Push alternatives for your Gmail messages on iOS

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You may have noticed towards the end of 2012, Google started cleaning house and turning off some services many of us have come to depend on. One such service was Google’s Sync Services for Gmail, which allowed iOS users to access their Gmail accounts via the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol, which enables “push” email. Its removal didn’t go into effect for existing users right away, but the manner in which Google pulled support for Google Sync was a ticking time bomb for iOS users.

The effect is that the next major Apple release, like an iOS 7 or the debut of a new iPad or iPhone, will mean existing Google mail users will no longer have access to Google Sync. However, there are three ways iOS users can continue to use Google’s email solution, and still be kept up to date with your messages.

No longer grandfathered in

The main advantage that an EAS-configured Gmail account on iOS has over using the regular Gmail account setting is that it can be set up as a “Push” service rather than a “Fetch” service. Push is where Google will tell the email client on the device every time a new mail item is sent to your inbox. Fetch is where the mail client must ask Google to see if a new mail item has arrived in your inbox. With fetch, you can only ask the mail server every 15, 30 or 60 minutes if you have a new message.

The good news back in December was that any iOS configured Gmail accounts that were already connected to Gmail via the EAS configuration remained grandfathered in. This allowed Gmail account users to continue using the EAS configuration for as long as the device remained connected.  However, whenever an iOS device that was once configured to use Gmail as an EAS client is either restored, updated to a major new iOS version, or upgraded to a new device entirely, the EAS connectivity setting will be lost.

While this may not be affecting the vast majority of iOS users so far this year, there is an upcoming event this fall that will. Upgrading to iOS 7 or purchasing a new model iPhone will likely end your ability to configure your Gmail account using the EAS settings. That means no more Push for Gmail on your iOS device.

Google Apps for Business does push

With a Google Apps for Business account, you will be able to use a Google mail account from your iOS device configured using Exchange ActiveSync configured as a Push service. At just $50 per year per user, it is cheaper than Microsoft’s Office 365 subscription.

The downside of this solution is that you will not be able to keep your existing Google mail account. In the process of setting up your business account, you will create a new unique domain for your business and each user of the business account will need a separate email address. At this point, there is no way to transition your existing Google account associated with your Gmail and Google+ services over to a Google Apps for Business Account.

Forward your Gmail to another push account

Forwarding your Gmail messages to any other service that can be configured on your iOS device as a push service is another option. It is actually quite easy to set up email forwarding on your Gmail account.  Google allows you to keep the original message, automatically mark it as read, archive it or even just delete the email entirely from your Gmail account the moment it has been forwarded. Unlike manually forwarding email, configuring email forwarding on your Gmail account will preserve the original From email address, and will not alter the subject line.

Setting up forwarding

When you reply to an email that was sent to your Gmail account, it will come from the account that you forwarded your Gmail to, not from your Gmail account.  The solution is to configure the outgoing SMPT settings to use Gmail’s servers instead of your alternate email providers SMPT servers.

One minor annoyance with this solution is that it will not keep the “mark message as read” status in sync between the two inboxes.  This solution works best if you only check your Gmail from your iOS device, and use Gmail on the internet as a sort of email backup service.

Use Google’s Gmail app with iOS notifications

Google has implemented Push notifications in its standalone Gmail app for iOS. Using this app, you get a notification when a new email is sent to your account. The speed at which you are notified is equal to that when using the Push notifications on an Exchange ActiveSync account.

Gmail app for iOS

The downside here is that the Gmail app for iOS suffers the same fate as Google’s iOS Maps app: it’s not baked into iOS. There is no single view of your Gmail messages alongside your other email account messages like there is in the “All Inboxes” view of Apple’s stock Mail app. Third-party apps will not use the Gmail app as the mail app to send emails from. And iOS’s own share mechanism will not recognize the Gmail app when choosing to share an item with your contacts via email.

Which solution is best for you?

iCloud, Hotmail, Outlook, AOL, Yahoo and any Exchange Server-based mail provider you use can each be set up as a Push service on your iOS device.  Gmail is the only popular email solution that no longer supports push on iOS.  Each of the above workarounds that try to bring push back to Gmail on iOS has its own shortcomings.

While Google Apps for Business has all of the features you are looking for, you will need to change your email address.  Forwarding may work best if you only access your Gmail from your iOS device.  Using the native Gmail app will also work if you don’t care about being fully integrated with iOS’s sharing features.

One thing is certain: as Apple and Google keep battling it out, trying to use Google’s services on your Apple hardware keeps getting more and more challenging.

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