YOU ARE AT:Analyst AngleAnalyst Angle: Apple iOS has two search problems — email and messenger

Analyst Angle: Apple iOS has two search problems — email and messenger

Apple needs to improve Email search and add search to Messenger. Quick and effective Search in Email and Messenger will enable users to be more productive when using these apps.

Apple’s iOS operating system for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad is certainly easy to use. In fact, it’s so easy to use that there isn’t any User’s Guide to explain how to use it. It doesn’t take a two-year-old long to figure out how to swipe, find apps and look at videos. Thus, it can be said that iOS is about the most intuitive user interface that’s ever been created. Kudos to Apple.

With that said, however, there are some things that Apple has not done well and needs to be fixed in order to keep the title as world’s easiest to use operating system. There are two I’m addressing today and both involve Search.

Apple iOSFirst, Apple does provide the ability to search through and find received emails. However, the process is simply not adequate for most search inquiries. Further, it the results are often not what the user is trying to find. Look at the left image above that shows the current user interface for iOS Mail. There’s the Search area with a Q (for Question) where I typed ‘Gerry.’ I blocked the responses as they are not really necessary to make my point.

Apple iOS takes the term ‘Gerry’ and looks up emails that contain that sequence whether it’s in an email address, in the subject or in the body of the email. As a result, all sorts of responses come up – some emails that are ‘From’ me, some that are ‘To’ me and some where it in the Subject and some where my name is mentioned in the body of the email.

Here’s the rub: I typically don’t want to look up all such emails. Rather, I’m typically looking for the phrase that’s in a particular email. I may want to look for emails that I sent out or those that I sent to a particular person as in the “To” or ‘From’ someone. Or, I might want to look up emails that has a particular word in the Subject. Or, I might want to see the last email I sent to someone. I can’t do any of these simple Search requests in iOS Mail although such search requests are available in other email apps, e.g. Outlook for iOS.

I’ve made a simple but effective recommendation on the left side of the screen shot above where I have added the ability to search ‘From,’ ‘To,’ ‘Subject’ and then ‘1’ ‘10’ and ‘All.’ The ‘To’ would search only for emails that are to the person named whereas ‘From’ would be emails from that person. The ‘Subject’ would look only for emails that include that name or phrase. I then included ‘1 10 Al’l to indicate how many emails the system should investigate. If it’s a ‘1’, then iOS would just search for the first occurrence.

If it’s a ‘10’, then iOS would just search for the first 10 occurrences. And, if it’s ‘All,’ then it’s a major search for all occurrences. The rationale is that often a user simply wants to locate (or search) for a single email or, perhaps, 10 emails that fit the criteria. By giving iOS how many to search for greatly reduces the search process. In a short email list (say up to 1,000 entries), this search criteria might not make much difference. However, if the email list is long (say around 100,000), this criteria will greatly reduce the search process.

I fully admit that I may not have the best user definition above. However, I think it’s easy for everyone to get the idea of how to make email search work better than it does now.

There’s also a problem regarding Search and iOS Messenger. While it’s a wonderful and an easy-to-use messaging app, there’s one glaring deficiency: the app doesn’t support Search. Thus, suppose you wanted to search the text messages that mention the word “equestrian”? There’s no way to do that today. Or, take the issue of finding a text message you wrote to someone quite some time ago? Today what you do is to slide the messages in the message folder up and up scanning until you find it. It would be a whole lot easier to search for your texts to and from that person or for specific contents than to do it manually.

Text messaging has a data structure a little different from email, but it still should be easy to develop a simple Search paradigm so users could find people or content inside text messages.

Thus, Search should be improved throughout iOS and, in particular, iOS Mail and Messenger.

Strategic Insights
As email and text threads get longer and longer, raw searching becomes time consuming and laborious. Apple should work to improve Search in both iOS Mail and Messenger so that users can find the information they desire quickly and efficiently. They fall short of that objective today, but with some dedication and work, I’m sure they can figure out how to provide users with a great user interface for Search that also works efficiently in both iOS Mail and Messenger.

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