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Beware of iOS hiding your email messages

Evan Schuman | March 3, 2016
A bug in iOS is periodically hiding email messages, in a way that makes the messages appear to have been deleted.

As enterprises rely ever more deeply on mobile devices for email, CIOs beware. A bug in iOS is periodically hiding email messages, in a way that makes the messages appear to have been deleted.

Here's how the bug makes its presence known. (And, yes, it’s an intermittent bug, which is tech support's favorite phrase.) Let's say you just downloaded 50 email messages. As you scan your mobile inbox, you notice four messages that you need to respond to right away. The others are junk that you want to delete now so that you can focus on the critical ones.

You then choose "Edit" and select everything other than the four important messages. You select "Trash" and, poof! Everything disappears. But wait, I specifically did not those four crucial messages. What happened?

When this delightful bug first hit me, I thought that I might have accidentally selected the "Delete All" option within the latest iOS email. When it happened again, though, I was ultra-careful and it did the exact same thing.

Why am I saying the critical messages (the ones you deliberately chose to not delete) are hidden and not deleted? That's where this mess gets interesting. Despite having an inbox with no messages in it, I backed out to the top-level email screen. Instead of it showing what I expected—zero unread messages in the inbox—it said that there four unread messages. I have run into this bug more than 50 times (have been working with Apple support on this since late last year) and it always present itself identically. The number of "unread messages" is always the number of messages I told it to not delete.

Here's more evidence for those messages being hidden and not deleted. When I went to the inbox and downloaded more messages, I used the inbox's search bar. When I searched for whatever words I remembered from the important messages' subject lines, the messages were always found. The search bar could see them, the top-level email app could see them, but the lowly end-user couldn't see them.

The bug has one last attribute. Several hours after it mischievously hides your critical messages, it kind of sort of returns. It displays this iOS dialogue box: "Unable to move messages. The messages could not be moved to the mailbox Trash" and then it restores all of your recently deleted messages, including the ones that you wanted to save and were hidden.

Of course, that happens hours after you needed the messages.

As I said, I have been working with various levels of Apple tech support on this for months. I even went to an Apple Store's genius bar so that they could backup the phone's full contents—yeah, I wasn't in love with that suggestion—and try and figure out where the bug was coming from.

 

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