Apple’s Email App is in the Coffin Corner

| Particle Debris

Apple EmailApple’s current email app is one of those strange breeds. It’s designed to be easy and fun for most all Apple customers, and yet it can never live up to the demands of professional users or even technical columnists. So it’s constantly ripped, and Apple constantly wants to do nothing except tweak it. Apple mail is flying in that aviation term called the coffin corner*.

The problem stems from the history of email on the Mac. There was a time when Apple was too small and too preoccupied to worry about writing an email program. As a result, other companies took up the challenge. There was a time, in the late 1990s when people either logged on to AOL or CompuServe to read their email, or they used a client for sale, like Fog City’s Emailer (E-m@iler) or Eudora by Steve Dorner.

As things tend to go, Claris acquired Emailer and Qualcomm acquired Eudora. Those were the days when we could feel affection for an email client, but that was because we and the apps were immature. Claris Emailer could never stand the test of time and spam. But we remember the love.

In time, Apple came out with Mac OS X in 2001 with built-in email, derived from NeXTmail. Because it was free, and good enough for many, it undermined the commercial email clients. Qualcomm eventually threw in the towel on Eudora, beloved by many, and even today there are, I surmise, thousands of self-proclaimed “Eudora refugees.”

Efforts to carry on the heritage of Eudora have also faltered or sunk into obscurity. Steve Dorner told me that he’s seen very little uptake and so not much effort is being put into Eudora OSE.

Apple’s View

The mail app for OS X is a fine email client for casual use. It meets the needs of most Apple customers, and when Apple thinks about enhancements for a new OS X release, IMHO, they probably think about cool things, features that make it look or feel friendlier or has social media components.

Enterprise users and technical professionals, columnists and bloggers work in a different environment. Monstrous spam must be dealt with on the server side, client side or both. There is institutional knowledge buried in emails that needs to be organized, preserved and searched. Some emails have corresponding deadlines and/or action items. The public nature of a writer’s email causes a sea change in the technical needs, and we often feel as if Apple isn’t attending to those needs. So we, the vocal minority, whine. (I’m not here to whine.)

One solution is Microsoft’s Outlook for Mac, and I know that some Mac writers use it. But Microsoft? Seriously? At least Apple mail uses a Unix standard file structure. However, if you must… I was even thinking of doing that for awhile, but blinked when Outlook had some teething pains with Lion, and I never resumed the task.

The bottom line is that there is still no money to be made in email clients for the Mac and Apple isn’t motivated to make the mail app more capable, more modern, let alone think about breakthrough technology. So many of us just flop about, use the Mail app or some other aging favorite or perhaps even Zimbra or Gmail on the Web with a browser, waiting for Godot, waiting for something to change.

* An aviation term. At high altitude, for some aircraft, the difference between stalling and going supersonic is only a fews tens of mph. Too much either way is bad. The U-2 flies in that coffin corner.

Tech News Debris

Netflix is a company that started out being widely loved. The company provided a good service for a modest fee and perfected the art of mailing DVDs to and from the customer. Stories are legion about families reaching for a red envelope on Saturday night and making popcorn.

For the first time, there’s a discussion about how Netflix may not survive, and that gives us pause because many of us are aware of the early competition with Apple TV — and nowadays, some measure of cooperation. If you haven’t noticed, content owners are trying raise fees on carriers, and from time to time, the result is temporarily lost channels on satellite or cable while the battle rages on. And infuriating customers. In that light, here’s an article that says, “The huge increase in TV content price inflation has caused Netflix’s content amortization costs to increase from 12% of revenues to 50% of revenues, according to the ‘TV Everywhere Stock Report,’ release by the National Inflation Association.”

If that goes on, eventually carriers will all be squeezed out of business and we’ll see the end of cable and satellite and even Netflix as content creators perfect the art of going directly to the customer and cut out the middle man. It’ll take a few years more though. If Netflix gets squeezed out like this, how will that affect Apple’s HDTV efforts, if at all? I wonder if Apple is rethinking the prospects of buying Disney.

What to you get when you showcase your iOS developer expertise by building an app that notifies fellow students when a desired class opens up? Probation, that’s what.

Is cord cutting becoming rampant? Why is cord-cutting such an appealing idea to promote in articles? Is it because techie journalists are out of touch with everyday TV viewers? It may well be. Articles like this get blasted by the experts, like this.

Are teachers getting the most out of Twitter? Jeff Goldstein, an educator and astrophysicist believes that the social water cooler of the 21st century can be a powerful teaching aid. After all, as they say, you are who you follow.

I’ve written before about Dish’s Ad Hopper and its DVR, “The Hopper.” Apparently Dish is trying to drum up pre-trial public support by pointing out much its customers love the Hopper. (and they should). “Dish CEO on Ad-Skipping DVR: ‘We Have Already Won’” Maybe Samsung will try that next against Apple. I have a better idea. How about a little black box that sells me streaming content on a per-item basis sans commercials. Oh, wait…


Image Credit for Apple Mail: Apple

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Lee Dronick

I miss Eudora.

