Gmail for iPad: Is It So Bad?

Gmail is the third largest email provider in the world. Taking into account how young the service actually is, that’s quite an achievement. In fact if you only consider the number of new registrations across the board after the launch of Gmail, the numbers would be totally different. No one can deny that Gmail is the best among the lot.

Besides being great, Google tweaks the app to perfection as and when possible. But all that’s on the web. When it comes to the iOS ecosystem, that’s a totally different story. The native Gmail client launched years after, only to be pulled down mere hours later, thanks to a bunch of bugs. It has since relaunched, but how good is the new version? Come, let’s find out.

User Interface

The Login Screen

The Login Screen.

Like everyone else, I too was looking forward to getting hold of the native Gmail app that’s in par with the Android version. But at first glance, it’s evident that the app isn’t going to live up to our expectations. The login screen looked like the spitting image of the desktop interface. That’s a good thing right?

No, it isn’t. The app is a web version of the app, with a thin, native user interface wrapper.

The Inbox View

The Inbox View.

The downsides of such an app aren’t much, but after so much hype, it feels like cheating. I own an Android mobile and review a lot of apps for our sister publication, Android.AppStorm. Often, I find most apps for the Android to be second rate, stripped down version of their iOS versions. This actually is the first time I have come across a second quality app that is handed down to iOS users, when there is a superior version available in a rival platform.

Ease of Use

Error Message When You are Offline

Error message when you are offline.

When it comes to ease of use, the app is very functional and would make for a great replacement to the Mail app. All that’s good and well while you have an Internet connection. As soon as you are off Wi-Fi or switch to the Airplane mode, the app becomes far less useful. It caches a few emails when the connection is on and you can view them without any issues. But, if you try to access the rest of your inbox or folders, you are out of luck.

The Goof Up

The app lets you save drafts, but you can’t view the rest of the drafts created earlier when there is no Internet. Even when the connection is on, the app isn’t any less annoying. Take for example the screen resolution. While the left pane of the app is aligned properly with the screen, the right one isn’t. The emails are displayed in full and no lines are cut, but the menu and some icons are. At times, you might not be able to use some features at all. It’s hard not to notice the misalignment given the fact that the tablet wasn’t a DIY project built in a basement.

How many versions of iPad are there in the market? It’s hard to believe the app passed through a quality control team. Or did it?

Frankly, I consider myself a Google fanboy. I’m in awe of their web apps and their constant quest for innovating the open web. But in this case I would love to kick their behinds for such a shoddy effort.

Folders and Other Features

Folder View

Folder View.

On the positive side of things,  it’s nice to hide the folder list by swiping across the screen. This helps to read and reply to mails while taking advantage of the entire screen space. All mail operations we have gotten used to with the Gmail web app are available at your disposal. Strangely, I couldn’t find a way to create new folders though.

The Compose Window

The Compose Window.

The Compose window has nothing new worth mentioning. It looks ugly and anaemic, but at least the email address auto suggestion works like a charm. Do note that you won’t be able to bring up the compose window when you have the folder view, even though the icon is there all the time.

Search works brilliantly. Still no auto suggestions as you type, but the results are impeccable as usual. Another feature that works as advertised is push. Push notifications are sent in realtime and I got the push notifications right at the same time the default mail app did (via IMAP). So, if you to choose to look over all the imperfections and plan to depend on the app for your emailing needs, you could still pull it off.

Final Thoughts

Forget Google for a second. If I were in charge of app development even at a tiny startup, I wouldn’t have risked my reputation with such a ridiculous app. They couldn’t even put together an app that fills the entire screen properly. Given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, I haven’t come across any app (not even cheap or free ones) that aren’t compatible with the right screen resolution.

Gmail isn’t an isolated case. The Google+ app was rather lacklustre too, but at least it was a native app. I don’t think I will take any other releases from Google for iOS seriously and I’m very sure I’m not alone. Consider this review as a warning, and unless you have time to kill and bandwidth to burn, don’t bother downloading it at all.


Summary

Gmail for iOS offers the official Gmail experience for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

5
  • Mike in Pitt

    As a Gmail and Ipad user I don’t understand the point of this app, and haven’t bothered to download it. What’s wrong with using the native iOS mail app? Is it because you WANT to see those Google ads attached to your emails? I would find that hard to believe. Add to that the fact that the iOS mail app apparently does a far better job caching emails for offline use, still allows you to save messages in folders, and is tightly woven with the address book and such, really what’s the point?

    Note that I really, really don’t like GMail’s website design either. Again, the ads, and all the other crap in the UI. On my (PC) desktop, I use Thunderbird and am perfectly happy with that.

    • WPHead

      What’s wrong with the native iOS app is that for one you can’t password protect it (unless you jailbreak), which isn’t ideal if you share your iPad a lot, and secondly it downloads all your emails taking up space.

      I personally use Mailboxes, which is a simple app where you enter your passcode and it shows you gmail as it would in the browser, it’s essentially the same as the Gmail app accept you can have multiple accounts and again its passcode protected.

  • Laura

    I hate gmail on the iPad! Hate it! Why can’t the folder column disappear and display just the email that I want to read? Even Yahoo did that part right. You should be able to touch the email and the screen should display just the email, period. Now I have to change my email provider. Sucks.

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