Apple tweaked the iPhone email app — and people are trashing it

Image: Apple iPhone 11
A customer tries an iPhone 11 in the Apple Marunouchi store on Sept. 20, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. Copyright Tomohiro Ohsumi Getty Images file
By David Ingram with NBC News Tech and Science News
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Apple's devoted fan base came to expect design perfection after a string of breakthrough products over the years.


Shannon Watts always replied to emails the same way: by touching the reply icon, tucked in a familiar spot near the bottom right corner of her iPhone. Then, one day a few weeks ago, the icon wasn't there — and neither was the email. It was deleted by accident.

It's happened dozens of times since, frustrating Watts and many other iPhone users who've been tripped up by a minor change rolled out last month by Apple, a company renowned for its forward-thinking design.

In the newest version of the iPhone email app, the trash icon is now where the reply icon used to be. And they're too close together for some people.

"I end up deleting the email by accident instead of replying to it," said Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a prominent gun control organization. "If I'm lucky, I'll remember who I was replying to and then search for their name in trash. But it's incredibly frustrating and time consuming."

She's far from alone. Many iPhone users, including some high-profile people, have vented their frustrations on social media.

"Who at @Apple thought this was the best positioning for the trash icon in emails???" asked John Roberts, chief White House correspondent for Fox News.

Apple hasn't responded to the tweets, including some asking for a fix in future software updates. Apple also did not reply to email requests for comment from NBC News.

Apple's devoted fan base came to expect design perfection after a string of breakthrough products over the years, including the iMac in 1998 and the iPhone in 2007.

Enthusiasm has waned, though, after a series of contentious decisions including eliminating the dedicated headphone jack from new iPhones and frequent changes to the iTunes/Music app. Some critics say beauty has trumped usability.

Jony Ive, Apple's longtime chief design officer who was knighted by the British government in 2012, said in June he was leaving the company to become an outside contractor.

The problem comes down to muscle memory, said Gedeon Maheux, the lead designer for Iconfactory, a company that makes icons and apps.

"When you use something for years, you get muscle memory, and Apple's gone and broken that muscle memory," Maheux said. "I've been bitten by it myself."

Maheux said he suspects Apple was trying to make the taskbar at the bottom of the email app cleaner and more elegant.

"When you're a busy person and you don't have much time, it can make you want to chuck your phone out the window," he said, though he acknowledged it was a "First World problem."

Apple may have had more sweeping changes on its mind with its latest software upgrade, such as how Facebook and other apps use Bluetooth technology.

But Rene Ritchie, a senior analyst at Mobile Nations, a tech-focused media company, said the iPhone email delete button has always been problematic. He tells people to turn on an "ask before deleting" feature in their settings, or to swipe left in the app to show more functions.

"I think the placement and default are optimized for speed and triage, if you're just walking around and trying to clean out your mail as quickly as possible," Ritchie said.

"But I also think it's nowhere nearly forgiving enough for mainstream usage," he said.

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