For a large number of attorneys and others who use an iPhone, the most-used app is the Mail app. The Mail app is the primary way that I work with email when I am out of the office, and even when I am in the office, I often prefer to read and manage my email using the Mail app on my iPhone or iPad rather than use my computer. iOS 8 has been out for about two weeks now (and has since been updated to iOS 8.0.1, and then iOS 8.0.2). Many of you have probably already upgraded to iOS 8, and if you have been waiting to do so, I recommend that you do so now. One of the things that I love most about iOS 8 is all of the enhancements that make it easier to work with your email, both new features in the Mail app itself and other general improvements in iOS 8 that are particularly useful when working with emails. Here are my favorite new features in Mail in iOS 8. In this post, I focus on Mail on the iPhone, but these features work on the iPad as well.
Enhanced swipe features
When looking at a list of emails in the Mail app, you have always been able to swipe your finger across to quickly delete a message. In iOS 8, the swipe features are enhanced. First, if you swipe half-way from left to right, you are given a new option to Mark as Unread. Simply tap the blue Mark as Unread button and the app does so. But there is a better way to do it: instead of swiping half-way from left to right, start by placing your finger not at the very left edge of the screen but just a little over from there (about where I have the red circle in the picture below) and then swipe all the way to the right edge of the screen. This will quickly mark the message as unread, without needing to tap a button to confirm your desire to do so. If the message is already marked as unread, the same swipe will toggle it to mark as read.
If you swipe the other direction, from right to left, you are now given three choices: More, Flag and Trash. The Flag option is self-explanatory. Unlike in Outlook where you have a choice of different flag colors, in Mail you only have an orange flag. Nevertheless, it is a quick and easy way to remind yourself to go back to a message later. The Trash option is also self-explanatory, but note that there is an even faster way to delete a message. Much like a full left-to-right swipe which will instantly mark a message as unread, a full right-to-left swipe will instantly send a message to the Trash.
The third of the three options is More. If you select More, you are then given a large number of choices for acting upon the email without the need to open the email itself including Reply, Forward, Flag, Mark as Unread, Move to Junk, Move to a folder in your mailbox, and Notify Me...
The first two options — Reply and Forward — simply do what they say. The next two options — Flag and Mark as Unread — are often unnecessary because as noted above it is faster to swipe from left to right to mark as unread, and you can select the option to flag a message by simply tapping Flag instead of More. The next option is Move Message..., which lets you move a message into another folder in your mailbox.
Finally, the new Notify Me... option lets you choose to receive a notification whenever someone responds to the email thread. This works the same way as the VIP option of iOS 7, but instead of getting notifications when a specific person sends you an email, you get the notification when there is a response to the email, no matter who sends it. For example, on my iPhone, my default setting is to turn off Mail notifications because I get too many emails every day for my iPhone to beep or vibrate every time a new one comes in. But I have a very small set of people, including my wife, set as a VIP so that when one of them sends me an email, my iPhone vibrates and I know about it instantly. With iOS 8, now I also can be sure to know just as soon as a reply comes in to an important email chain, even if my iPhone isn't otherwise making noise or vibrating when I get new emails.
I said above that the Flag and Mark as Unread options, which appear in the list after you tap More, are typically unnecessary because there are other ways to invoke those commands. The reason that they are there in the More menu is that you can actually change or turn off the typical ways that I noted above for invoking those commands. In the Settings app, if you tap on Mail, Contacts, Calendars and then tap on Swipe Options, you are given the option to configure the middle button that appears when you swipe from right to left. By default it is set to Flag, but you can change it to None (which means only two options, More and Trash, will appear when you swipe) or you change it to Mark as Read. Similarly, you can change the swipe from left to right function to None, Flag or Archive (which is useful for email services such as Gmail that include Archive as an action).
Composing emails: predictive text
One of the best new features of iOS 8 is that predictive text now appears right above the keyboard in most apps. This happens just about anywhere you enter text on an iPhone, including the Messages app, but I find it most useful when I am typing an email on iPhone in the Mail app.
