Mountain Lion brought with it VIP functionality to Mail.app, but for those who spend their entire day sifting through spam and PR requests, the application still doesn’t do everything we hoped it would. In 2012, there has to be a better way than manually (or through smart rules) deleting, archiving, and de-prioritizing your email in Mail.app. From the sounds of it, Apple may just agree. The company is still putting resources into redefining email, and providing a more automated filtering system. It’s welcome news.

A new patent filing published on Thursday reveals that Apple is working on a priority email system that will automatically sort through emails based on a number of predefined and customizable rules that are based on a sender’s email address. The system is like Mail.app’s VIP functionality, but on steroids.

To prevent emails from getting lost in the shuffle, Apple is looking into implementing a priority system based on a ten point scale that would determine what emails are displayed, and in what priority. For instance, should someone send an email directly, with the recipient’s name in the To field, that email would gain priority in your inbox. If that same email was sent, but the recipient was in the CC field, a rule could be set up to de-prioritize that email in your inbox.

Of course, a lot of these features in the patent sound an awful lot like Mail.app’s current rules system, but we should point out that none of these rules are applied to inboxes on iOS devices, nor do emails rearrange themselves in your inbox. By the sounds of it, this new priority inbox could be a sliding scale of email, with your inbox constantly rearranging itself based on priorities you set in a mail rule. That kind of functionality could easily redefine how we interact with our email.

Interesting stuff could be on the horizon for email.

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