Gmail gets a Beautiful Update

One of the primary functions of my iPhone (besides work related stuff, as it’s technically a work phone), are the general smartphone functions — check social media, take photos, check email. While the iPhone obviously has really fantastic apps, email apps has always been something that I feel leave more to be desired. The default mail app is a bit bland and at times unintuitive. Sparrow, which is beautiful, always seemed a bit slow to me, plus it really bothers me that the app doesn’t automatically get new messages.

But Gmail … well I’ve been a Gmail faithful since April 2004. When I saw they redesigned their iOS app, I was downright giddy. Let’s see how it stacks up.

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The Basics

Google’s first iteration of Gmail for iOS was a bit bland, much like their Android app was. There wasn’t a while lot going on, and so I tended to use Sparrow instead. But I knew they put a lot of work into the updated version just by looking at the screenshots. After downloading it and using it for a few days, I was not disappointed.

Welcome Screen and Inbox

Welcome Screen and Inbox

Improved UI

The first thing to notice is a much improved UI. It’s a more minimalist interface that lines up with the rest of the redesigned apps, like Google+. The menu button is now the (seemingly) universal icon for menus instead of the word Menu, and throughout the app you see functionality that used to be in the top bar now inline with elements you’re likely to use it with (I’ll elaborate on this in a bit). Aside from the look and feel, Google has added in some nice gestures to make things like archiving and revealing the menu a lot easier.

Archive Button and Menu

Archive Button and Menu

Viewing email messages is also a lot cleaner; messages are presented as Google Now-esq cards, with the main features (archive, delete, reply, reply to all, forward) presented as larger buttons and an extra context menu for secondary featured like move, label, mark as unread and more. Messages are also presented as conversations in the app now, something Google made popular when it first released Gmail.

Single Message and Context Menu

Single Message and Context Menu

I do have one big problem though: there is no way to scroll through messages. If you are viewing an email and want to view the next one, you need to go back to your inbox. There should be previous/next buttons (or even better, swipe gestures) for users to quickly read several messages.

New and Improved Features

The GMail iOS team also added several new and improved features to the app. The one that seems to be making the biggest splash is multiple account support.

Multiple Accounts. Looks like I have some work to do.

Multiple Accounts. Looks like I have some work to do.

The Gmail app for iOS now allows you to login to up to five accounts, including Google Apps accounts — just use the full email address to sign into those. Once you’re logged in under multiple accounts, simply select the account you want to view from the above menu. You can then see all of your email and change the settings.

The only thing you cannot manage on an individual account basis is notifications — they are managed through the Notifications menu in Settings.

Drawings as Attachments

Gmail overall has an improved experience for composing and sending email, including the ability to send drawings as attachements

Sending and the Drawing Canvas

Sending and the Drawing Canvas

This is actually a really well-designed form that includes auto-complete for email addresses,  recent and common contacts (by pressing the + sign), pulling contact from your phone, and inline functionality for adding attachments.

With attachments you can add a photo from your photo gallery, or attach a drawing (or scribble). You have three different types of drawing tools, several colors and different line widths to choose from. I thought this was a really nice touch on Gmail’s part — it’s unique and probably a lot more useful than people would think.

That said, I would like to see two things regarding attachments. The first is the ability to attach more than photos, however, I’m not sure if that a restriction on the app or iOS since there’s no real file system. In other words, the Gmail team’s hands might be tied on this one. The second is the ability to annotate images instead of just drawing new ones from scratch. I can see this scenario playing out nicely. Someone sends a photo or logo and you would have the ability to draw directly on that attachement and send it back.

Integration, Infinite Scroll and Beyond!

There is also much tighter integration in this app. You can do things like respond directly to Google Calendar invites and participate in Google+ discussions, right in the Gmail app. This makes the app a more social, singular experience. I can see them integrating a lot more of their services in the future.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was infinite scroll, which is also a new feature. You have the ability to scroll through email as long as there is email to scroll through. I’ve always kind of had a problem with infinite scroll for this one reason: in most cases, there is a way to scroll down (and down and down) but then you need to scroll all the way back up, when there should really be a “jump to top” button so you can quickly return to the most recent email. It is no different in Gmail. Scroll all the way down, scroll all the way back up.

Conclusion

The new Gmail for iOS app is a truly beautiful, well designed app. There are a lot of great new features and UX improvements, including a cleaner, more gesture-based interface. There are some things left to be desired, like better  navigation when viewing email and the ability to manage notifications on an account level, but version 2.0 is a huge step forward!


Summary

Gmail's official iOS app allows you to get Google's popular email service right on your iPhone. The app has seen considerable improvements in Version 2.0

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  • Dick Sidbury

    Joe, nice review. One thing that’s not clear from your review or from the product description is whether the mail resides on google’s servers or is downloaded to your phone. With my small iPhone storage, I only want messages on my phone while I’m reading them.

  • Andy

    The big issue I have is not having the ability to embed images into an email but rather to only be able to send them as attachments. There needs to be a fix to this quickly. The inserting of images into a message needs to be as simple as it is with the generic iPhone mail application. This seems to me like it should be a simple fix, but its like pulling teeth to get a straight answer on whether there is a workaround. If anyone has an answer, please advise.

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