You might not have noticed that Google released an official Gmail app for the iPhone and iPad - at least, not the second time they released it. The first release was available for just a few hours, before show-stopping bugs caused Google to recall it. So it was a notably quiet moment when, two weeks later, Google relaunched the Gmail app. It’s a shame, too, because for the vast majority of iPhone and iPad users who use Google Apps and Gmail as their primary mail service, it’s a complete replacement of the built-in iOS Mail app.
So if you’re toting an Apple device and use Google Apps or Gmail, grab the app now. Sign in with your Apps or Gmail account, and you’ll get a familiar, yet improved, look at your mail. On an iPhone, you slide between vertical views of your inbox and labels and messages. On an iPad, it’s a nice two-pane view.
A few things longtime Gmail-on-Apple users will notice right away:
- There’s now an Archive button within easy reach, saving you the trouble of “moving” an email to the All Mail folder to do the same action.
- Search actually works. The "Continue search on server" option offered in iOS Mail is a common cause of frustration among iPhone owners - it’s a big reason why Gmail’s mobile web version is better than most apps. But the iOS Gmail app searches the same database as when you use Gmail in a browser, so you get the full, rich results you’ve come to expect.
- Picture attachments are easy-peasy. Click the attach button on an email you’re writing, and a quick selection box drops down to pick out one or more photos.
The look, feel, and speed of Gmail on iOS is just right, and much improved. There are a few quibbles, though, even if they’re very specific and not that problematic for most:
- The app is basically a specialized web view of Gmail, with a few native iOS abilities added on. So offline use seems to be limited to emails you’ve already looked at recently.
- The notifications are limited to sounds and badges at the moment, rather than the newer “banner” notifications introduced in iOS 5 (if you wanted that kind of always-on notification, anyways). The app badge also shows your total unread inbox count, as opposed to the iOS Mail app that shows your most recent unread items. Those with large backlogs of unread stuff should probably just turn off the Gmail badge (in Settings).
- Multiple Gmail/Apps accounts aren’t offered at the moment, though Google says it is in the works.
Overall, Gmail makes for a great app that any Google Apps user should have on their Apple device. You can use it as your Apps mail manager and keep your personal mail in the standard Mail app, or make it your everyday inbox tool.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.