As recently rumored, Google launched a native Gmail application for Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices (s aapl) on Wednesday. The initial version of the application has most, but not all, of the features found in Google’s Gmail(s goog) client for Android phones, and currently starts up with an error message, which caused Google to pull the app. Many around the web are understandably let down by the client; however, as a long-time Android user, I see plenty of potential in the new application.
Aside from the first error message, which I immediately dismissed, the application is mostly working, based in my short testing on an iPhone 4S(s aapl). The look and feel is very much like the client I’ve used for Android, complete with Priority Inbox icons and the labels that most Gmail users are accustomed to. The client has more buttons that the simpler iOS Mail app, but they’re all handy and non-intrusive: forward and back, search, archive, delete, label, etc. I like the pull to refresh option on the Inbox as well as the auto-complete for mail recipients.
There’s also a Menu button, but it may not be working as designed. Tapping it slides the email window to the right, revealing all of the Gmail labels, but you can accomplish the same thing swiping by sliding the email pane right. I also don’t see a way to use two Gmail accounts. Labeling emails is working fine, and that’s key, although the method to do so isn’t that different from using folders in iOS Mail. The official Gmail blog also indicates support for push notifications, but they’re not working, which Google quickly acknowledged by pulling the app.
Android devices still offer the best Gmail experiences, which makes sense since both products are Google-based. One of the reasons I left iOS in early 2010 was because of my reliance upon Gmail and the need for a solid experience. But Apple has done a solid job to improve Mail and Exchange Support in order to improve the Gmail experience on iOS.
Clearly, Google is trying to do the same, but hasn’t been able to do so with this first iteration of Gmail for iOS. It appears like the app is HTML 5 based and not yet working quite right in an iOS wrapper, but that’s simply an educated observation on my part. I also expect Google to quickly release an update to address the issues now that it has pulled the software from the iTunes App Store.
Of course, if Google provides too good of a Gmail experience on iOS devices, it actually loses a key advantage over smartphones and tablets that use Android software. As a user, I’m happy to see a native Gmail client for my iPhone 4S — and will be happier when the bugs are worked out — but maybe Google should leave well enough alone before Android users start switching to iOS once they have a solid Gmail client.