Why does my iPhone get emails before Mail on my Mac?

Have you ever been sat at your Mac and heard the new mail chime from your phone before you get an email in Mail? Why does this happen and what can you do about it?

I keep my phone on the desk beside me because it is a great way to keep an eye out for anything new. As soon as an email arrives, the iPhone announces it with a chime, turns the screen on and displays the message. You can instantly see who is emailing you and what the message is about. Yet when you look in Mail, there is nothing new. It will turn up some time later, maybe in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or even longer. Why?

It is all to do with the email account settings on the iPhone and the Mac, and to a certain extent, whether your MacBook is plugged in to the mains power supply or is running on the battery. What has the battery got to do with it? A lot, as we will see.

Open the Mail app, go to the Mail menu and select Preferences. On the General tab is Check for new messages. This will probably be set to Automatically, which is the default.

Mail app on the Apple Mac

It is not clear what this means and even the help file does not make it much clearer. Apparently the Mail program decides when to check for new email messages and how often and when it does this depends on whether the Mac is running on mains power or batteries. In an attempt to reduce the amount of power used when running on batteries, Mail probably checks for new email less frequently.

The time between checks is not stated and it might even vary with the current charge, reducing checks as the battery drains so as to avoid extra load when the charge is down to 20% or less. I'm only guessing here, but that is what I would do.

The Automatically setting is very vague and clicking it displays a menu with some useful alternative options.

Mail app on the Apple Mac

Mail can check every minute, 5, 15, 30 or 60 minutes. There is also a Manually option that means Mail will only check for new messages when you click Mailbox, Get All New Mail.

Suppose you set Mail to check every 15 minutes for new messages. If a new email arrives one minute after a check has been made, you will not see it for another 14 minutes. Your iPhone can check for new messages every 15 minutes too, but your Mac and phone won't be synchronised, so the phone could check first and display the new mail notification before your Mac. This could be one reason why your iPhone receives new email messages before your Mac.

There are two ways for an email program to receive new messages and these are push and fetch. With fetch, an email program will connect to the email server, log in with your username and password, check for new messages, download them, and then log off. It does this on a schedule, such as every 5, 15, 30 or 60 minutes as set in Mail or on your iPhone.

Push works differently and although the technical details are different, it works a bit like text messages on your phone or instant messages on the Mac. When the mail server receives a new email, it sends it to your devices - the Mac, iPhone, iPad and so on.

If you have several devices and push email, they all receive a new message within a few seconds of each other. If one device, such as the phone, uses push mail and the Mac uses fetch, then the phone will always receive the message first. It gets it as soon as it arrives at the mail server, but an email program using fetch will get it only when the next scheduled check occurs.

If Mail on the Mac uses fetch then the only way to ensure it gets new emails as soon as they arrive is to select the one-minute check setting. That is a bit extreme and will generate a lot of unnecessary network traffic and work for the Mac. It would reduce battery life too.




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