Warning: iOS 10 makes email harder to use

Changes meant to be helpful instead get in users' way, especially on the iPhone

email pile stock image

Tomorrow, we'll get the details of the new iPhone 7 and the release date for iOS 10. The new iPhone and iPad operating system has been in public beta for months, so its features are well known.

What may surprise you is how iOS 10 makes it harder to get basic communication work done in Mail. Although the iOS 10 updates are pretty minor, Apple has also monkeyed with the user interface so that it's more Android-like -- and one unfortunate result is more work for users.

I've previously described how the new notifications and lock screens force you to scroll more to get to information because they encase notifications in bigger bubbles, taking more space and thus letting less information show on the screen. (The text isn't bigger, but the decoration around the text gets in the way.)

But especially on an iPhone, due it its smaller workspace, other changes slow down usage of one of the key business values of having a mobile device: easy communications. The Mail app is particularly damaged by these changes.

One bad change is how the mailboxes are presented in the main Mail screen. Before, you got a list of inboxes at top and a list of the same accounts at bottom, which let you peruse your folders for each account. (Given the commonality of BYOD, I would expect most business users have at least two active email accounts on their iPhones and iPads.) You'd tap the mailbox at the bottom to open up all the folders, then navigate away in that full view.

iOS 10 folder reveal

In iOS 10, the Mail app reveals folders for a selected account, shoving the others away. This means it takes more work to check another email account's folders.

Now, you still get the two lists, but the bottom list works differently. When you tap a mailbox, it reveals the folders for that account, pushing the other mailboxes out of view. Once you start scrolling a mailbox's contents, you can't collapse the mailbox without first scrolling back to the top. Even using the iOS shortcut of tapping the very top of the screen to scroll to the top, that's more work than simply using the always-available "go back" option in the previous iOS versions.

iOS 10 adds an extra step when you move a message in Mail. In a misguided attempt to be helpful, Mail suggests a folder where you might want to move the selected messages, a guess that in my experience was always wrong. You have to tap the Other option to reach the mailbox list, instead of getting there in the first place as in previous versions of iOS.

iOS 10 folder guess

In iOS 10, the Mail app often tries to guess where you want to move a message. It always seems to guess wrong, forcing an extra step to get it where you want. You can't turn off this feature.

Worse, after a while, it stopped trying to guess where I wanted to move a message and brought me straight to my folder list -- then started the stupid guessing game again later that day. I really wish that such "let me figure out what you really want" malarkey were opt-in, not automatic. But in iOS 10, there's so far no way to turn off this annoyance.

Silicon Valley loves to guess what we users want and take us out of the thinking process whenever possible because we're clearly too stupid to recognize our preferences in the first place. It's a malady for which there may be no cure -- partly because the real intent is often to steer us to a partner from which they make money, not to actually help us (Android's Google Now is a great example of that).

Another change to iOS 10 that gets in the way is how it handles banner alerts. They're now much bigger, so they cover up more of what you're working on. I wish that were a setting because the old size was perfectly fine for me -- one of those people whose middle-aged eyes usually prefers a larger container for text so that I can read it. The new banners aren't any more readable than the old ones, but they take more space.

iOS 10 big banners

The banner notifications in iOS 10 are bigger, covering up more of your workspace for what seems like for no additional information benefit. The good news is you can now dismiss them directly rather than wait for them to get out of your way.

The silver lining is that at least you can now roll up those banners to get them out of the way. Previously, you had to wait for them to go away on their own before you could, for example, access any controls at the top of the screen.

These may seem like minor issues, but they're in heavily used parts of iOS 10, so they steal extra seconds that really add up. And the payoff isn't there.

Yes, there are some good changes in iOS -- the ability to filter a mailbox for only unread messages or messages from your VIPs is an example of a labor-saving advance. But there are also signs of Apple losing sight of one of its former strengths: elegant simplicity.

For several years now, we've seen features throw into iOS, from Maps to Music, that don't work well or are buggy. We've seen awkward user interfaces for next-gen core tools like AirDrop and Handoff that only slowly get addressed, if ever.

The changes in Mail specifically and in iOS 10 generally feel like more of the same. That's how Google and Microsoft roll -- not Apple. Or maybe it now does, too.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.