Google recently added new functionality to its Gmail Android app and brought the iOS Gmail app up to speed with some valuable features that were already available in past Android versions. But neither app lets you do away completely with browser-based Gmail.
Last week, Google released Gmail 2.0 for Android and iOS devices, and the latest versions add a number of new, valuable features. But they still aren’t a substitute for the browser-based Gmail, and the apps’ feature sets vary widely based on OS.
Let’s start with the new Android version, which like all Gmail apps, is free. If you have a device with Android Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) or later, Gmail offers a convenient new “swipe” feature, that lets you swipe a finger across an e-mail in your inbox to either archive or delete the message, based on your settings. It’s a small feature, but it saves a tap or two.
Another new feature I appreciate, for Android 4.0 or higher: Messages can automatically resize themselves to fit your device’s screen size. And you can zoom in for easier reading—something you could do in previous versions of Gmail for iOS but not in the Android version. The new Android Gmail app also lets you view larger previews of photo attachments. Unfortunately, these updates aren’t available to Android users with phones running older, pre-Ice-Cream-Sandwich versions of Android, which is Google’s subtle way of prompting laggards to upgrade to newer devices and/or software. (Upgrading your Android phone to a new OS isn’t always a cakewalk, however.)
On the iOS side, the new Gmail app is mostly playing catch up with Android (no surprise there). Gmail for iOS now supports multiple Google accounts (up to five). When you start typing a search in Gmail, the app now autosuggests keyword phrases. You can scroll endlessly through your inbox instead of having to click to manually load more messages. And you can respond to Google Calendar invites directly from within messages.
The Gmail interface on iOS is also improved. The previous version had a dark, unhappy gloom to it, but Gmail 2.0 has more white space and is more pleasing to the eye.
Neither of these apps supplant the need for browser-based Gmail, which lets you do so much more, such as make and receive phone calls via a browser plug-in. But the latest Gmail updates are welcome revisions to what were already solid apps.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.