Mail isn't the flashiest app that Apple includes on its phones, but it is one that a lot of iPhone users turn to when they need to stay in touch with friends, colleagues or clients. And iOS 16 — Apple's upcoming software release — adds a number of enhancements and new features aimed at helping you find messages more quickly and be more efficient when sending out email.
You can already experience many of the new iOS 16 Mail features when you download the iOS 16 public beta. Other announced changes remain a work in progress and may become more apparent with subsequent updates leading up to the release of the full version of iOS 16 in the fall.
Now that I've laid out some first impressions about the software update in my iOS 16 public beta hands-on, I'm going back and spending more time with the new capabilities appearing in various built-in apps, including Mail. And while the mail app's new features aren't the most earth-shattering changes introduced by iOS 16, many of them are certainly welcome additions. (And more than a few will look familiar if your email client of choice is Google's Gmail.)
Here's a look at what Apple's announced for iOS 16 Mail, along with my first impressions of the features that I've been able to use so far.
iOS 16 Mail search improvements
Probably the most substantial change in Mail will be the changes Apple plans to make to the app's search functionality. And that's good news — I find the current iteration of search in iOS 15's version of Mail to be fairly hit or miss. I especially don't care for scrolling through long lists of search results trying to find one specific email.
iOS 16 Mail promises to change that, with Apple claiming that searches will now bring up results not just based on the content of your search but also on your own behavior. Presumably, your previous search history will influence future search results, particularly if you spend a lot of time looking for the same kind of information in your emails.
That sounds like the sort of feature that becomes more apparent over time, and indeed I haven't seen many examples of how this works in my own iOS 16 beta use. I have noticed that the list of search results is more streamlined than before. Instead of iOS 16's long list of people and email subject lines related to my search query, iOS 16 Mail produces a more compact list with people, subject lines, and attachments appearing under a Suggestions heading.
I'm not seeing the more elaborate search results that Apple shows on its iOS 16 preview page, where search results in Mail are also broken down to include documents and links relevant to search results. It could well be the search feature isn't fully formed in the current version of the beta or that search results will add these capabilities over time. Apple also promises that its onboard search engine is getting smarter, too, by recognizing typos in your search terms and searching for what you actually meant to type instead. I've yet to see this feature in action on my test phone, but that should save some time correcting search queries.
It's worth noting that Apple also promises improved search capabilities for the version of Mail that ships with macOS Ventura, the Mac software update that's arriving at the same as iOS 16 in the fall. (We've also got a macOS Ventura hands-on that looks at the public beta of that Mac software.)
iOS 16 Mail scheduled send
This will be old hat to Gmail users, but iOS 16 Mail gains the ability to schedule emails — and the feature is already live in the iOS 16 beta.
Scheduling emails is a nice productivity booster, especially if you want your message landing in someone's inbox at a specific time. It removes the burden of having to manually press the send button if you're going to be tied up — or nowhere near your phone — at the designated time.
iOS 16 also makes it very simple to schedule emails. Just press and hold on the Send button, and a pop-up menu will appear. You'll see option to send the message now or at a time later in the day. If you want to set a specific time, just tap Send Later, and you'll see a calendar view that lets you set the date and time for your message to go out.
iOS 16 Mail: unsending emails
One of the most significant new features in Mail with iOS 16 is the ability to unsend emails. The process works much like the new unsend texts feature in iOS 16 Messages, though the window to rethink about what you did is much smaller in Mail.
When I initially tested iOS 16 Mail, the app gave me 10 seconds to unsend an email, which isn't much time when compared to the unsend text feature. However, as of the fourth developer beta for iOS 16, you can go into Mail's settings and choose among 10, 20 and 30 second windows to unsend a message; you can also disable the feature entirely.
In Mail, the unsend command appears on the bottom of the screen right after you've tapped Send.
iOS 16 Mail reminders and follow-ups
Another pair of productivity-minded additions to iOS 16 Mail aims to keep important emails from falling through the cracks. A Remind Me feature lets you select a message that you've already read to resurface at a set time so that you can return to it then. A follow-up feature automatically detects messages you've sent that include deadlines and other calls to action, prompting you to send a subsequent email if you've yet to get a response.
Remind Me is the more straightforward addition, and it's already visible in the iOS 16 beta. On the message in question, just swipe right — next to the button to mark the message as Unread, you can now tap a button that says Later. On the subsequent pop-up menu, you can have Mail resurface the message in an hour, later that night, the next day or at a time and date that you set. So far, I've found Remind Me to be particularly helpful for reminding me of appointments and interviews set up via Mail a few days before they happen so that I can make sure I'm prepared.
I haven't really seen the follow-up feature in action, though I suspect that might change the more I use iOS 16 Mail. Supposedly, requests to send additional data or specific deadlines on tasks will trigger the follow-up prompts in Mail, but we'll see how it works as the iOS 16 beta process rolls on. (The feature also requires the U.S. English language, so it won't be available to all iOS 16 users.) Personally, as someone whose inbox is deluged with follow-up emails about unsolicited and largely irrelevant topics, I kind of wish Apple left this iOS 16 addition on the cutting-room floor, though apparently, you can disable this feature if you prefer.
iOS 16 Mail's improved smarts
A bunch of iOS 16 Mail additions can be grouped together under the heading of "Mail is getting much smarter." This includes the same dictation enhancement Apple introduced to the iOS 16 Messages app where you can now compose messages with your voice, and your iPhone is smart enough to insert punctuation and even emojis.
Another example of beefed-up intelligence features in iOS 16 Mail is that the app can now detect when you've forgotten to attach something you mentioned in the body of your email and will remind you to add the attachment should you hit the Send button. The same feature will work for messages recipients mentioned in the email but not included in the To: field. Again, this is a feature I've yet to see materialize when using iOS 16 Mail on my phone, so I'm unsure if Apple has yet to enable it or if it's a capability that begins to appear the more you use Mail.
iOS 16 Mail's other features
Finally, iOS 16 Mail adds the ability to insert rich links into your email, providing your recipients with a viewable preview of a website instead of a text link. It's simpley a matter of tapping the URL so that a drop-down arrow appears. Select the arrow and you have the option of converting your URL into a rich link. (You can also convert it back using the same process.)
iOS 16 Mail outlook
None of the above changes are going to lead off anyone's list of the top iOS 16 features, not when you can do things like customize the lock screen or copy text out of videos. But they should make composing and finding emails much easier than in the current version of Apple's built-in app. And that's a positive development if you use your iPhone to get things done.