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Hands on with Airmail 1.5, managing Apple Mail, Gmail, and Exchange on iOS

Users can connect a series of Airmail functions to speed up your work, and weed out important emails from the less-so. AppleInsider shows you how, and when, to use the app.

If you're a casual or light user of Apple Mail on iOS, you're wondering why anyone would bother to make an alternative. If you're a heavy, serious, power user of email on Apple's mobile platform then you're hoping that this is the one that will sort out what you need, and it might well be.

Ten years ago when the first-ever version of Apple Mail for iOS appeared, it couldn't do any spam filtering. Now that we're a decade on, it does that and so much more —yet there are still features it lacks.

There's a decent chance that you haven't even noticed the omissions in Apple Mail. It's when you live in email and are forever having to act on what comes into your inbox with alacrity and efficiency, that you type with crossed fingers that someone will make it better. Specifically, that they will make it better and easier to automate some things you keep having to do.

For instance, if your boss emails to ask you to do something, it would be great if Mail could help you simply pop that into your To Do app. Since Apple provides Mail and has its own Reminders app, it's puzzling that the company doesn't already let you do this. Then, since Apple introduced the excellent share sheets where you can pass documents from one app to another, it's disappointing that Mail doesn't support the feature at all.

Airmail can help you out. With Airmail, you just swipe on the message in the inbox or tap on a button when you're reading the whole message. Either way, you get a list of actions and you can immediately send that email off to OmniFocus, Todoist or whichever of the most popular To Do apps you want.

Swap to Airmail and you have this one- or two-tap process for getting emails out of your way and out of your inbox.

Say you're expecting an email from a new client you're hoping to do a lot of work with. It might be smart to make them an email VIP so that their messages ping at you even when you've switched on Do Not Disturb. In Apple Mail you can't do that. You have to come out of it and go to Contacts or Phone and do it there. With Airmail, you can swipe on a message, tap on Action List and then on Add Sender to VIP. Done.

This is the kind of thing that Airmail has been able to do since the start, and this new version has not dramatically changed or extended that. However, what it has done is make it possible to chain together a series of Airmail features.

So for instance, say that email has come in from this important new client. Once you've set it all up, a single swipe or tap from you will chuck that message into your To Do app as a new task, it will archive your boss's email and send an automated reply to it too. Plus it will mark that client as a VIP.

This does make powering through your emails much quicker than usual. Or, it does when your emails are the sort that need quick actions and quick replies. If things need more thought and merit a longer reply from you, you're still better off doing so on your Mac. There is an Airmail for Mac, though, so you could stick to the same software on both, if you were so inclined.

There is one more thing in this new update that may induce people to switch from Apple Mail. Airmail 1.5 now supports Workflow. If you already use that app to automate much on your iPhone and iPad, you can now plug Airmail into it.

That's a more involved process than creating these multi-part actions, however, and actually its use case is a lot more limited. It's particularly useful if you want to use parts of an email in some other way such as creating a PDF version of it all.

If you're building up a client list, for instance, you can have a Workflow that takes out the name of the sender and puts that at the end of an Evernote document.

Not everyone will want to do this, and not everyone will want the extra features that Airmail gives you over Apple Mail. You'd think we were building up to saying everyone who uses email a lot should switch to Airmail —but no. There are other alternatives such as Spark and they all give features we actually wish Apple Mail had yet still they're not always enough.

Apple Mail looks simple, and it definitely has fewer features than its rivals, but it is very good at what it does. Moreover, it simply looks good and since the majority of your email time on an iPhone is spent reading the things, that matters.

Airmail can totally replace Apple Mail, Gmail, Exchange —but it's likely that it won't be a full-time replacement. You'll probably carry on using Apple Mail until such time as you've got an awful lot of messages and little time to deal with them. Then, firing up Airmail and getting to work will save you time.

Airmail 1.5 requires iOS 9.0 or higher and costs $4.99 on the App Store. There's also the Mac version of Airmail 3.2.1 that requires OS X 10.8 or higher and costs $9.99 on the Mac App Store.