Mail meets my curent needs, but if there was better email client, at a reasonable price, then I would very much consider switching. Apple could do it much in the way they offer iPhoto and Aperture.

Jud Spencer

I’ll put in a vote for missing Emailer. That was definitely the time of my life.

Mike Weasner

Ah, Emailer!  It was great in its day. 

As to where OS X Mail is going (and maybe OS X itself), look at the BIG notice that is visible when you have no message(s) selected: “No Message Selected”.  Gee, I have to be told when I haven’t selected any message?

Will we be seeing that in Safari: “No Web Page Requested”.  Or in iTunes: “Nothing to see or hear here”.  Or in iPhoto: “No Photo/Movie Selected”.  Or even in the Finder: “No File or Folder Selected”.

OS X Mail collected a lot of junk over the years for some reason.  At least, in Mountain Lion some of the junk is gone (IMHO) and more properly put elsewhere (Reminders, Notes).

John Martellaro

Mike: Also, RSS is gone from Mtn Lion email.  IMO, it never should have been there in the first place.


I’m one who uses Apple’s Mail several times a day and find that it is doing exactly what I want and need, a straightforward way to create and send mail, a Bayesian filter which does a great job of recognizing junk, and a way to create smart mailboxes that allow me to organize and save incoming mail. To be honest there isn’t anything I need that comes to the surface!

Lee Dronick

We need Rules for the iOS version of Mail.


Emailer was nice. but I really miss Cyberdog’s email module. It was the perfection of simplicity, and ease of storing and finding email. When I finally moved to Entourage (after Apple killed OpenDoc), I had something like 10,000 emails in it, and it never choked on them, and thanks to its pre-Spotlight indexing, I could find just about any email in moments. No, it wasn’t perfect, but Apple Mail is the first app that brought back some of that simplicity that epitomized Cyberdog. I had to launch Cyberdog a couple months ago on my Pismo, and I was reminded of just how much fun email was back then.

I’m not like John, and my needs are rather simple, so meets my needs in spades, but it would seem to me that maybe some of the extensions available for mail would help in some ways—Mail Act-on, etc. Also, where does Thunderbird fall down for you John?



OS X Mail is fine - when compared to iOS Mail.  That app was born in the coffin corner.
Rules, distribution lists (Groups), attachments. To name only 3.

Comfortably Numb

I note the inclusion of problems associated with modern email in the enterprise environment.  But I honestly think Mail handles most of those reasonably well.

I would have appreciated mention of at least one specific feature that Mail is missing.  I use it every day in the enterprise environment and I’m perfectly happy with it.  But perhaps I’m missing some features I should be missing.  smile


Yeah, the article was pretty light on all these features Mail is apparently missing…?

Not trying to be snarky, but an article criticizing a program might be stronger if it 1. identified the actual concerns and 2. offered some alternatives beyond waxing nostalgic for the past?


Does anyone use the email ? “Messenger,” I think ? included in SeaMonkey?  It looks at least as capable as Thunderbird, but I have only looked at it rather than really using it.

John Martellaro

JonGL - what held me up was that Thunderbird never got around to integrating with the OS X Address Book.  It had its own. I lost track of whether that feature made it into the latest version, but now Thunderbird is no longer actively developed.


So is Eudora OSE basically a clone of Thunderbird?  I always thought it was something completely separate.

After downloading Eudora and attempting to open it, I got a warning message that two copies of Thunderbird could not be open at once, and after quitting Thunderbird, Eudora automatically imported everything from Thunderbird, including add-ons that don’t work with this version of Eudora.

EDIT: Crap!  Back to Thunderbird now and it’s screwed up by having opened Eudora OSE.


You’re right - there’s no money to be made. Yet heavy users of email need something better than most of the current offerings.

I have been a user of PowerMail for many years and find its search capability essential. Way better than anything I have ever seen in any other email system. It is non-trivial to maintain, yet the developers receive little reward for doing so, unfortunately. For example, Apple’s discontinuation of POP3 support has made things hard for those of us with little trust in server-side mail systems.

The user community is trying to get more support for maintenance - I hope we succeed.


The mail app for OS X is a fine email client for casual use. It meets the needs of most Apple customers

I think that says it all. I’ve met some people who are fans of Outlook and Gmail, but for my purposes Mail beats them both.

My main complaints are with iOS Mail, which lacks the rules and spam filtering of the desktop version.


I only with TheBat! was ported to OSX.  That was my favorite power user email client while back when using pc

The Skeptic

You forgot to mention that add-ons can expand Mail’s functionality set quite well for the power user.

OSX combined with MsgFiler is excellent for processing large numbers of messages, and filing them quickly, using only the keyboard. I use this, and love it.

