Controversial Gmail iPhone app returns with minimal improvements

Nov 18, 2011
Tech

I missed snagging the Gmail app when it made its short-lived debut earlier this month. The universal app for iDevice was quickly yanked after users discovered a bug, but now the app is back. Its major problems were corrected, but Gmail still doesn’t offer anything special to make it worth your time. That might be […]

I missed snagging the Gmail app when it made its short-lived debut earlier this month. The universal app for iDevice was quickly yanked after users discovered a bug, but now the app is back. Its major problems were corrected, but Gmail still doesn’t offer anything special to make it worth your time.

That might be blunt, but it’s also true. The Gmail app for iDevice is simply a repackaged web app. Yes, its overall appearance is slicker than Gmail.com (and reminiscent of Facebook’s updated app), but beyond a pretty face, Gmail lacks basic features available in the native Mail app — primarily, the ability to use multiple accounts. Because my day job uses Google Apps for its email, I have three email accounts loaded into Mail. I can’t check these simultaneously in Gmail, which begs the question why even a single account user would prefer this method.

Push notifications weren’t working in Gmail’s initial release — and aren’t working much better now. The app appears to have support for the notification center, but I was unable to get any messages to appear there. There’s no choice between notification style (banners or alerts) and nothing was viewable on the lock screen. In fact, the only notification was a sound (I usually have mine off) and a badge on the Gmail icon. I can say that the app pushes instantly, but I only know that because I was waiting for a test message to arrive.

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When I launched the app after receiving my test message, I saw “network error please retry” (so perhaps part of the bug was missed) and it logged me out of my account. Session timeouts seem to be a common issue and the app can’t push messages to your phone if you’re logged out, which makes replacing Mail with the Gmail app a hard sell.

Gmail is simply a tweaked bookmark for Gmail.com, and a poorly produced one at that. Skip it and pick the smarter option — adding your account to native Mail.

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