In 2009, I was starting my career in IT, and even at the time, the idea of managing a local email server seemed like a colossal waste of resources. I began investigating what was then known as Google Apps for your Domain as an alternative to Microsoft Exchange.

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

In today’s environment, running your mail server is the exception to the rule. Most organizations that start up today will either sign up for Google Workspace or Microsoft 365. Both products are outstanding, and it’ll depend on which productivity apps you like to use (Google Docs vs. Word) as the one you likely end up choosing. I’ve used and managed both of them, and they’re both first-class products.

It’s been nearly 11 years to the day that I changed my organization’s MX records over to Google and away from my self-managed Exchange server. I recently pondered its implications for the Apple-focused enterprise.

Why hosted email matters

When the iPhone was released, it lacked ActivSync support, meaning that IT had to enable IMAP support to access your work email. Because C-level employees were using the iPhone, IT ended up having to do it begrudgingly. With iPhone OS 2.0, Apple licensed ActivSync from Microsoft so the iPhone could natively talk to Exchange 2008 and up. If you weren’t in the workplace at the time, you probably don’t realize how complicated it used to be to set up corporate email on a smartphone. My first smartphone was a Treo 700, and it required me to take the phone to IT to connect it.

Today, not only is it straightforward to add your work email to all of your devices, but it’s also easy to use any app that you want! The flexibility that hosted email has brought to users is, in my opinion, the most important result of this transition.

Email innovation

Email is a tried-and-true technology mainly using open protocols. Google uses its open API for apps to connect to it, but email is still the workplace’s universal identifier. Despite efforts by Slack to kill email, it’s still alive and well.

We’ve seen a lot of innovation in the app options for email as well, and this gives end users a choice of what kind of experience they want. Spark lets you chat about an email among your team before you send it, making it useful for inbound customer service emails. Spike turns your email into a quick chat interface and strips away headers and signatures. Twobird provides a streamlined Gmail interface with notes. Airmail offers a multitude of customization options. Canary puts security at the forefront. There are countless other options, so check out my guide to the best email apps for macOS and iOS if you want to find some great alternatives to Apple Mail.

Wrap-up on why hosted email matters

The beauty of the situation that we’re in for enterprise customers is employees have choice while still getting to talk to all of their colleagues and customers. When an organization chooses to use Slack or Teams, everyone else has to use that app. Regardless of which email platform an organization uses, employees can pick the app that works best. Someone in one department might use Spike’s online notes to track meetings, while someone else might use Spark’s third-party app integrations to send emails into an app like Todist. Employees can experiment and find the apps that work best for their workflows while still getting to talk to everyone else. Because email is built on open technology with a few significant players, apps can focus on integrating with a few vendors and build great technology on top of it. All of this can happen without IT needing to configure each app manually.

Of course, app choice is only a small reason why hosted email makes sense in the enterprise. Running a mail server is a complicated and resource-heavy role, and security-wise, it’s much better to trust Google and Microsoft to handle it.

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Apple @ Work: How Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 have led to a boom in email app innovation in the workplace
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