If you need “categories” rather than simply using folders, MailTags seems to be the go.


IMO, it never should have been there in the first place.

Funny; for me it’s the opposite. I only ever used RSS in mail, never in Safari.

Suhaka Andrea

I love Apple Mail except… I have an e-newsletter with over 1,000 subscribers. It’s not spam, there’s no advertising. I have to send 7 emails to send it to all my folks. That’s exceedingly frustrating! Apple’s limit of 200 addresses is unreasonable! Oh, and, sometimes their Rules work and sometimes they don’t. I’d like that to be much more reliable.

George Krompacky

Stock Mail just can’t handle institutional-sized email needs. To process a high volume of messages and to make my archive of messages as quickly accessible as possible, I depend on Mailtags and MsgFiler with Mail.

Lee Dronick

I used to send a newsletter for a communtity theatre and used a bulk email service. It wasn’t very expensive and it was a lot less hassle than using a local email client.



Opera has a built-in email client.  I fiddle around with it sometimes.  I think OS X Mail is better.  I’m surprised this article didn’t mention Sparrow.  It looked like a competitor to Apple’s client, but they’ve become part of the googleplex.


I’ve spent the better part of this weekend downloading and testing client replacements for Thunderbird.  Even though I am not giving up on Tbird yet, when I do, the replacement is likely to be PostBox.  They coincidentally have reduced their price from $29.95 to just $9.95.  I quite liked Sparrow and even Sparrow Lite (free from the App Store), but all of them were either too frugal with the add-ons to get the client just right, or way too heavy handed like Eudora and Outlook.  Sparrow might have been a contender, but I’m just not comfortable with Google having their mitts on my email in any form, and it is too Twitter/FB-centric for my taste.

I still believe someone will continue to develop Thunderbird in some form, but in case they don’t, PostBox has a few of the essential extension I use, namely SpamSieve, Lightning, and ThunderBrowse.  If Tbird does eventuall die, I’m sure there will be more available for Post Box.


I honestly don’t get the complaint, as no issues were mentioned. Apple’s mail for regular consumer type people works quite well. I have Office and I don’t like outlook. I tried Sparrow Mail. Again I didn’t like it. I have a gmail account, and prefer Mail. I also had others like Thunderbird, Netscape Navigator, and Claris. I like Mail better.

Mail might not have every feature, but it is uncluttered and has everything most people would want.


Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only Mac user that doesn’t miss Eudora. That application had an absolute mess of an interface that to me was totally against the spirit of Macintosh UI principles. I tried for several years to use it, and finally gave up once the OS X Mail application matured a bit.

John Martellaro

I have high hopes for .Mail

I’m signed up for news.


I?m signed up for news.


The app is very pretty, but I hope the “clean interface” doesn’t mean limited capabilities, starting with a sensible mail filing system.


As an aside, John. - I understood “Coffin Corner” was the small difference between stall speed and maximum speed at high altitude. 
I only lasted 6 months in the aircraft industry in 1964 so I could, as always, be wrong.

John Martellaro

Lancashire-Witch: Sure.  That’s about what I said, but I would add that on the high end, the limit is supersonic, and then the laminar flow is also disrupted badly.  This applies to airliners, the U-2, general subsonic aircraft that aren’t designed to go supersonic.


GyazMail.  Decent rules.  Handles multiple personal and business accounts.  SpamSieve.  Standard RFC 822 storage format.  Uses Address Book so plays nice.  Only mac email client I could find that supports using Outbox (“Send Later”) - Mail’s lack of outbox is a dealbreaker.

John Martellaro

djlewis: Cool. I hadn’t heard of Gyazmail. And with .Mail being developed, things are looking up again.  Thanks.


Only mac email client I could find that supports using Outbox (?Send Later?)

I just leave unsent emails in the Drafts folder on Thunderbird.  How is that different than an ‘Outbox,’ except in name?



I just leave unsent emails in the Drafts folder on Thunderbird.  How is that different than an ?Outbox,? except in name?

Doesn’t fit my work process (though might be satisfactory for others)

I save in Drafts when I’m in the process of composing (but not done); I put in the Outbox when message is done so it’s in the pile that’s ready to hand over to the postman (to use real-world analogy).  Don’t want to have to mix those two states - Drafts (not done) != Outbox (ready to send unless second thoughts arise).

I normally accumulate a batch of outbound messages in my Outbox while reading incoming mail - not uncommon to realize that a response to some previous message needs revision after reading other discussion on a topic.  So Outbox allows that additional revision/review (separate from draft messages that definitely should not be sent yet).

That’s a work flow that used to be the only way to do email because getting a connection was a separate action, not like today when we’re always connected.  Don’t miss the old dialup days, for sure, but I still prefer this process of preparing messages separately from handing over for delivery.  I really dislike immediate send - too easy to make a mistake or send premature response.

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