As you type on the keyboard, three choices of words or phrases that you are likely to want to type next appear just above the keyboard. The suggested words or phrases are of course based upon the letters that you have already typed, but that's not all. They are also based upon other factors such the person you are communicating with and the app that you are using — with more formal words suggested in Mail and more casual words suggested in Messages. And it is also based on what you have already typed in your email. When the word or phrase that you were going to type appears, simply tap it and the iPhone writes it for you, saving you a whole bunch of taps. By default a space is placed after the word, but if you next tap twice for a period or tap punctuation such as a comma, the iPhone is smart enough to delete that space after the word and enter the punctuation mark instead.
I'm amazed at how smart this predictive text feature is. I often find that I can enter almost an entire sentence just by tapping the word that the iPhone guesses that I was about to use next. iOS 8 even seems to know a thing or two about the law, because the other day I was typing an email and typed sum and not only did the iPhone offer to enter "summary" for me, but it also offered to enter "summary judgment," which was exactly what I was going to type. So by tapping the letters S-U-M and then tapping "summary judgment", just four taps, I entered a phrase that otherwise would have required 16 taps. Amazing.
Best of all, the predictive text feature learns from you as you type, so as good as the feature has worked for me during my first two weeks with iOS 8, it should get even better in the coming weeks and months as my iPhone learns from what I type. And everything that the iPhone learns about my typing is kept on the iPhone itself and is not shared with Apple, which is nice for privacy.
If you want to temporarily turn off the predictive text feature, simply place your finger on one of the suggested words and then swipe down. This collapses the predictive text field. To bring it back, place your finger on the predictive text area and swipe up. You can also permanently turn it off in Settings or by holding down on the globe icon on the keyboard and then flipping the switch. But I have found predictive text to be very helpful, so this is a feature that I am going to keep on and use a lot.
Composing emails: Siri dictation
In the past, you could tap the microphone that is next to the space bar and simply dictate an email. Sometimes you are in public and it isn't appropriate for you to talk out loud, but if you are in the right environment, it is almost always faster to dictate an email then to type it.
Dictation works even better in iOS 8. First, you no longer need to finish talking before you can see what Siri thinks that you said. Instead, words start to appear on the screen shortly after you said them, even as you are continuing to speak. Second, in my tests, dictation (and Siri in general) works much better in iOS 8. The accuracy, which was already quite good, is now even better. And in iOS 8, I almost never get a message saying that Siri was unable to work for some reason, which would happen from time to time in iOS 7.
Composing emails: third party keyboards
Another new feature of iOS 8 is the ability to use keyboards created by third parties. You may find it much faster to enter text using these keyboards. Popular third party keyboards include Swype, SwiftKey and Fleksy, but other third party keyboards let you do everything from enter animated GIFs, change the color of the keyboard, etc. For example, if you use TextExpander, you can now use its custom keyboard to quickly enter long strings of text. You access custom keyboards that you have installed either by tapping the globe icon at the bottom of the keyboard to switch to the next keyboard, or you can hold down on the globe icon to see a list of installed keyboards.
For now, I am still testing out these third party keyboards, so I am not ready to make any specific recommendations. If you want to check them out yourself, you might want to start with SwiftKey because it is free (although the developer plans to offer additional features in the future for a fee). SwiftKey became popular on Android by offering predictive text, but of course Apple now offers that feature in the built-in keyboard, and time will tell whether Apple or SwiftKey offer better predictive text. SwiftKey also offers SwiftKey Flow, a feature that lets you use one finger to swipe between keys instead of tapping on individual keys using one finger or two thumbs, which can make it much faster to enter words. I was a little concerned when I first configured the keyboard and saw a warning that giving SwiftKey full access will mean that the keyboard could transmit every word that I type to the developer. SwiftKey has since explained on its blog that the app only uploads what you type if you also turn on the SwiftKey Cloud feature, which is used to synchronize your language predictions among multiple devices.
