Google Launches, Then Pulls, Native GMail Client for iOS

Dave Courbanou

November 3, 2011

3 Min Read
Google Launches, Then Pulls, Native GMail Client for iOS

Google finally launched a completely native Gmail client for the iOS ecosystem, promising to bring the push notifications and search capabilities you enjoy with Gmail but couldn’t get using Apple’s Mail App. But just moments after it launched the app, Google pulled it down. What happened? And is the app all Google wants it to be? Read on for the review …

In launching the app, Google in its Official Gmail Blog said it had “combined your favorite features from the Gmail mobile web app and iOS into one app so you can be more productive on the go.” Unfortunately, the app proved to be buggy; in the blog Google noted it pulled the app because “Unfortunately, it contained a bug which broke notifications and caused users to see an error message when first opening the app.”

The Problem

Push notifications, the leading feature of the native Gmail app — and arguably the majority of its appeal — has bugs, according to Google, including bugs in the code of the app itself. After I installed and launched the app, I experienced the above-mentioned and cryptic error message. Google said the app will be available again sooner or later, but it’s an inauspicious start to what Google lauded as “one more reason to switch to Gmail.”

The App

But why did Google release a native Gmail client in the first place? Unless you’re using Gmail with Google Sync via an Exchange account on your iPhone, you wouldn’t get push notifications. And whether you’re using the Exchange tweak or regular old IMAP, ensuring flagged e-mails become starred e-mails on Gmail, correctly accessing your Gmail labels and searching completely thought your inbox are finicky — if not impossible — tasks with Apple’s native Mail app.

So, error messages and broken notifications aside, how does the app fare? After a few minutes with with the app, I was enjoying Google’s black-and-white color scheme and the slide-away drawer for the inbox menus. The improved visuals for threaded conversations were useful and Google did a great job of using context clues for what buttons do. For example, the “Save Draft” button is a floppy disk. I haven’t seen that in ages, but we all know what it means.

My second big favorite was the search capability: The native Mail client on the iPhone doesn’t use Google search even when you select “Search on server.” But the app gave me the power of Google’s search capabilities to dig into the entirety of my inbox without having to be specific. I’m also a huge fan of being able to sort and go through my labeled e-mails without having them represent folders, like Apple Mail does. Adding attachments is easier with a simple “Attach” button (something iOS mail is sorely lacking), but the first iteration of the native Gmail app only enabled photo attachments.

But even without the issues, the app wasn’t perfect. Almost everywhere in iOS, swiping across something deletes it. But with the Gmail client, if you swipe right to left across the screen you bring up the inbox menu and if you swipe left to right you bring up the archive button. Plus, it didn’t support multiple Gmail accounts. Even though Gmail mobile (via Safari) now supports multiple sign-ons, this app wouldn’t — short of logging out and logging back in.

Bottom line? If you have a Gmail account and you downloaded it before Google pulled the app, it’s still worth using, especially if you want to have your Apple Mail app e-mails separate from your Gmail e-mails. Keep your eyes peeled for the app’s re-release in the App Store, hopefully soon. I suspect Google is anxious to fix this.

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