I’ve tried just about every possible means of using Gmail on my iPad and iPhone. The one I keep coming back to is Google’s thirteen-month-old Gmail app. But I’ve always done so grudgingly — my list of complaints about it is long, and starts with the lack of support for multiple accounts. It’s just that every other option had even greater downsides.
But it looks like my gripe list just got a lot shorter. Google has released version 2.0 of the app for iPhone and iOS, and while it’s not a complete reimagining of what Gmail should be like on a mobile device, it does look like a major advance.
At long last, you can hop back and forth between multiple accounts — up to five of ‘em. (You can’t, however, merge all of them into one unified inbox, as you can with iOS’s own Mail app.) The app also shows profile pictures of your correspondents, lets you accept Google Calendar invites and adds some Google+-related features. And when you search, it autocompletes your queries to speed things along.
Google has cleaned up the interface considerably, too: It’s one of the least-cluttered versions of Gmail I’ve ever seen on any platform, with a streamlined look, subtle animations and other touches which are clearly part of Google’s new emphasis on attention to detail. When you scroll down in your inbox, it automatically loads new messages on the fly rather than making you press a button or link; even full-blown browser-based Gmail doesn’t do that.
This still isn’t the iOS Gmail of my dreams. (For one thing, I’d kill for the option, available in desktop-browser Gmail, to automatically archive messages as you respond to them.) But it’s refreshing evidence that Google is capable of building first-rate iOS apps when it puts its mind to it. Every time it does, the oft-theorized notion that the company is intentionally holding out on iOS users to boost Android sounds more like paranoid fantasy. (I admit that I’ve sometimes indulged in it myself.)
Actually, Gmail 2.0 for iOS looks so good that it’s making Android fans jealous. It’s tough to think of a better testimonial than that.