Gmail on iOS.

Since making the move from Android to iPhone and subsequently giving my impressions of living with iOS for a week I wanted to spend some time, and get some further opinions on, the Gmail experience.

Android users are spoilt in this regard, and it is only to be expected, but it amazes me how two tech giants like Apple and Google can't provide an equally stellar experience on the iPhone.

Gmail on iPhone

Politics

How much of it is politics I don't know but it does appear that either Apple is placing roadblocks in the way or that Google is dragging its heels and intentionally not wanting to match the experience on Android.

You could understand the latter's position and Google would live to encourage more users to defect from iOS to Android. Apple on the other hand would be better served by making the experience as good as possible so that users are not even tempted to leave.

Options

Knowing that things are not ideal what are the options open to us for using Gmail on the iPhone?

Apple's Mail app

We can configure the default Mail app to connect to Gmail in one of three ways:

  • the built-in Gmail settings (which is actually IMAP)
  • as an Exchange account
  • manually as IMAP

I'm not an email power user but there are two features that I need: push notifications and Gmail's ability to send email as additional addresses as I use it to send from my colinwalker.me.uk address. Unfortunately, none of the above native options provides us with both of these features.

The only choice here that supports Push is configuring Gmail using Exchange Activesync but this does not provide support for sending as additional addresses.

Although the built in Gmail settings are using IMAP they to do not support additional addresses unlike configuring Gmail as IMAP manually where you can add multiple addresses in the settings (separated by commas) to enable this functionality. Despite this being a handy workaround IMAP does not support Push so it is not an ideal solution.

Extra steps

It had been suggested that I use the Boxcar service to emulate Push on circumstances where it is not supported, for those that do not know you configure your email account to forward to a Boxcar address which forwards the details to the Boxcar app on the phone. This then shows a notification and can be configured to open the email application of your choice.

This seemed like an ideal solution but after testing for a while I found it to be particularly clunky with disappearing notifications and, overall, a far from seamless extra step. A real shame as it is a great idea.

Sparrow

The hot topic as far as Gmail is currently concerned is the email application Sparrow which does indeed look like a fantastic email client. Unfortunately, it doesn't support Push (the developers say yet) and doesn't appear to allow the sending from additional addresses.

Boxcar could be used to get round the first issue - albeit in its own clunky way - but the second issue is a deal breaker.

Google's native Gmail app

Much has been written about Google's Gmail app being poor - it's not stellar but supports Push and, as per an update yesterday, now supports sending from additional addresses. Combined with Labels and some Priority Inbox support (show important mails) this actually gives quite a compelling reason to use it.

The app is not without its flaws, however, as in true Google fashion there are some UI inconsistencies and notifications do not appear to show on the lockscreen or in the notification centre. The app badges do work so at least you have some visual indication of incoming mails.

As is expected with Google the native app looks and acts very much like the mobile web page. It also includes a slide out folder list on the left so users of the Facebook application will feel at home.

The lack of sharing functionality within iOS does mean that the Gmail app is not available when you choose to send something by email such as the link to a web page so I have, therefore, had to leave Gmail configured as IMAP in the default Mail application but have this set to not poll for mails.

Conclusions

As mentioned, the Gmail on the iPhone is less than ideal and we are driven to specific solutions based on the functionality we require. While many will say I'm missing out on the experience provided by apps like Sparrow but I will be using the native Gmail applications for the time being. It is a satisfactory app for a non power user (despite its own quirks) and I shall give it a fair run.

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