An Efficient and Fun iOS E-mail App: Spark by Readdle

Except for a few months of BitNet e-mail on a VAX mainframe server, I have been using the default UNIX mail app for almost 25 years now. Started with a SUN workstation, moved from SunOS to Solaris, Linux RedHat distribution (and a few others) and ended up on OSX. The nice thing about this is that all my e-mail archives transferred easily from one UNIX flavour to the other!

Mail-FlagsI usually get 700 to 800 e-mails per weeks. It is an important tool for me. With a combination of Apple OSX Mail app, a creative use of Mail flags (which are customizable on OSX – see side figure), SaneBox (a must!) and a small add-on called MailHub (automated filling of e-mails to specific project folders), I usually manage my e-mail at good pace. With dedicated scripts, I easily link any e-mails and attachments to DevonThink and my task manager (all three have corresponding – project specific – folders: neat, clean and easy to find and archive once the projects are completed).

However, we are now at version 9 of iOS and the Mail app there is still not on par with OSX. No automated filling to folders, no cross-platform supports and sync for flags and flag folders (iOS support only one!).

Over the years, I have tried other mail apps such as Mailbox (which is now retiring) and Mindsense MailPilot. Mailbox introduce extremely efficient swipe features (even the current iOS swipe options are not so good – maybe the 3D touch will help). However Mailbox was not supporting my enterprise Exchange server, which I rely on to keep all of my project-related e-mails live (all 5Gb+ of it) and accessible from anywhere. I also do not really trust Google but that is another debate…

MailPilot works with the interesting concept that every e-mail is a task. It has versions for iPhone, iPad and OSX. However, no Exchange support and going the IMAP route (which should be supported by my employer) never worked with this app for me (after many exchanges with their technical support, still no luck).

Here comes a new player in this space: Readdle. I have been using their iOS scanning app (Scanner Pro) for a long time, a well-done and robust app. So got this new app called Spark (free download) and wow do I like it! It is the first mail app that has displaced the stock Apple mail app on any of my devices.

The main screen presentation is clean and their smart inbox mode (see left figure below) is clever and very nice looking. It comes with an extensive set of features, many of which can be customized (right panel below), and it keeps growing with each new release!

First, you can customize your swipe gestures: two for right swipe and two for left swipe with choice between archive, delete, pin (a sticky mode on the main presentation screen), snooze, move, … You also have quick access to things like your live agenda (without the need to switch app), snooze and archive folders and so on. The options/setting window below provides an idea of the various aspects you can set, and it includes the option of setting many signatures, with a default one associated to each e-mail account individually and a fast switching swipe between all of your signature options when composing a new e-mail.

Sparks fully support Exchange account (as of version 1.3) as well as online services such as Droxbox, iCloud, Box, Evernote and many more including the standard inter-applications exchange we are used to in iOS apps. For example, it is extremely easy to link an e-mail to OmniFocus/Things task managers. I won’t go through the list of features, you can have a look at the Spark website. Saving to or adding attachments from any of the supported online services named above is a breeze and integration with iOS Photos well-done.

The other nice thing at this point is the fast pace of development seen by Readdle. Snoozing options were added in version 1.4, and 1.5 added an automated filing AI, similar to the MailHub add-on to OSX Mail. That tool is actually very good in proposing the best corresponding folders but also give you access to all of your folders if the proposed ones are not the right ones. I now used extensively on my iPhone.

Spark is very fast, efficient in handling e-mail (reply, archive, snooze or turn into tasks) and even fun to use! When is the last time you said that of your e-mail app… The iPad version should come this January (I can’t wait, since using iOS Mail on my iPad seems so dated now) and a OSX version later on.

My main complaints, only three really, at this time are:

  1. Add a “reserve order” mode such that e-mails are displayed in a reverse order (last in first out)… Right now if you have a discussion stack, it displays the text of the very first e-mail received instead of the last one. Similarly, if you archived or filed a discussion and more reply comes in, it will show only the text of the first one as a preview on the main screen. When you have many messages in a discussion, it is not highly efficient in getting a glimpse of what the new one that just came in is all about without opening it…Please Readdle…
  2. When using CC or CCI, the owner’s e-mail (that is me!) should always be the first one proposed, it would make CC’ing yourself so much faster.
  3. It would be nice if we could set a default folder on a service like Dropbox, instead of selecting a folder each time for each file we need to save. In my case, I have a folder action script attached to one of my dropbox folders that automatically import files into DevonThink Pro Office inbox when my Mac is on. Very useful!
  4. OK a fourth one, please get the iPad version out ASAP… 😉

In any case, high-five for Readdle!

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