App review: MailTones

So you’ve been using your iPhone for a couple months or years now. You might be addicted to your iPhone. Even if you’re not addicted, chances are that you have a stock of applications on which you rely heavily. Without a doubt, the single most useful application on my iPhone, and the one I use constantly throughout the day, is email. I live by email, and I read and compose email messages far more often than I make actual phone calls with my phone. To preserve my sanity, I’ve disabled the notification sound for new emails: if I hadn’t, my phone would be making noise pretty constantly throughout the day. But that’s not an ideal situation, because there are times when I do want to be notified of an important new email. Enter MailTones, an application that allows you to set custom alert tones, and makes good use of Apple’s push notifications.

MailTones is the first and only app to let iPhone users change the sound of their email alerts – both for “all” mail, and with different custom tones for different sender domains, subjects and individual friends… which adds enormous fun and practical value to the email on the iPhone – in ways which were simply not possible before!

This is a simple little app, but there’s a big catch: in order to enjoy push notifications, you need to forward your mail to a special address assigned to you at Once that’s done, MailTones will work its magic and send you push notifications of new email messages. On the whole, this setup works well, but there can be some synchronization issues depending on how compulsively you check your new email: you might get a notification of a message you’ve already read.

You have the choice of forwarding all your mail to MailTones, and then using the MailTones iPhone app to set up a variety of rules for notifications. You can match on a specific sender address, any sender from a specific domain, or subject line contents. You can have multiple overlapping rules defined, and the MailTones app will follow a specific flow to determine which sound to play. For example, if I define a domain match for, and also specify a contact match for, the tone I specify for John will be played rather than the tone for The matching goes by sender address, then subject contents, then domain, and finally if none of those match the default tone will be played.

You also have the choice of selectively forwarding mail from your account(s) to MailTones. This is what I did in my GMail account. Rather than forward everything, I defined a couple of filters to selectively forward only mail for which I might like to be notified.

This allows me to rely on the default MailTones notification for those messages I forward, and I can then fine-tune the notifications based on sender address or subject line matching.

By default, MailTones is on all the time. If you forget to toggle the speaker switch on your iPhone, you’ll get email notifications all night long. Thankfully, there is a “Do Not Disturb” option in the MailTones preferences which allows you to specify a time range during which notifications should be suppressed.

You can get MailTones in the App Store for $2.99, with no on-going subscription costs. This is a pretty good price for an application that really adds a new level of functionality to your iPhone.