. You can also print the attachment from here.

You can also access those options directly without first viewing the Quick Look preview. Touch and hold the icon until a popover appears with options to open in a compatible app or to choose another (Figure 4.10).

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 Choose how to view or open the attachment.

Act on special data

As you read your email, Mail recognizes some data types and turns them into links. Tapping a Web address, as you might expect, opens the site in Safari. But Mail can also identify and act on street addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. Tap an email address, and a new outgoing message is created. Tap a street address, and the Maps app launches and shows you the location.

You can also choose how to interact with the data. Touch and hold a link and then choose an option from the popover that appears (Figure 4.11).

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11 Acting on a link in a message

View information about senders and recipients

In its attempt to shield people from complexity, Apple chose to show email senders and recipients as friendly named blobs instead of addresses like “” Those blobs become useful buttons, however.

Tap any sender or recipient to view more information. If the person is not in your list of contacts, you can easily add them by tapping the Create New Contact button (Figure 4.12). The popover changes to let you edit contact information; tap Done to add the person to your Contacts list. Or, tap Add to Existing Contact if this is a different address for someone you already know.

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.12 Viewing sender information

On the other hand, tapping the button of a person already in your Contacts list displays all of their information. That makes it easy to tap their address to view the location in the Maps app, for example.

Identify VIPs

Mail’s VIP feature helps ensure you don’t miss messages from important people. Any name you’ve marked as a VIP appears with a star next to it. (If you use a Mac running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or later, you can configure VIPs in the Mail application, too.)

To set someone as a VIP, do the following:

  1. Tap a contact’s name in the address field of an email message.
  2. Tap the Add to VIP button.

What I most like about the feature is the ability to quickly view all messages from a VIP; for example, without having to perform a separate search, I can see everything in my inbox from my wife. Navigate to the Mailboxes list and either tap the VIP button to view messages from all VIPs or tap the info (common.jpg) button and select one of your VIPs (Figure 4.13).

Figure 4.13

Figure 4.13 The VIP mailbox

Flag messages

Another way to help you differentiate important messages is to flag them. Doing so adds an orange flag to the message and also allows you to view all flagged messages from the Mailboxes list.

In an open message, tap the Flag button and then choose Flag from the popover that appears (Figure 4.14). The Flag button is also where you can mark a message as being unread, such as when you want to view it fresh on another device.

Figure 4.14

Figure 4.14 Flagging a message

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