In my past couple of posts, One company's Google Apps email migration: Part 1 and Part 2, I discussed a Google Apps email migration which I recently conducted. I left off at the successful completion of the migration, when all users for the organization were sending and receiving their company email on Google's servers. Our next step was to address the question of mobile device setups for company email (Google Docs being considered a separate endeavor to address later, although we did confirm mobile options exist for that product).
There's usually a stream of talk echoing throughout the tech community predicting that many people will wind up exclusively using smartphones (and tablets) in lieu of desktops and laptops. While I think the benefits of these traditional computers are fairly self-evident (no smartphone I've found offers dual monitor capability, something I've come to depend on with my home and work PCs) there's no doubt that the functionality of mobile devices is accelerating in leaps and bounds. It's now possible to do a significant amount of work on a smartphone, which can be a blessing or a curse during the summer months when many are away from the office.
Here are the methods you can use use to access Google Apps (Gmail) on your phone, beginning from simplest to most complex.
All phones equipped with a web browser can navigate to gmail.com and log into Gmail. The experience may be less than desirable depending on your phone and the browser involved, for instance, on a Blackberry this is downright painful. It's much preferable to use the built-in email program or another dedicated application, but I think in a pinch this works for emergency situations. Interestingly, according to Google this option does not involve contacts access when used on an Android or iPhone, but offline access is provided for these platforms via this method. Additionally, attachments are view-only.
Most phones can also use the native email application to connect to Gmail via an IMAP connection, which permits sending and receiving email for this account (but does not provide calendar/contact access).
- For iPhone: Instructions for Google Apps email addresses
- For Android: Instructions for Google Apps email addresses
- For Windows Phone: Instructions state that Exchange ActiveSync needs to be enabled for Google Apps users; this is enabled by default
- For Blackberry: Instructions for Google Apps email addresses
(Note, the Blackberry instructions should work, but Google states that it isn't officially supported).
Nokia instructions may vary depending on the model you have. I recommend a Google search for "adding Gmail to Nokia [model]" for assistance.
The Gmail application
If you have an iPhone or Android mobile device you can use a Gmail application which provides enhanced functionality (this application may come pre-installed on Android devices, according to Google). Benefits include search, conversation views, easier inbox navigation, the ability to use labels, and Push technology which sends out email as soon as it arrives, rather than using scheduled intervals. The Gmail application can be accessed and installed on your phone via m.google.com/mail. Once installed, you sign in via the normal method using the application.
The Gmail application is not available for Nokia or Windows phones. If you're a Blackberry user, you can get a Gmail Plug-in.However, when I tried this the webpage involved just timed out, which does not bode well for the reliability of this feature. (Editor's note: It is working for me today.)
The Google Sync application
This is a beta service (keep in mind that Google is famous for fully-functional products remaining in beta mode for an extended period of time; this has been described as "perpetual beta" by some) which is offered to iPhone, Nokia and Windows Phone users. Since this describes my user base, this is what we chose for my organization and it was an excellent fit.
At first glance it might seem like Android devices are being left out of the mix, which would be a massive oversight given the fact Android is a Google product. However, Google Sync isn't applicable to Androids since the Android Gmail, Calendar and Contacts applications already provide the same functionality for that platform.
Google documentation indicated their Sync program was previously available for Blackberry, but it is no longer available for download from their site - another sign of the bleak future ahead for Blackberry products and their owners. Blackberry's situation is an eerie reminder of a quote from the film "The Return of the Jedi" where Admiral Ackbar commands "Move the fleet away from the Death Star!" moments before the explosive destruction of this threat (though I am in no way comparing Blackberry to a malevolent space station).
If Google Sync is applicable to your phone I think it's the best bet of the four I've discussed. Google Sync works in a similar fashion to an IMAP account (Exchange ActiveSync is the communication method) except that calendar and contact items are also included, which gives you the full package. Like the Gmail application, this uses Push technology.
Google Sync also offers administrative controls for mobile devices via Google Apps Mobile Management (applicable to Google Apps for Business, Education and Government editions only). These controls will be familiar to any Exchange Activesync or Blackberry Enterprise Server administrator; they permit customized security and functionality settings for users.
For instance, this gives Google Apps administrators the ability to apply password or encryption policies, remotely wipe lost/stolen devices, view application data (Androids only), and examine reports and statistics about device usage. You can also mandate that administrator approval has to be given before any user device can be connected to company email. An associated Google Apps Device Policy application needs to be installed on Android devices; no similar app is required for other mobile candidates.
See here for the full documentation for Google Apps Mobile Management.
Given the numerous options available to you for accessing Google Apps email on a mobile client, you're likely to find something that suits your needs in the above offerings. However, if you go on vacation this summer (and I hope you do) remember that your phone provides opportunities for fun and not just more work. Better yet, it also has an off switch for those times you really want (or need) to tune out, disconnect and unwind. And if you figure out how to do this last step, please let me know.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.