Q: I am contemplating buying an iPod touch so I can have email access in Wi-Fi places. One of the reviews mentioned email being good “if you have a service that is covered.” Are there iPod-related restrictions on which email supplier is accessible? What would be the source of limited access?
A: There are not really any specific Apple-imposed limitations on e-mail support in the iPod touch or iPhone. Although the iPod touch and iPhone do provide specific support for Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and AOL accounts, most of these are just pre-sets to make these account types easier to set up, and the reality is that any generic IMAP or POP3 account can be used simply by selecting “Other.”
The notable exception that you will run into is Microsoft’s Hotmail service, which presently does not provide POP3 or IMAP access for their free accounts. Apparently, as of November 2008, Microsoft has begun offering POP3 access for their paid “Hotmail Plus” accounts, but there have been numerous reports of users still having problems with this. You will still be able to use Hotmail through the MobileSafari browser on the iPod touch, but you will not be able to download your e-mail directly into your Hotmail client. There are some third-party services that are available to “proxy” your Hotmail mailbox and provide limited POP3 access, but if you’re a Hotmail user with an iPhone, you’d likely be better off switching to any number of other more open e-mail services out there.
Note that the iPhone and iPod touch do provide some special support for Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe and Yahoo! accounts in the form of “push” e-mail. For these accounts, messages are “pushed” directly to your device and basically delivered within seconds of being received at your primary mailbox. Any other type of e-mail account requires your iPhone to periodically poll for new messages, with a minimum polling interval of 15 minutes, although you can always check for mail manually and the Mail application will check your mailbox whenever you open it. On an iPod touch the utility of “push” e-mail is somewhat more limited anyway, as you need to be within Wi-Fi coverage for it to work.