The quest for the perfect Gmail experience on the Mac desktop and on the iPhone
Given gMail has one of the best web application interfaces (for its usage) and can sit happy in your browser tab, it is after all still a web application and can not interact with your local address book, offers no drag and drop possibility and desktop notifications.
Furthermore, Gmail offers some really useful features like threaded conversation view, saving of chats, starred items and archives. Features that anyone who has used Gmail for more then one day has come to love and cherish. Since, those functions are just so useful many are just using Gmail in the browser, after all it is free and it works.
Still, I set out for a quest to find a desktop client and an iPhone app for gMail for the obvious reasons mentioned above and… …to say upfront, I found (for me) the perfect Gmail experience on the Mac and on the iPhone. So, read on…
We as Mac users like our iCal and our Address Book. They might not be the perfect solutions, but to be honest, they are the best we have and they come with MacOS X and are tightly integrated with the system. Thought, Apple made some improvements to iCal (adding WebDAV) and subscribing to other calendars it does not come close to experiences that some have with Outlook and Exchange server. Let’s not even talk about the Address Book which is somehow closed in itself (yes, I know you can lookup LDAP, but does a private person have LDAP installed?). What we (I) really want is to have a easy synchronization of my Calendar (iCal) and my addresses (Address Book) with Gmail. It is not too much to ask, right?
The desire to do so, is fortunately not only mine, but also that of the developers of SpanningSync. In short, SpanningSync allows you to sync your address book and calendar(s) (yes, more then one) with your GMail contact/calendars. Best of it all, you don’t have to do anything at all to make it work, simply install it, set it up once and forget it. From then on SpanningSync, syncs everything in the background for you.
For me, not one thought crossed my mind not to get it. They offer an annual license or a onetime license.
iPhone & gMail
Besides browsing to the mobile gMail site within Safari and then save it as a book mark site (which then appears as a custom app on the iPhone) there are two gMail applications, one is called iGmail and the other Mailroom.
Honestly, I have been using iGmail for some time and even slashed out $5 for having it work with my Google App account. But recently I experienced random lockouts, as such that I could not login anymore (even after restarting the phone) and once I was able to re-login I experienced random crashes. Another thing is that on slow connections (like on EDGE) the application did not work at all. Obviously, I was looking for an alternative.
Today, Mailroom had gotten the top spot on my iPhone. Mailroom is by far the best gMail application and works every time I have to use it, be it on a slow network or not. Mailroom does even more then the “normal” gMail mobile site. Some of the things are;
- Multiple Accounts
- Threaded Messages
- Using Local Address Book
- Offline Support
Personally, I don’t regret for once second that I bought Mailroom. It works every time and does what it promises.
Desktop & gMail
Of course, you can have your Apple Mail set up with gMail over IMAP (recommended) or POP3, but for me Apple Mail does not work so well. I like the gMail interface, but still want the desktop feeling and the convenience of attaching any document by drag/drop. The only application that offers me all that is Mailplane. I can’t say anything else, then that Mailplane does all the things you are accustomed to from a desktop application and some more. That and the user interface from gMail makes it a clear “must have” for any serious gMail user.
Some of the benefits of using Mailplane are;
- Having notification (Growl)
- Drag & Drop attachments
- Having different account and switch to them on the fly
- Individual formated signatures for each account
- Access to Address Book
- Create screen shots within Mailplane
Having a perfect workflow in sync with gMail, MacOS X and iPhone is something that can easily be achieved with the outlined tools above. For me, my current set up works flawlessly for many months now and supports me 100% in my work. In short, I use SpanningSync for having my calendar and address book in sync with gMail, iCal and Address Book. On my iPhone I got Mailroom and on MacOS X I use Mailplane.