You look at your inbox on your iPhone and iPad and see that it is empty. You know you had messages! They are not in the Trash or Junk folder. Where did they go? Focus on the bottom left corner of the Mail app view and you’ll see a blue circle with three lines, largest to smallest, top to bottom. That’s the filter button and you tapped it without realizing it.
Tap it again, the blue turns white and your email is back.
Apple added the filter feature years ago, but I keep hearing from readers and family members unknowingly encountering it. If you don’t intend to use it, you don’t know it’s there; if you accidentally tap it, you have no point of reference to know what happened.
It’s a modestly flexible tool that’s intentionally used when you have an overcrowded inbox. However, it may be more valuable to use with archived folders.
When you tap the icon, it changes from an open circle with blue lines to a blue circle with white lines. Then you can tap a menu on the right that reveals criteria. You can’t change these criteria to add your own filters – you’ll need to use smart folders on a Mac for that. But the filtering options can be useful: you can show only messages where you’re in the main To: field, only messages from people you’ve added to your VIP list, or messages you’ve flagged. Some options can be combined, while others are exclusive.
From iOS 16 you can link filtering to a focus mode. In Settings > Focusselect a focus mode, then tap Add filter at the bottom under Focus Filters. Crane Mail, then select which accounts you want messages from to appear in Mail while focus mode is on. Crane Add when you’re done. You can remove this filter by tapping and tapping on it Remove filter.
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