Mail: Unable to update thread heading automatically

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
January 25th, 2014 • 4:45 pm

Generally speaking, I don’t loathe OS X’s Mail as an email client like other people do. Yes, it does have a number of issues, including several that I have talked about myself on this blog. And I sure do wish that Apple would do something about them.

But on the whole I find that Mail is a decent application. I’d like to use a more robust third-party email client, but I have yet to encounter one that really meets all my email needs. (I absolutely need the ability to apply rules to messages, especially for text or background colouring, and I also rely on the third-party MsgFiler tool for filing messages away, so I would need something similar.)

That being said, there are bugs and flaws in Mail that really make you feel like Apple’s engineers are not really paying attention (or don’t really care).

For instance, I like to keep messages in my inbox organized by thread. This means that, as soon as I have more than one message that are part of the same exchange in my inbox, Mail displays a thread heading with a small number indicating the number of messages in the thread and a triangle that lets me expand/collapse the list of the actual messages in that thread:


When you select the thread heading itself, in the main area of the mail viewer window, Mail displays the entire conversation, including not only the messages received in your inbox, but also your own replies in the Sent mailbox (or in other mailboxes if you have filed them away). This is quite useful to get an overall view of the conversation. (Your replies are not included in the message count, however, and are also not moved automatically when you move the thread itself.)

The tricky part is that, except for the number and arrow, a thread heading looks like any other email message. It has a sender and a subject line. And there are problems associated with both of those. But today my focus is on the sender. If the thread consists of a series of messages between you and a single other individual, there is no problem. The sender is always the other person and does not need to be updated as new messages in this thread arrive in your inbox.

But what if the conversation is between several people? Mail keeps those organized by thread as well, but of course the sender line in the thread heading cannot display all the senders in the conversation. So what does it do? Normally, it displays the sender of the most recent message.

Consider this situation, however (names truncated for privacy):


Here, we have a thread with multiple participants, i.e. multiple senders. The thread heading at the top has the bullet that clearly indicates that there is a new, unread message in the thread. And yet, the sender is clearly not the sender of that latest, unread message (“Christ…”). It is the sender of the previous message in the thread (“Jeff and…”).

I don’t know about you, but I find this highly problematic and misleading. The thread heading clearly gives the impression that there is a new, unread message from “Jeff and…” when there is not.

Eventually, once you select something else and then come back to the thread, Mail does sort itself out and updates the thread heading to reflect the sender of the most recent addition to the thread. But it clearly does not do that automatically when receiving the new message — whereas it does automatically add the unread bullet to the thread heading.

It’s a rather irritating bug, which has, on more than one occasion, caused me to fail to notice some new messages, especially since the automatic selection of the next message when deleting or moving a message often causes the unread bullet to be removed even when you don’t want it to be.

And I believe that it is quite clearly a bug in Mail. I’ve reported it to Apple, but I have yet to receive a reply.

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