Gmail and iOS 4: not yet perfect

Let’s get this out in the open: Apple’s Mail app for iOS has never been a great Gmail client. So much so, in fact, that I never use it on my iPad as I prefer Google’s web version of Gmail for the iPad. On the iPhone, though, the Gmail web interface is just as inadequate as Mail.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to learn that Mail in iOS 4 would include both threading (a longtime staple of Gmail) and a ‘Swipe to Archive’ feature just for Gmail users to replace Mail’s standard ‘swipe to delete.’ These, plus the ability to use multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts and the addition of notes syncing, had me all geared up for today’s iOS 4 launch.

The new Mail is better, for sure – but the Gmail features are flawed. Google provides real-time sync to Gmail, Google Calendar, and your address book via their own Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) system. It works great with iOS devices but suffers under some of the limits of previous versions of iOS (lack of threading and Archive, no notes sync). Google also provides IMAP and POP access to Gmail accounts. iPhone owners who use the Gmail button to configure their mail on the phone get an IMAP account configuration, which lacks real-time updates.

Under iOS 4, if you use the EAS method for syncing to your Google account, you will gain threading and keep real-time updates, but you do not gain notes sync or Swipe to Archive. Users who simply use the Gmail account type get the same old IMAP mail but now see calendar and notes sync – and get Swipe to Archive – but lose the contact sync that EAS uses get.

This odd mix of features is unfortunate. Why doesn’t the Gmail account button use EAS for mail? Why does it lack contact sync? Why does the EAS option lack notes sync and Swipe to Archive?

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