How-To: Fake a Unified Email Inbox on the iPhone

19 Comments

Many people have been asking for a unified email inbox on their iPhone, rather than having to switch between accounts. While there isn’t an official Apple (s aapl) way to do this, you can fake it yourself using Gmail and its ability to check email from other accounts.

The Setup

  1. First off, you’re going to need a Gmail account. You can either use an existing one or set up a new one. If you want an existing Gmail account to be part of your new universal inbox, I’d suggest using that one instead of setting up new one and having to fetch mail from there as well. If you need to set up a new account, you can do it by going to the Gmail homepage and clicking ‘Create an account’.
  2. Once you’ve logged into your account, locate the Settings page, the link to which can be found in the top right corner, next to your email address. When it has loaded, open up the Accounts and Import tab.
  3. Set up your first email account for Gmail to check for you by clicking ‘Add POP3 email account’, which is the third white button from the top. This opens a new window for you to input the details of the email account you want to be checked.

Getting Gmail to Check Other Accounts

  1. The first thing you need to enter is the email address for the account you want to be checked. Then click ‘Next Step’.
  2. Another screen will appear asking for specific details such as username, password and server settings. If you are unsure about any of these options, your service provider will most likely have a help page. It will most likely be a page explaining how to access your emails from a desktop client, however you can use this information as well. Once you have added your information, click ‘Add account’.
  3. You’ll be taken to another screen asking if you want to send mail from the account you’ve just set up. Whether you want to or not is up to you (you can always change this later). If you decide not to do this, any emails you send from your iPhone will have a From line as your Gmail account.
  4. If you do decide to do it, you’ll be prompted to enter a few more details about your email account. This is not crucial to this technique, however, so I won’t be going through this.

Your Gmail account will now check your email account and pull in any emails that come through. You can add up to five accounts for Gmail to check, so this will accommodate almost everyone’s needs.

Access on Your iPhone

Now that you’ve got Gmail putting emails from other accounts in its inbox, you’re mostly there. All you need to do now is set up Gmail on your iPhone so that you can check it from there.

  1. Go to Mail, Contacts, Calendars under the Settings app.
  2. Tap ‘Add account’ to add the Gmail account.
  3. Tap the Gmail logo to have your iPhone automatically set up the server settings that always stay the same for Gmail accounts.
  4. Enter your details and tap Save.

Your Gmail account is now all ready to go on your iPhone and you can access it through the Mail app. If you check your emails then Gmail should have imported some of your recent emails from the other accounts, and any new emails you receive will be in the same inbox.

Conclusion

Obviously this isn’t the same as a proper unified inbox — Gmail only checks other email accounts for new mail every hour. This is the next best thing though, and it’ll get you by until Apple announces the official feature in the next iPhone OS. The upside is it doesn’t cost anything and you can get it now.

19 Comments

dom

Hey Josh,

Where does the mail icon come from ?
It’s beautiful

Mike

I find myself having to comment on this.

This is silly.

First of all, POP? Really? Who uses POP anymore?

The eighties called and want their mail protocol back. Not even my grandmother uses POP anymore.

Seriously, IMAP is really the only way to go.

But the fatal flaw here is SENDING mail. Sure, you’re solution aggregates your email into one inbox. But then what? What happens when you want to send mail? You either have to use your aggragated inbox e-mail account (which would break all your email conversations and confuse your mom because it sends with a different e-mail address) or set up all your email accounts on the phone (you know, all the accounts you’re aggregating) and choose the ‘from’ account every time you send or reply from an email. Lame. Error prone. Silly.

Instead, just use one the email accounts you’ve already setup on the phone (because otherwise, you couldn’t send email from it in any situation).

This scenario just isn’t workable.

Btw, you could use hotmail, yahoo, fusemail, fastmail.fm, or whatever host to do this. There’s nothing special about gmail in this scenario.

Josh Sunshine

All valid points.

But this wasn’t about creating a perfect solution; rather, something that works for now, until Apple adds the functionality to the iPhone.

Gmail keeps your conversation intact, as long you use the ‘reply’ button rather than creating new mail. The recipient then receives a message with the subject line ‘RE: XYZ’ and the original message is quoted underneath. The email address it came from is irrelevant (you can set up your name to replace the address in the ‘from’ field) – all they have to do is hit reply.

Mike

I don’t understand why you think the email address it is coming from is irrelevant. What happens when the recipient replies to your reply? Doesn’t it go to the “aggragated inbox” e-mail address? Thus, dogs and cats living together (erm, mass confusion).

Curtis Carmack

If you want to get e-mail from several accounts but can’t live with the one-hour polling interval using Gmail, you can try a paid service like FuseMail. I used to rely on them and found that with frequent use, the polling interval dropped to under 1 minute in most cases. It does cost for an account, but it’s fairly reasonable and you do get some additional goodies, as well ($10/mo for up to 5 accounts). You can also set up fairly complex rules about sending accounts and getting mail into folders. I am not currently using the service but did for several years; worth checking out.

Christopher

Better yet: Use MS Exchange to access Gmail and get push mail for free.

KenC

There’s a great writeup that’s over a year old on Macworld, by Joe Kissell or one of those guys. He shows how to setup your .mac account, with your gmail account and how to get to show up correctly in the Mail app. Really great and worth checking out.

dave

all well and good… but you cant SEND with those “other” accounts.

Josh Sunshine

Jim is right; although I didn’t go through it here, you can set up outgoing mail through the other accounts (check step 3 in this article).

Robert

You should choose IMAP rather than POP if your accounts support it.

decta

I used that option on the 2nd day already. The only thing that is annoying is that your mail gets in your Computers Mailbox as read mail. I haven’t found any solution how to fix that yet. But besides that this solution is working perfect.

Josh Sunshine

My mail shows up as unread on my computers. Check the Gmail settings under the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. I have mine set to:
POP – disabled
IMAP – enabled

You could also try keeping the fetched mail on the server. This can be done by clicking ‘Edit Info’ next to your other account under Gmail settings. It’s also set in Step 2 of this technique.

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