It is great to see the new keyboard features that Apple offers in iOS 8, and I'm even more excited to see the cool new features that innovative third party developers come up with.
Manage email using interactive notifications
When I am working on my PC in my office, I like the Outlook feature that shows a small pop-up window when I get a new email, not only because it gives a notification of what the email is and who it is from, but also because I often can quickly act on the email, such as deleting it, without having to first open the Outlook app. iOS 8 adds a similar feature to the iPhone because the notifications that you receive when you receive a new email are now interactive.
When you receive a banner notification at the top of the screen telling you that you have a new email, you have always been able to tap the notification to take you to that new message in Mail. But now, if you instead swipe down on that banner notification, you are given the option to Mark as Read or to send the message to the Trash.
The new interactive notification feature is not unique to Mail. You can also interact with other types of notifications such as text messages, calendar invitations, reminders, and message from third party apps such as Facebook. So far, however, I've found this feature most useful for email messages.
I often find that I am in the middle of typing an email when I realize that I need go look up some information in another email. In iOS 7, you could do so by tapping Cancel, and then tapping save Save Draft, and then after you look up what you need you could go back to the draft by holding down on the compose email icon to see a list of saved messages.
This feature is improved in iOS 8. You can now move a draft email out of your way by placing your finger near the top of the message and swiping down. This moves the draft to the bottom of you screen, just below your list of email messages. When you are ready to go back to your draft, simply tap that draft message that is waiting for you at the bottom of your screen.
What if you have more than one draft message at a time? No problem. iOS 8 simply displays a 3D interface of all of your draft messages, similar to how Safari displays multiple tabs.
The new drafts feature is also handy if you are in middle of typing a message and a new email comes in. When you see the notification banner at the top of your screen, you can tap it and read the new email, and the draft that you are working on automatically goes down to the bottom of your screen, ready for you to bring it up again when you are ready to do so.
Handoff emails from iPhone to iPad, and vice versa
One of the new features of iOS 8 is something that Apple calls Continuity, a system that lets your iPhone, iPad and Mac all work better together. One part of Continuity is Handoff, a feature that lets an app running on one device move what you are doing to the same app on another device. Let's say that you are starting to write an email on your iPhone, and then you realize that this email is going to require some additional thought so you would prefer to continue working on the email on your iPad, which has a larger screen and keyboard (and perhaps even has an external Bluetooth keyboard attached).
To do so, while your draft email is still open on your iPhone, look at the lock screen on your iPad. Similar to the tiny camera icon in the bottom right that you could swipe up to start taking a picture, you will now see a tiny Mail icon in the bottom left of the lock screen. Swipe that up (and enter your passcode if necessary) and the draft email will appear on your iPad screen and will be removed from your iPhone screen. You can then continue to work on the email, just as if you had started on your iPad in the first place. And the same process works both ways, so you could start typing a message on your iPad and then hand it off to your iPhone. When OS X Yosemite for Mac comes out in the very near future (my guess is October), you'll also be able to use Handoff to start an email on an iPhone or iPad and then pick it up on your Mac, and vice versa. Just what I need — yet another reason to wish that my law firm was still using Macs! (My firm switched from Macs to PCs in the early 2000s, although I still use a Mac at home.)
Add info to contacts
We often receive emails that have the sender's contact information at the bottom. iOS 8 Mail is smart enough to see that information, and Mail now offers to add data to a contact entry for that person. Here is an example from the Apple website that sees an address in a message and offers to add it to a contact. This is a quick and easy way to automatically add robust information to your Contacts database without having to type anything additional yourself.
No prior update to iOS has added as many new features for managing email as iOS 8. It is now easier and faster to compose, review and manage emails on your iPhone and iPad, plus you can now do many things that were previously not possible. All of these changes let you be more productive when you are working with emails.