I really like the default Mail app on the iPad. I think it’s a great example of what a good iPad Pro app should be. It supports a lot of different keyboard shortcuts, has a cool three-pane panel for extra context in landscape mode, but also still respects the concepts of margins for easy reading on a large screen. One thing it really sucks at, however, is searching for email. Unless I’ve flagged something, searching for email in the Mail app is just a crappy experience.
Luckily, Gmail (which I use for my primary personal email account) has seen a number of solid updates in the past year. It’s not something I’d recommend for everyday use necessarily, but it’s a great app to load up in those moments where you need to find that one email from your boss from two years ago.
Crazy Good Search
As an example of how vastly superior Gmail’s search is, here’s a shot of my search for recent Gelaskins newsletters in the Mail app:
The list stops at around September 9, whereas Gmail looks like this:
Those are results with the word Gelaskins dating all the way back to 2009. It’s a slightly different search, admittedly, but I couldn’t get the Mail app to search that far back even if I wanted it to.
The comparison is admittedly a little unfair because the Mail app accesses Gmail through IMAP, and there’s a limit to how much you can send over IMAP. Google’s Gmail app seems to have a direct connection to their servers and my account, so it’s able to search for anything and show it nearly instantaneously as long as I have a connection. This is just killer for when I need to reference really old emails.
There are also a few other niceties that make it over from the desktop Gmail app. You can undo the sending of an email if you are able to catch it within a few seconds of having pressed the Send button, and you can also have Gmail filter out different kinds of emails automatically (so you can group all your promotional and social network emails into sections automatically).
Not My Everyday Mail App
You’d think that these features would be enough to make me sing Gmail’s praises and recommend that everyone switch over to Google’s iPad app. But there are still a number of factors that make me hesitant to switch over to Gmail full time on the iPad.
For one thing, it still feels like a web app in a native wrapper. Something about the interactions with emails and swiping just lacks the same momentum and sense of weight, when compare to year of using the Mail app. The Gmail app also feels like It has simply been adapted for the iPad Pro, and not designed for use on the 12.9-inch display. There isn’t any clever use of the extra space, and the margins feel almost non-existent when you write a new e-mail, which makes it a little more difficult to read. The final reason that i still find Mail superior is that Gmail doesn’t seem to cache very well for online usage. I can receive a notification for an e-mail, but it won’t actually be downloaded until I load the app and view it.
It’s for these reasons that I still prefer to use the default Mail app for most emails on the iPad. However, I consider Gmail to be a fantastic secondary e-mail app that I use purely for reference purposes. It’s more convenient to load than the Gmail mobile app in Safari, and I’ll often use it just to move e-mails back into my inbox for viewing within the Mail app. So even though I wouldn’t recommend Gmail as a day-to-day iPad app, it’s definitely worth downloading if you’re a regular Gmail user. It does a great job of supplementing the Mail app with an even better version of search.