I love Google’s Gmail iPhone app. I really do. It beats the native iOS5 Mail app in nearly every facet, with a clean and sharp user interface, real Gmail integration and the fact that, well, Apple didn’t design it. This is a story about my love affair with the Gmail app, a story with a hot and steamy beginning and great substance, but like most affairs it ends with you feeling guilty and somewhat dissatisfied after prolonged use.
When you open each application, the differences are stark:
Google’s Gmail application gives you strong contrast with the dark menu and tight, sharp text. The native mail app has the standard iOS native design, light blue on blue on more blueish blue. Native iOS apps tend to use screen real estate very inefficiently, within Mail this is especially evident at the bottom portion of the application. I feel like we’ll look back at this iOS design style like you look at Comic Sans as a font – sure, you could use it but its just a bit silly and clunky – the Gmail app is sexy in comparison. As the mobile application user base increases through smartphone adoption and tablet transition, users will become more sophisticated, demanding better, faster and tighter design.
Stealing my heart
Then you have the message creation, where Gmail wins out again in contact search, although mostly by default. The native mail app contact search is AWFUL, it drives me crazy. When you are setting up your native Mail app, you have five choices, the second of which is Gmail. Assuming this means that Gmail users are in at least the top 5 of all users one could reasonably assume this is an important user base. Following this argument, if one of the largest portions of the native Mail application user base has a Gmail account as their primary email, you could spend a little time working on their integration.
I realize there are a ton of corporate politics involved, including the competing iCloud and @me email addresses. As usual Apple has gone the path of “we know better”…and they probably do. However for now, the contacts I’m looking for are in Gmail, so it would be awesome if I could search them as well, especially when I’m trying to send an email.
As you can see (even when blurred) – the results are completely different. One is what I’d expect to get, and it still isn’t great, when I search Gmail on the browser. And the native mail app? Well, using some better logic as to whom I might want to email would be nice.
This next one frustrates me about the native app as well. If you look below in the inbox screenshots, in Gmail there is a thread with 10 emails. If you look at the native app, you can see 3 of those 10 emails, and about 1 1/2 other unrelated emails. Comparing these two screenshots; Gmail Inbox: 15 emails, Mail: 4.5. That’s a huge difference! Its just ridiculous. Not only that, Gmail also trumps on archiving ability. Apple needs to integrate some sort of “move out of the inbox but don’t delete” type of feature for me to switch to @me or develop a better answer. Incorporating the ability to search of old emails is invaluable. I’m a big fan of Lion’s Spotlight capabilities, I know Apple can execute a strong search function.
When it comes to structure, Gmail wins again, but not as handily. The folder structure is dead, at least to me. Why worry about what folder I put something in when I can just get it out of the way. As long as I remember one thing about the email (sender, partial subject, date range), I can find it when I need it again. This is an underlying advantage that Gmail has – folders are not necessary if your search function and built in recency functions are strong enough.
Well look at that, settings within the actual application that are relevant to email. Signature and out of office support, yes please.
There is just one little problem. Google’s application has an Achilles heel – it is slow. Like god-awful, manual refresh slow. It is so bad that I couldn’t take it anymore and ended our turbulent affair, going back to Mail after forcing the Gmail app on myself since it was released. I sent myself a few emails while writing this post from my computer on Gmail – as you can see, the native Mail app got them first.
This doesn’t really bother me because of speed but rather a feeling of reliability. When I send an email using the native mail app, I feel like the email was signed, sealed and delivered. With the Gmail app, I’m just not sure. The transaction is sticky and slow – when I hit send there is a pause; did it send!? I’m not always sure, and that doesn’t make me happy.