Recommend a minimal email client (for senior)?

My mum (aged 93) uses Apple Mail on her MacBook Air. It drives her (and by extension me) mad. Like most of Apple’s kit, it’s designed for young people with perfect eyesight, or experienced users. (The original iPhone was fantastic for seniors; big clear type, buttons that screamed “slide to unlock”, etc. The interface has gradually become more and more subtle. Great for 25-year-old californians…).

I’d love to find a mail client which had fewer functions more clearly signposted, which showed one email at a time, which always listed emails in the same way, which guided the user etc. And which reset to a default state after a period of not being used, or when the machine sleeps.

Some of the problems my mum encounters:

  • when clicking the top (most recent) email to read it, far too often she accidentally clicks just above, on the column heading, which sorts the messages (typically by sender or subject). It displays a subtle gray on gray arrow, which she has never noticed. Now her new emails are no longer at the top of the list, she can’t find them. After a few days she calls me to say her email has gone, I use TeamViewer, click on the “Date received” column, hurrah. I’d love to lock the listing to permanently sort one way. I don’t think she uses Search; if she did it would then cause more stress because other emails weren’t showing. My dream app, if it included Search, would reset to defaults (i.e. showing all messages, in the default sort order with newest at the top) after sleep/idle.

  • every message she reads open in a new window

  • even though I’ve stuck a thin label above the top left of the screen saying “click the red dot, not the amber, to close a window”, she always clicks the amber dot to minimise them. So they build up along the dock in increasing numbers, the icons getting tinier as time goes on. I may be the only person to discover that there is a limit to the number of windows that Mail can have open; when it reaches this limit, clicking anywhere beeps (it may have opened an invisible dialog), no menus are available and there’s no solution except to force-quit Mail. Re-opening Mail opens all the little windows again, but is not locked up, so that they can be - one by one - un-minimised, and then closed. My dream app would only ever let you view one message at a time, so this problem wouldn’t happen.

  • a large quantity of these windows turn out to be new mail messages (with nothing entered) or replies to messages (with nothing entered). Mail knows that these are ‘null’ because it doesn’t ask whether we want to save them when we close them. My dream app would just quietly get rid of these unfulfilled attempts to write a message.

(I’ve created an applescript to close as many as possible of these windows - it works when I run it in the script editor, but not as a standalone.)

I don’t suppose my dream app exists, but are there any recommendations of a simplified mail client suitable for older users?

Many thanks in advance,



While it won’t solve all of your mum’s problems, MailMate would definitely be an improvement over Mail even if she never touches any of the advanced features.

For starters, when you double-click to open a message, it goes to a tab instead of a new window, meaning it’s more visible what has been done, and easier to close as a result.

The columns show which one is being used to sort the messages, again a great aid to getting them back to the way you want.

But perhaps the best feature for those whose eyesight is no longer 20/20 is that you can change the font size in the mailbox area, message list and current message area! Oh, and put text labels under the buttons at the top. Honestly, I wish more applications would let me do that!

(I’ve encountered the multiple-windows situation in Mail on my mum’s iMac, and it’s super-annoying! It’s not her fault, it’s so easy to do and they then get hidden. And considering the ages of Apple’s senior management, I’m surprised that they don’t seem aware of how hard recent UI changes are on the eyes or anyone not blessed with perfect vision.)


You don’t need to read email in a new window. In what used to be called classic view, if you slide up from the edge at the bottom of the message list (notice cursor will change to little up arrow starting from a pedestal), it opens up an extra display space. From then on any message selected in the list will show there. No need to double-click messages then (which will open a new window). Or else, you select View > Show Side Preview and you’ll get the display space to the right of the list (similar to Mail on iPad OS). Either way, selected messages will be displayed in that space. No more double-clicking or opening new windows.

As to red vs amber, really not sure what to say there. At the most elementary level you need to learn what some basic controls do. If you click minimize instead of close, you won’t get close. Not sure how you’d work around that.

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I’ve saw similar issues with my parents.They had usability issues with various applications, but an equally large problem was their diminished ability to learn new applications. Maybe your mom is sharp as a tack, and that’s great. But it’s probably worth a bit of time to consider how to best educate and train a senior in an unfamiliar environment.

I’m sorry to say that I never cracked that nut, so I can’t offer useful suggestions. Maybe someone else here will have more insight. But it surprised me at how significant the training / learning issue was for my parents.

I don’t know any senior-friendly Mail alternatives. What I do to make Apple Mail work for my aging eyes is to set Preferences for the message list font and the message font to 18 point Arial. If you get formatted mail that comes with tiny font, hit COMMAND-+ and it enlarges the type until you can read it. There are other formatting preferences as well that might make the display work better. Accessibility also has some useful features.


Perhaps Triage will run on an M1 Mac? (I haven’t checked.) It’s for power users to sort their mail, but I could imagine where it would also work as a lightweight client.

Similarly, my mother discovered that there is a maximum number of tabs that Chrome can open. After reaching the limit, it won’t open any more. As I recall, it wouldn’t open any windows either (but don’t hold me to that).

Her description of her problem was: “Chrome stopped working.”

It took me a while to figure out that I just needed to delete a few of the egregious number of tabs to make Chrome work again.

Very difficult process. I’ve helped my mother in law over many years (she’s now 86). 2 golden rules for me: It’s an ongoing process. Constantly remind them of the how-tos and occassionally offer alternatives. Always walk them through the process, making them do the thinking. Never have them watch you. Have them do things multiple times as you walk them through it.

