Henrik Sommerfeld

All these Unnecessary E-mail Features

When Microsoft recently released a new Outlook app for iOS I decided to try it out. I previously used both the built-in Mail app from Apple and the Gmail app side by side, so if Outlook was good enough I could maybe switch to one single mail app on the phone. You can read some more about it here: A deeper look at Outlook for iOS and Android.

Trying out the new features it struck me that a lot of people must have a hard time managing their e-mail. All e-mail applications seem to have features I don’t understand. Messages can be flagged, starred, marked as important/prioritised and sorted into different “sub-inboxes”. The new Outlook app has something called Focused inbox, which is explained like this:

Focused Inbox intelligently presorts your email so you can focus on what matters. It places your most important emails in “Focused” and the rest in “Other.” Focused Inbox works across all email accounts, personal and professional.

I find these features a way of avoiding to answer the two basic questions about every input in your life – “What is this” and “What am I going to do with it?”

What am I supposed to do with the messages in “Other”? And why should an algorithm decide what’s important to me rather than deciding that myself? Since I usually have zero messages in my inbox, I don’t see much value in this.

Another feature that all e-mail apps seem to have is archiving. Archiving meaning throw everything into one big bucket so that I don’t have to see it. Don’t mistake this for an archivist’s definition of archiving, by the way. Promoting archiving before deleting is of course a commercial decision for a company like Google that make money from analysing our e-mails and using that to sell ads. Sure, most e-mail services have great search functionality which should reduce the need for deleting stuff. However, I found that deleting what should be deleted makes it a lot easier to find what I am looking for, whether I use search or folders/tags or a combination (which I have found to be the best option).

More important than getting the perfect e-mail app I would say is to Getting Your Inbox to Zero. Do that first, then the rest are just details. I must say however, that I like the Outlook app for iOS. Some features are great and the things I found annoying, I could turn off. I consider that a feature by itself – that I can turn off features I don’t want to use.

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