For years, POP (Post Office Protocol) email has been a thorn in my side. Apple's email service uses the IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) protocol for email, as do many other email services. What's the big difference between POP and IMAP? Well, if you're connected to a POP account and delete emails that have come into your Mac, when you get onto your iOS devices you'll find that those deleted emails are still there and you have to delete them again! With IMAP, delete once, and an email is deleted from all inboxes. There are some other benefits to IMAP, but for most people, the constant need to make multiple deletions if they have more than one device is the main reason they detest POP3 email servers.
The only POP3 account that I still had as of last week was one from my ISP, Comcast. For some reason, Comcast seems to be stuck in the 1990s and wants to retain those stupid POP3 accounts. Well, I found out that they've been providing IMAP accounts on a ask-and-ye-shall-receive basis, so I quickly signed up for one. After receiving notification that my IMAP account was live, I tried setting it up, only to run into issues. What I found is that you need to fool the Apple email clients for OS X and iOS 7 into believing that you're NOT connecting to a Comcast server initially, because if you tell those clients you have a Comcast account, they decide to set your email client up with -- you guessed it -- a POP3 account.
Here are some instructions on what you other Comcastic customers can do to sign up for IMAP and set up your OS X and iOS devices (note that images and instructions below are written for OS X Mavericks and iOS 7).
Request a Comcast IMAP account
By default, you're still stuck with a Comcast POP3 account if you sign up for their service. Should they decide sometime in the 21st Century to actually move everyone to IMAP, I'd be shocked. So to get on their "beta" IMAP service -- which apparently has been around for a while -- you need to ask for it. Fortunately, there's no need to call Comcast; you can make your request at https://xcsignup.comcast.net/onboardingapps/imap (see image below). You will need to know your current account credentials, those being your account user name and password. For some odd reason, probably for provisioning of the IMAP server, they also ask you what state you're in (maybe it's just for validation that you are indeed who you say you are...). Please note that Comcast has not, to this point, made this ability to get an IMAP account widely known.
One of two things will happen at this point: You'll either get a message that says that your account will be migrated to an IMAP server within 72 hours, or if you're a secondary email user on an account that's already asked to move to IMAP, you'll get a message saying that your account has been migrated. In either case, wait until you know for sure that your account is ready for IMAP love.
Setting up a Comcast IMAP account in iOS 7
Since iOS 7 devices have an incredible level of popularity right now, let's first talk about what you need to do to set up a Comcast IMAP account for Mail.app. Realize that if you just go into Settings and try to set up a new Comcast email account, it's going to assume that you are trying to connect to a POP3 server. So we'll need to confuse Mail and iOS 7 temporarily to get this account set up.
Start by launching Settings, finding and tapping "Mail, Contacts, Calendars", and then tapping the Add New Account link.
When you're asked what kind of account to create (choices include iCloud, Exchange, Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Outlook.com and Other), select Other. Once you're into that, select "Add Mail Account." A screen similar to that seen below appears. Type in the name you want mail recipients to receive, and then type in a totally bogus email account name. Remember, we're trying to fool iOS into NOT automatically setting up a Comcast POP3 account. I ended up using some random letters for the domain name -- in this case lkjklkj.net instead of comcast.net.
Once you've entered your name, the fake email account, your password and an account name (I used Comcast IMAP for the account name), and then tap Next, you'll see the New Account screen. The first thing you want to do is make sure that this is showing IMAP as the account type, and the second is to go in and replace your fake domain name with comcast.net. Next, type in the incoming mail server host name -- imap.comcast.net -- and your user name (the first part of your comcast.net email address). For outgoing mail server, type in smtp.comcast.net as your host name, and type in both your user name and password again.
Tap Next, and Mail will attempt to verify your account. Once it has, you get the opportunity to select which accounts you wish to sync with comcast.net -- my iOS devices suggested Mail and Notes. I turned off Notes and just synced Mail, then tapped Save.
Now you'll see the Comcast IMAP account in your list of email accounts, but we're not done yet. We need to make sure that our settings are correct for the servers. Tap on the Comcast IMAP account you just created while you're in the Mail, Contacts, Calendar page, then tap on the IMAP account listing on the next screen to bring up account details. Tap on the smtp.comcast.net under Outgoing Mail Server, tap on it again under Primary Server on the next screen, and then make sure that the settings look something like this with Use SSL turned on, password authentication turned on, and Server Port 465 entered in.
Once that's saved, go back a few screens and tap Advanced on the account data screen. Here we also want to make sure that Use SSL is turned on, that password authentication is enabled, and that Server Port 993 is entered.
At this point everything should be set up properly and you can try a few tests, like sending and receiving email from that account. I had to set this account up on three different iOS 7 devices (iPad Air, iPad mini and iPhone 5s) separately, but it's fun to know that it works! I can finally read transcribed voice mail from my home phone (Comcast, naturally), delete those messages, and know that they're deleted from every device.
Setting up a Comcast IMAP account in OS X Mavericks
Now let's do the same thing in OS X Mavericks. Once again, we need to fake out Mail so that it doesn't try to set up a Comcast POP3 account. To begin with, launch Mail and then select Mail > Preferences. Click the account tab. See that plus sign (circled) below the list of accounts? Click on it.
You'll be asked what mail account to add -- select "Add Other Mail Account," then click Continue. You'll be asked for your full name, the email address, and your password. As before, enter in a fake email address but your proper full name and password. Click the Create button, and the system responds with a message that the account must be manually configured. Click Next.
Enter imap.comcast.net as your mail server, your user name (first part of your comcast.net email address) and your password, then click Next.
For the outgoing server, enter smtp.comcast.net as your server, your user name, and your password, then click Create. This places the Comcast IMAP server into the list of accounts for Mail. We're not done yet, though -- we need to make sure the correct server ports are set up, and we still have that fake email address to contend with.
The first thing to do on the screen above is to put in my real Comcast email address in the Email Address field, the name I want to use as Full Name, and put Comcast IMAP as the description for the account.
Now I need to set up the incoming server. Click the Advanced tab on this window, make sure that Use SSL is checked, and put 993 in the port field.
Next, click on the Account Information tab again, and click on the Outgoing Mail Server (SMTP) field. Select Edit SMTP Server List. Select your Comcast.net server name, type 465 next to Use custom port, make sure the Use SSL box is checked, and enter your user name and password in the appropriate spots before clicking OK.
Now there's only one thing left to do -- save all of the settings. Click on any other account or tab in the Account screen, and you'll be asked to save the changes to the IMAP account. Click Save, and you should be up and running with your Comcast IMAP account.
Sure, it's a lot of little steps to take, but you'll be quite happy with the results. Note that if you run into any issues with setting up these accounts, it's probably that you're using the wrong ports. Just remember that you need to have SSL enabled for both incoming and outgoing email, that the port for outgoing mail is 465 and for incoming mail is 993, and that the server names are imap.comcast.net for the incoming email, smtp.comcast.net for the outgoing email.