Making Email Work Best in a Mobile World

The following was originally posted on the Shoreline Area News, March 7, 2014 as part of the Tech Talk series.

Email used to be simple. Connect, access your email and disconnect. However as more of my clients access email between their PC, and newly purchased smartphones and tablets, they are discovering that the email access methods that worked well for their single PC or Mac are no longer adequate. What do we need to do to adjust?

Let’s start with a little history of email access.

The “Dial-up” Days
For many users in the 80’s and early 90’s, “connect time” meant either inconveniently tying up a phone line or expensive per-minute charges. So, Email servers used a “store and forward approach” to make connection time more efficient.

You would load an email application to retrieve email and store it locally on your computer. Any replies or new communication would also be stored locally and then passed to the email server then the next dial-up connection was made.

The process was pretty efficient with an online connection lasting only the period of time necessary to retrieve new messages from the server and send your outgoing messages.

This process is not unlike how “snail mail” is delivered from or sent to your local post office. Given that, it’s not surprising that this method become known as the Post Office Protocol (POP). Technically, POP only handles received email. To send email, we use another protocol, SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), a topic for another time.

The latest version, POP3, is a very simple retrieval method that downloads your mail, deleting it from the server. Virtually all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and major email services like Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Hotmail/ support POP email access.

The downside of POP today is that it is designed for a single computer to collect your email. A Harris/Teamview study in 2011 found that 63% of people surveyed “use at least two computing devices” a week. The chance of losing mail between two computing devices is irritatingly high.

While POP lets you leave a copy of email messages on the server for another device to collect, that lays the burden on you to manage a lot of duplicate mail.

Always Connected and On the Web

“Webmail” eliminated local storage of email and allowed multiple computers to access messages through their web browsers. Hotmail’s and Gmail’s email web sites became a major draw for users, competing for awhile on how much web storage of email they offered.

Today, offers 5 gigabytes (GB) of storage initially but provides for unlimited expansion. Gmail combines email storage with Google+ Photo on the 15 GB offered free through their Google Drive cloud service.

The popularity of webmail as a service has lead ISPs to offer it for their own email accounts. Unfortunately, using webmail requires you to stay online all the time, something not be possible on wireless-only tablets between Wi-Fi hotspots. Smartphones can still stay connected through cellular data plans, it can be an expensive proposition for plans with limits on data usage,. Also, webmail sites are challenged by the need to accommodate a wide range of screen sizes…and users are often challenged by the results!

The Online/Offline Mobile Experience

Today’s email access needs the flexibility of being offline periodically and still be able view email, while creating new mail that can sent while online or held for the next online opportunity. It also needs to accommodate different screen sizes and be able to synchronize changes with the email server that other devices can see emails previously read/written. The most common solution is to reach back into the past and use IMAP.

IMAP – Internet Message Access Protocol has been around nearly as long as POP but uses a model that duplicates the email found on the server and then synchronizes any additions or changes made. Since IMAP or its latest version, IMAP4, is just a protocol, you need a IMAP-aware email program installed to handle your local mail management. Fortunately, there are many free or low-cost programs to handle this task on virtually any desktop or mobile device.

While IMAP is well-supported by email service like, Yahoo, and Gmail, it is less common among Internet service providers. Earthlink and Frontier don’t provide support. Through Comcast doesn’t promote it, they do have a sign-up site to convert your account to IMAP.

Syncing with EAS

Microsoft Exchange and email users have another email alternative, EAS. Exchange Account Service is the protocol originally designed for mobile devices but is now also being used in desktop.

EAS allows these users to not only synchronize email but also calendar and contact information. Users of Office Outlook may not know the name of the protocol but they may be familiar with the “Outlook Connector. ” The Connector uses EAS to connect with the Microsoft email addresses like

Google used to also directly support their Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts through their EAS-based Google Sync service. That changed last year when they restricted usage to Google Apps for Business, Government, and Education customers.

Windows 8 and 8.1 shipped with the Mail, Calendar and People apps that make use of EAS to connect Microsoft domain users. If you have an,, or user account, it is automatically used as a Microsoft Account in Windows, connecting you not only to mail, contacts, and calendar items but backup your account settings, and other information.

Mix and Match Your Email Options

What you choose to use with your PCs, Macs and mobile devices can be pretty individual, especially for the major email services. For example, you might use IMAP in the Mac’s Mail program to access Google Gmail. For your iPad, you can choose either the built-in Mail program or the official Gmail app in the in App Store.

The mix ultimately depends on your email provider and the email access they support, the devices you intend to use, and the email applications you prefer to use.The nice thing is that once you make set up these choices, email across your computing devices can work remarkably well…and accessing your electronic can become “simple” again.

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