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Suppose that you are writing an email. You mistype someone's address in the "To" field. For example, maybe you write, "john.reed@blah.com." Before sending the email, you remember that that person spells their name in a funny way. You want to delete the letter "H" in "john." The correct email address is "jon.reed@blah.com"

In a significant number of present-day email clients you cannot edit an email address already entered into the "To" field. Once you press enter or shift the keyboard focus to the body of the email, the "To"-address changes. The user interface changes what you have typed into something which can be deleted/removed, but not edited. This is also true of the carbon-copy fields. If you mistype someone's email, you have to delete the address completely, and re-type it. For many email clients, left-clicking on the email address might delete it, but it does not enable text editing.

I am talking about the front-end of the interface, not what's under the hood. What is weird is that in the years from 2000 to 2010, editing a destination email address was trivial. In most email clients, the "To" field was a text-box. You could click anywhere inside of the "To" field and type almost anything you liked. The backspace key worked fine; the delete key worked fine; anything.

Features do not become popular in multiple competing companies user-interfaces, unless those features are an improvement over the old way of doing things. There must be a rationale for disallowing users from editing email addresses previously typed into the "to" field. Technically, you can edit them by deleting and re-typing from scratch, but hopefully my meaning is apparent. What is the thinking behind this? Is it a matter of making "the common case" fast? Which user-cases are faster/easier using the (new or delete) style of design instead of the old (edit text) style of design?

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    Good one. Cannot think of any good reason why there wouldn't be small edit icon next to the "snack" of the e-mail. Maybe there is technical point – xul Jan 21 at 9:27
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    This is a good question! One of the annoyances I've had that I haven't put much thought into myself. – DA01 Jan 21 at 21:18
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Interesting question but your use case is not appropriate. Here's why:

If you type in john.reed@blah.com in the email client and it has the feature of Address Book or autocomplete email address, it will update it to the alias. For example, it would change it to John Amber Reed. You aren't seeing john.reed@blah.com anymore so it's impossible to know if you've missed an "h" or anything else.

Now, this is where the email client is trying to eliminate human error. There's almost no way that you type in john.reed@blah.com and later realize that the h shouldn't have been there. However, when you see John Amber Reed you immediately know that this is the wrong person as you were addressing it to Jonathan Reed.

We can debate on whether the email client should allow the user to go into the email address and remove the "h" or should it ask you re-enter the whole email address. But that's where logic goes out of the equation and user expectation comes into play. Nowadays, most people either copy the email from somewhere or use the forward, mail-to, etc. which means such "typing errors" are limited.

Also, note that if you type in an email address and it isn't recognized by the email client (maybe because it's not in the address book or the email is an organization email which isn't recognizable to the generic email client), it will show the email address as is, thus allowing you to rectify any mistakes on your own.

So, here's why it is being done in the email clients:

  • Eliminates user error
  • Has no major impact on UX
  • Might be bad for accessibility
  • Overall likeliness of acceptance is opinion based
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Blame it on Android and/or Apple

Others have explained why this may be a good feature, which is, of course, debatable.

But I suspect the core reason why the "feature" exists now and not previously is smartphones. I have noticed this behavior on smartphones, though not on regular email clients. Of course, that is probably because my primary email client (except for my phone) is good old Eudora that hasn't been updated in many years, though hopefully it will be soon.

On a typical smartphone, it is actually quite hard to edit any text, and in the case of email addresses the consequences of a failure are extreme - bounced message at best, wrong recipient or thinking the message went through when it actually fell into a black hole. If you have to retype the full address then you are more likely to get it right the second time around than if you try to edit the address.

As far as why this migrated to other (non-phone) email clients? I'm not sure. I have seen other things migrate from one place to another that make no sense to me - e.g., chiclet keyboards were the death of the PCjr, came back with thin (and then "regular") laptops and have now become the default keyboard type for new desktops (and I then replace with a regular keyboard except that many users now think "thin keyboard like a laptop" is normal). But I digress.

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Usually, one either clicks on a mailto:-link or you might be copy-pasting an address from somewhere else as a whole. Additionally, given that email clients come with address-books, my presumption is that these features were thought of as a counter-part to auto-completion - that is, since you don't have to manually write out an email address, you just find them or start them - typos and thus the need for editing (editing in itself, might cause typos) are eliminated. So automatically completely removing an address makes sense. It's negative completion.

It is more likely that you'd want to remove an address than a letter.

For the rare case a user writes to a new recipient and also makes a typo, starting from scratch might be safer.

E-mail addresses are long enough for the holding down of the backspace key to make more sense than pecking at it, but short enough to risk running over if not cautious, or respectively, caution will make you stop too soon and than pecking away the last few letters.

So have you just added the wrong address or changed your mind ? With this new design, hit backspace once only and you're good to go without running the risk of racing into the previous address by holding it down.

Because people can't be bothered to hold down the Ctrl key, apparently

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