It was rumour for a long time, but with the release of iOS4 it became a reality - iPhone users now get the option of Unifying their E-Mails into a single Unified Inbox meaning you can now view all your e-mail from different mail accounts through one inbox.
This is a great feature if you spend a lot of time in mail or switching between accounts, because no longer do you need to tap your way up the e-mail tree and back down again.
When you reply to a message, you are actually replying as the e-mail address it was sent to and if you are creating a new message, it will default to the default account you have configured (Settings, Mail, Calendar, Contacts).
A couple of downsides I have encountered are there isn’t a way to easily see which account the message belongs to, so if you run a couple of businesses it would be useful to visually see which account the mail belongs to. Also, there is no per account e-mail signature.
Like Google Mail and Outlook 2010, the iPhone now supports threaded conversations which simplifies your ability to keep track of e-mail conversations, which is how a lot of people tend to use e-mail these days – as an offline conversation mechanism.
Having now used the Unified inbox since the iOS4 release, I personally have found I switch between the Unified view and the traditional standard view depending on where my focus needs to be. The unified view is great for an early morning or evening scan, however a lot of people I have talked to get in the ‘zone’ for one particular e-mail account and don’t want the distractions of personal e-mail mixed with their business e-mail, or indeed where they run multiple businesses, retaining a degree of information separation. That’s why they have separate e-mail addresses in the first place!
But it’s all about choice, and the iPhone certainly delivers that in its Unified Inbox presentation.
As an information sifter and technologist, what I would like to see going forward from Apple is not just a Unified Mailbox, but a Unified Communications box. This would include unifying Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, RSS feeds, SMS messaging and more bringing together all inbound and outbound communication platforms. After all this is how Jobs first introduced the iPhone as a communications device.