You look at your inbox on your iPhone and iPad and find it empty. You know you had messages! They’re not in your Trash or Junk folders. Where did they go? Focus on the lower-left corner of the Mail app’s view, and you’ll see a blue circle with three lines, from largest to smallest, top to bottom. That’s the Filter button, and you tapped it without realizing it.
Tap it again, the blue inverts to white, and your email is back.
Apple added the filter feature years ago, but I keep hearing from readers and family members who encounter it unwittingly. If you don’t set out to use it, you don’t know it’s there; if you tap it accidentally, you don’t have a reference point to know that’s what happened.
It’s a modestly flexible tool used intentionally if you have a crowded inbox. It can be more valuable to use with archived folders, though.
When you tap the icon, it changes from an open circle with blue lines to a blue circle with white lines. Then you can tap a menu to its right that reveals criteria. You can’t modify these criteria to add your own filters–you have to use smart folders on a Mac for that purpose. But the filter options can be useful: you can display only messages in which you’re in the main To: address field, only ones from people you added to your VIP list, or messages you’ve flagged. Some options can be combined, while others are exclusive.
Starting in iOS 16, you can pair filtering with a Focus mode. In Settings > Focus, select a Focus mode, then tap Add Filter at the bottom under Focus Filters. Tap Mail, then select which accounts you want to have messages from appear in Mail while the Focus mode is on. Tap Add when you’re done. You can delete this filter by tapping it and tapping Delete Filter.
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