I know that people on here are generally anti Apple Mail. Personally, I think it’s an excellent app. There are ways you can simplify what she’s doing. Clean up and rearrange the Toolbar. Remove uneccessary buttons. Only show what she needs. Hide the Folders/Mailbox Sidebar. Perhaps make a Smart Mailbox, so that Mailboxes are no longer involved. Just leave all mail in the inboxes. ‘Organising it’ is really just hiding it. Centre and expand the Search bar and walk her through using it regularly and showing e.g., that she just needs to type a couple of letters and she’ll get a menu displaying relevant people’s names. NB also that as others have mentioned, in the View prefs you can enlarge the typeface and change its colour. It may also be good to turn on Conversations.

Your biggest issues seems to be that she double-clicks emails to read them. Teach her to use the up-down arrow keys instead to navigate between mails. As long as she never slips and hits Return… she’ll remain in her single window.


I wish there was a way to set a minimum font size in Mail. Or, even better, covert all incoming mail to plain text.

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What I would love to see is a way that users could train Mail (and other apps) how to display text so they can read it easily and accurately.

When developers try to design UI for the elderly they often dumb them down, as if their target group are idiots. (My pet example: Doro mobiles) All that’s needed are some bigger fonts and bigger buttons, and maybe not so much of Apple’s “we hide everything and you need to hover somewhere to make controls visible.”
There are now so many additional functions, even those that are meant to focus on tasks. How about not adding so much nonsense in the first place?
/rant over, sorry.

For amber vs red dot: Can you teach her to use CMD + W instead? Or put that function onto an F-Key?

Funny that you mention Doro: my mother had one of their phones for a while, but found it frustrating to use and eventually replaced it. (Her current Nokia Android phone also annoys occasionally, partly due to the proximity of the side buttons to one another and partly because Android has also gotten into the hide-stuff-away game.)

It sounds to me as if what your mom needs isn’t a new e-mail client, but rather to decrease the resolution of her monitor in System Preferences → Displays. This will make everything bigger on her screen, and thus everything will be easier to find, to read, and to hit to click on.

For even more control over her screen’s resolution, consider:

BetterDisplay/Pro (free/$15) (was: BetterDummy)

However, if you are still intent on finding a different e-mail client, have a look at:

Macintosh Email Software

I can sympathise with Ben’s mother finding new stuff hard to learn. Though not her age, I have noticed that I find it harder to learn new stuff these latter days. It takes a lot more application and re-reading to get the information in my head. But then it doesn’t stick, I have to go back and relearn the process again. We recently upgraded our old iMac (Snow Leopard) to a new M1 iMac (Monterey). Apple assumes that its buyers are fully computer-literate, so adds all sorts of hidden tricks to get things to work. I regularly have to resort to Google to resolve an issue.
I have found some of the options in the Accessibility preferences a help, such as increased contrast. Decreasing the screen resolution is also a good idea for senior eyes.
I applaud Ben’s patience with his mother, and good on her for persisting with new technology.


I think the problem is more that Apple assumes all its users update to the new version of the OS soon after it comes out. I ran into problems – particularly with Mail – when I skipped Catalina and upgraded from Mojave directly to Big Sur. I had few problems in going from Big Sur to Monterey. Going from Snow Leopard to Monterey is a huge jump.

The problems with Mail came from having been using POP3 for email from my personal domain, which I had moved to a new hosting company a few years back and had seen no need to change before. Apple seemed to think that the Big Sur installer would not have to cope with POP3 at all. And I suspect many more problems come from Apple deciding to change something in one upgrade and build the installer for the next upgrade assuming everybody has made the previous upgrade.

Unfortunately, new versions of the Mac OS have become so problematical that it’s become risky to upgrade immediately that many of us don’t. I didn’t upgrade to Monterey until shortly before Ventura came out.

If you don’t like to deal with surprises, it’s OK to wait for a new macOS version to settle down. I don’t think, I’ve ever seen an upgrade that wasn’t stable after 6 months. Also, you should never jump into an upgrade without checking to see what the significant changes are, and how they might affect what you are doing. Check out the review on the Ars Technica site (skipping to the sections that talk about changes that affect you). If you don’t mind paying, get the Take Control book for the new OS. It’s harder to do this if you skip OS generations.

Apple usually doesn’t kill programs without warning; it may change how you access them. Apple telegraphed that 32-bit programs would cease to run for several years before actually doing the deed. If you depended on a 32-bit program, there was a long interval for developers to make their upgrades. If you were dependent on a program where development had ceased, you had time to explore alternatives. If you were absolutely dependent on the dead program for a function (e.g., it controlled a non-replaceable piece of equipment), you had time to plan how to get around the issue.

So, to use the apocryphal frog analogy, by staying in the water, as it heats up, you learn to live with it; if you jump in when it has boiled, you get a huge shock.

Thanks everyone for your responses and suggestions. I will try showing my mum the viewing pane option - not being a Mac Mail user myself I wasn’t aware of it - but am doubtful that she’ll be able to stop herself double-clicking (in general I’ve noticed that with knowing when to click, and when to double-click, seems to be a common confusion about unskilled users). I’ll also look harder to see what I can do to do regularly automate restoring defaults/closing excess windows.

In the meantime I’ll check out Randy’s list of mail clients.

Thanks again.