How to get iPhone alerts when someone replies to that super-important email thread

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thread alerts for email
Make sure you never miss an important reply with thread alerts.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The VIP mailbox in Apple’s Mail app helps stem the torrent of incoming email alerts by limiting the notifications you see to folks you mark as important. But what about when you want to get an alert for a one-off reply?

Perhaps you’re waiting on an email from an eBay seller about that sweet vintage guitar, or you’re desperate for a reply from your landlord about switching off the heating because, c’mon, it’s almost summer already. Then you need email thread alerts.

How to set up email thread alerts

Seeting alerts on new mails is a one-tap task.
Setting alerts on new emails is a one-tap task.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Thread alerts let you set a one-time notification per thread. Instead of checking your email every five minutes for that important reply, you can just mark the thread as important — any replies will then make a notification pop up on your lock screen.

Think of it as a kind of VIP list for individual mails.

To set the alert you have to do two things, one super-obvious, the other less so. First you mark the message itself, then you must make sure alerts are actually switched on for mails.

Adding an email thread notification

You can add notifications to any thread, even one started by somebody else.
You can add notifications to any thread, even one started by somebody else.
Photo: Cult of Mac

There are two ways to add a thread notification in iOs Mail.

One is to tap the little alert bell in the subject field when you’re composing the mail. The empty outline of a bell appears only when that field is active, i.e. when you tap the field and are ready to type the subject. Just tap the bell to set a notification. This is great if you know an email thread is important when you start it.

The second method is to add a notification to an existing thread. This is a just as easy. When viewing the email message, just tap the little flag icon, and a menu will pop up. On there, tap Notify Me…. Then, another button pops up, this time called Notify Me, without the ellipsis. Tap that and you’re done.

To switch off notifications, tap on the flag icon again and go from there.

Make sure email notifications are on

thread alert settings
Make sure you switch alerts on, or all your good work will be wasted.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Next, you need to make sure the alerts will actually show up. This is done in the Settings app: Settings>Notifications>Mail>Thread Notifications Make sure they’re switched on. Then choose how obtrusive you want the alerts to be.

I like to have all my mail alerts off, except for thread notifications. That way, when I get an alert, I know it’s actually something important, and not another one of those nutty conspiracy theory emails from my crazy uncle (set in all-caps, obviously).

That’s it. Now you know how to get notified when that all-important reply comes in.

There’s one final note: If your email is set to “push,” you should get your alerts as soon as they get sent to you.

If you set your mail to check for new messages on a schedule, say every hour, then your alerts will come in with the same delay. That’s probably a good thing, of course. You should let the other party sweat it out a bit. It doesn’t look good to be too desperate or eager.

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3 responses to “How to get iPhone alerts when someone replies to that super-important email thread”

  1. Randy Stokes says:

    I’m running iOS 10.3.1 on an iPhone 6s, and when I try going to Settings>Notifications>Mail>Thread Notifications, Thread Notifications does not appear as an option. That is, I go to Settings>Notifications>Mail and all I see is Allow Notifications (which is on), entries for my two email accounts (neither of which contains a Thread Notifications entry), and the VIP item. Any suggestions?

    • Dave Dirckx says:

      Having the same thing here. They do show up however in the Mail Notification settings if the option ‘Organise by Thread’ is activated: Settings > Mail > Organise by Thread > On. Then you will see the option in Notifications. You will continue to see the option if you turn the ‘Organise by Thread’ to Off again.
      Seems like an iOS bug to me…

      • Randy Stokes says:

        Thanks for the suggestion, but I already had Organize by Thread set to On, and I still didn’t see the Thread Notifications item. In fact, I turned the Organize by Thread option to Off, exited, then turned it back to On; no change. This may indeed be an iOS bug, but I still haven’t broken the code!

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