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5 Super Useful Tips for Mac OS X Mail: What are Data Detectors Anyway?
Francesco Schiavon on Sat, June 14th 0 comments
Don't get turned off by the term "Data Detectors"... as Francesco Schiavon shows, these improve your Mac OS X Mail experience in so many cool ways.

The name “Data Detector” does not sound very interesting; rather sounds way too technical, but they’re not. Data Detectors allow you to extract useful bits of information from Mail and act upon that data.

Regardless of the kind of data, the idea is that you roll over it on Mail and you should see a dash outline around the data with an arrow facing down on its right edge. That means that Mail thinks the outlined text is a specific kind of data, and depending on the kind, you can do different useful things with it.

1 - Addresses

Addresses are the most prominent bits of data you can act upon from Mail just because they appear so often in emails and have a great integration with Contacts. 

Depending on how an address shows up in an email it will give you more or less options to act on it. For example, if it’s just an address, say in the body of an email, it will look like this:

Pic 1

Pay attention to the buttons:

  • Open in Maps would take that address and open it in the full Maps application.
  • Directions will also open it in Maps but will automatically disclose the Directions and enter the starting point as your current location.
  • New Contact will create a new contact in the Contacts application
  • Add to Existing will allow you to select a name from your list of contacts and add the address.

But if the address has some other data around, for example in the signature of the email, like in the following example:

Pic 2

Apart from the basic address information it also displays the other contact information saving you a lot of typing when creating a new contact or adding it to an existing contact.

2 - Phone Numbers

Just like addresses, you can grab phone numbers from an email and create new contacts with them or add them to an existing contact. But if you’re still old fashion and sometimes call a number by actually dialling it on your phone, try the “Large Type” option that shows in the pop-up menu.

Pic 3

It shows the selected phone number in huge type (as wide as the display it’s on) so that you can see it across the room and dial it on your phone metres away from your computer.

Pic 4

3 - URLs (Web Addresses)

URLs show a preview of the page in a pop-up window right within Mail. Clicking on the link or address itself will launch your default browser. But, if you just roll over and leave the pointer on top of the link for about a second, then you can see the actual URL in the tooltip.

Pic 5

Pic 6

4 - Events

You can add events to your Calendar in a snap and the neat thing is that Data Detectors are quite intelligent, or at least make a bunch of assumptions. For example, if you receive an email with a precise date and time, the Data Detector can make a precise entry in the Calendar. But it also accepts things as vague as “tomorrow night”, or “this evening”. See the following examples:

Assumes date and time.

Assumes date and time.

Assumes date but uses time.

Assumes date but uses time.

Precise date and time.

Precise date and time.

Something that is not obvious right off the bat is that you can totally customize the calendar entry right on Mail before you create the event. Just take a look at all the options available in the calendar pop-up when you click the “Details” button.

Pic 10

5 - Package Tracking

Very few people know about this, but you can track certain parcels right from Mail. It doesn’t always work, and I have a feeling it depends on the shipping company. Just roll over the tracking number and if it shows the dash outline, Mail will try to track it. From the pop-up select “Track Shipment…”

Pic 11

Pic 12

It seems to have a better chance of working if the air waybill is from a large parcel company like UPS or FedEx.

6 - Flight Info

This one was kind if neat but it now seems to be broken. :(

In the past you were able to track flights just from the flight ID. 

Pic 13

In my example above UA6245 is a schedule flight between San Francisco and Vancouver, and Mail does recognize it (it seems it doesn’t always recognize the air line codes, though), but when you select “Show Flight Information”, it takes you to the Dashboard and loads the Flight Tracker widget but it doesn’t tracks the flight. You have to enter the information by hand. Oh, well.

Pic 14

Please note that Mail may not always recognize data correctly. For example in HTML formatted emails some Data Detectors may not work at all, some shipping companies or airlines are not recognized either.

At any rate, just roll over the bits of data on an email and see if the dash outline or the arrow facing down shows up. If it does, then Mail will consider that a Data Detector.

Pic 15

Just see all the bits of data that we can grab from this email.

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