Why Outlook is the best iOS GMail App

I switched to an iPhone about 6 months ago and have found it superior to the Android phones I’ve used, except for one baffling thing. The GMail app on iOS is awful compared to the Android version. Unusably awful, actually. Fortunately, Outlook is very good. Better than the alternatives. Here’s why.

Mailboxes

What’s Wrong With GMail On iOS?

Everything I was used to and appreciated about the Android GMail app seemed to be missing or inferior on the iPhone.

  • A global inbox for all my accounts
  • Swipe actions
  • Highly customizable

I’ve forgotten the details now, and I think some of those issues have been addressed, but every time I’ve given it another try some of the things I need and use constantly are still not there in GMail.

To put it bluntly, it felt like a beta app from a novice developer. I was gobsmacked, because the Android app is so damn good. It almost feels like a different team is working on the iOS app and there is an impenetrable wall between the two, with zero sharing of information, designs, UI metaphors, etc.

The main reasons I liked it on iOS were:

  1. It syncs emails immediately
  2. Its search is very good

What About Inbox?

Inbox is yet another attempt to tell me that email isn’t good enough and I should live my digital life differently. In pursuit of that goal, it removes or cripples or hides a lot of functionality, while adding a lot of other functionality I didn’t ask for.

Besides that, it’s still got a lot of the same issues. It feels like a beta. Mailbox and other similar apps seemed to have the same problems.

(Update: a few months later, somehow, I started using Inbox and it just clicked. The only thing I miss is a unified inbox view; I don’t like switching between multiple accounts. I know, that doesn’t really fit into the Inbox paradigm. Anyway, the upshot is I’m not using Outlook anymore. I agree, I am a weirdo.)

What About Mail.app?

Mail.app probably is very well integrated with the iPhone and likely has a great UI and feature set. But it has this weird feature I don’t understand. It doesn’t receive new mail from the Google servers instantly. Instead, it has to be set to “poll” for mail, which is slow and consumes a lot of battery. So your phone will run out of battery faster and you’ll experience delayed email delivery.

Why Do I Like Outlook?

I tried a few other apps and settled on Outlook as the best. It handles multiple accounts well, has a shared/global inbox UI for them, has swipe actions for things like deleting and archiving, has instant updates with new messages, etc, etc. It also combines email, calendaring, contacts, and file management (integrated with Google Drive, Dropbox and the like) in a single app.

What’s not great about it?

Search. Much of the time when I want to find something, even an email I sent recently and I know exactly to whom, it simply will not find it. Outlook’s support staff always tells me to reset my account but that does nothing.

Conclusions

If you’re a GMail user and own an iPhone, from what I can tell you’re just not going to get the best possible experience. Seems like it’s a war of Google versus Apple, where the elephants are trampling the ants (you and me), and Microsoft has cleverly realized they have an opportunity to capitalize on it.

I keep holding out hope for Google to get their act together and create an actually respectable email app for the iPhone, but with each new release I still find myself liking Outlook better.

Picture by Ryan McFarland on Flickr.


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I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and lots of open-source software for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB. More about me.


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