Mail app: general layout, and how to read, send, and manage messages

Last modified
Sunday, September 27, 2020
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The Mail App

There are plenty of alternative email apps for iOS and iPadOS these days, but most people will use the default app at some point. It's a solid choice, too, with plenty of useful features. While it's accessible and (mostly) easy to use, it's worth going over how it works and what to expect.

Basic Layout

Once you've added your email account(s) in Settings, and you open the Mail app, you'll find yourself in a list of your email folders. By default, you'll have things like inbox, outbox, drafts, and the like. There are also automatically-generated folders, such as a folder where emails from your VIPs will appear, or a folder for all flagged messages.

After you open a folder, there will be a "back" button in the top left corner of the screen so you can get back to your list of folders. Next to that is a heading indicating which folder you've opened, then an "edit" button we'll come back to. Below all this is a search field, then your list of messages. At the bottom of the screen is some information, such as the time the app last checked for new emails, a "filter" button, and a "compose" button.

When you open an email message, most of the screen will be taken up by the content. Above this are the headers, such as whom the message is from and to, CC information, the date and time sent, and so on. You can double tap on the names/email addresses here for more actions, like adding them to your contacts or sending a new email to them. Below the message are a few buttons that let you take action on the message, such as deleting it. The "more actions" button will open an alert, listing several actions for the message.

If you're on an iPad, most of the above will still apply. However, when you open an email, the content will be shown on the right side of the screen, with your list of messages still present on the left side. This can also happen on larger iPhones in landscape orientation. If your message opens in full screen mode, try a two-finger scrub, or locate and double tap the "exit full screen mode" button to show your messages list again.

If you have more than one mail account set up, you'll have a few extras. For one thing, your list of folders will include an item called "all inboxes", which puts the messages from all your inboxes into a single list. Also, your list of folders will include a list of your accounts. You can double tap an account to expand or collapse it; when expanded, you can choose a folder from that account to open.

A Note on Rotor Options

Most of the items in the Mail app that aren't buttons have actions available. For messages in the list, these actions include dragging (iPad only), deleting, flagging, opening a "more actions" menu, and more. If you've opened a message and are focused on its content, you have a similar list of actions.

If you're on a message's content, your rotor has an additional item in it as well. Turn the rotor counterclockwise, and you should hear "messages". This item is extremely useful if you've opened a mail thread, as it lets you simply swipe up or down to move from message to message in the thread. If you pause on a message, the rotor will move back to "actions".


If you're in a list of emails and hit the "filter" button, you'll have a list of filters to choose from. Once you activate one, the button should change to show which filter is active.

Filters are useful for cutting down a large list of messages to just the important ones. For instance, you can show only unread messages, or only messages received today. Simply open the list of filters and double tap a selected filter to turn it back off.

Composing an Email

To start a new email, find and double tap the "Compose" button. If you have a QWERTY keyboard connected, you can also press Command with n.

You are placed on the "to" field. You can type a full email address here, or the name of a contact you've saved. As you type, Mail will find matches in your contacts and previous addresses to which you've sent mail. You can swipe right with one finger to review the list of suggestions, and double tap to accept one. Note that, if you often email a group of people, Mail will suggest that group once it learns it. If you are typing addresses instead of choosing them, tap or press the return key after each one.

Once you've finished with this field, swipe right until you find the next button. This is the "CC, BCC, and From" button. If you double tap it, you'll be placed in the CC field. You'll also get access to the BCC field, and a picker that will let you choose which account you want to send the email from. This last one doesn't apply if you've only set up one account. If you don't need to change any of these options, you can simply skip past this button.

Next, you'll come to the "subject" field, with the "body" field after that. Both of these are self-explanatory, and act just like any other text field in iOS/iPadOS. The only difference is that your mail signature, if you've set one up, will appear in the "body" field, so when you double tap that field to edit it, your cursor will probably wind up at the end of the text, below your signature. It's good to get into the habit of double tapping this field twice, or triple tapping it once, so your cursor goes to the top before you begin writing.

There's one special thing about the "body" field, and it's to do with the VoiceOver rotor. You'll find some extra items in the "edit" rotor item. This is how you not only do things like block-quote text, but attach files.

To send your message, find and double tap the "send" button in the top right of the screen. If you're using a keyboard, you can press Command, Shift, and d together. Think of the d as standing for "deliver" and it'll be easier to remember.

Other Common Tasks

Deleting Messages

Quite often, you will want to erase messages. This can be done in several ways.

  • On a message in a list of them, swipe up until VoiceOver says "delete", and double tap.
  • Double tap the "edit" button, double tap each message you want to erase in a list, then double tap the "delete" or "trash" button at the bottom of the screen. Note that, for some Gmail accounts, this button might be called "archive" instead.
  • If you've opened the message, there will be a button to delete/archive it in the row of buttons below the message's content. Once you activate this, the next message in the current folder will open automatically.
  • Use the actions on the content of an open message to delete it. As with the previous method, the next message in the folder will open once you delete the current one this way.


This, too, can be done in a few ways.

  • From a list of messages, find the message, then swipe up or down until you get to "more actions". Double tapping this will open a menu of options including "reply", "reply all", and several others.
  • When a message is open, use the actions rotor item to reply. Note that there's only one option about replying here' double tapping it will prompt you to choose whether to reply, reply all, or forward.
  • Use the "more actions" button you'll find on an open message.

Those Are the Basics

That's about it for the basics of the Mail app. As you can tell, use of the rotor is quite helpful, and the overall layout is pretty straightforward.



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Submitted by Esther on Saturday, February 19, 2011

While there is no general way to send file attachments initiated from the Mail app, this is because the originating app has to generate or have access to the content to be attached and routed to Mail. Thus, you can select images in the "Photos" app, or generate an audio memo in the "Voice Memos" app and then double tap an "Actions" button and select an option to email the photos or voice memo as an attachment. You can send file attachments via Email using a third party app like Filer (formerly Downloader) to attach files you have downloaded using the app, including Dropbox files.