Gmail IMAP vs. Push, sanity more important than Push?

  • October 7th, 2009

UPDATE: Thanks to reader comments, I discovered that this mini-rant concerning Gmail Push was due to my handset being unable to sync properly. Formatting the phone and following the Google Sync setup instructions agin resulted in a properly synced phone. Thanks Camron.

Boxcar Push notification

iPhone toting Gmail users with a knack for pulling out their phone to check for the latest emails raved when Google announced Gmail Push. What’s not to like? Instant notification of unread emails on your iPhone without looking like “that guy” pulling out the phone to refresh in the middle of dinner. Exactly what you wanted right?

As soon as the setup info went live, I enabled Google Sync, flipped the Email toggle and waited. Minutes later, 5 unread email notifications popped up (exaggerated, more like audible notification alerts). Twenty minutes later, another 7. A short time later, even more emails.

Browsing the web, playing a game, or reading a Kindle book. There it was, yet another Push notification from Gmail.

What had I done? I realized that Gmail Push suddenly became the service I wished for and hated all at the same time. I mean, how could I focus on beating my personal best score in Orbital (iTunes) or Chain Rxn (iTunes) if the screen was routinely hijacked by Push notifications?

Understandably, the average internet user receives a manageable set of emails on a daily basis but I’ve moved everything online [which means all sorts of notifications]. Filters can only go so far and a lot of info lands in the inbox (despite the option of selecting which labels can Push alerts). A barrage of Push notifications wasn’t the only nuisance. I discovered another trade-off enabling Gmail Push.

Addicted to IMAP

In order to understand why IMAP is so slick, you’ll need to understand the difference between POP and IMAP. For a good walkthrough on the differences between the two, check out this the Official Gmail Blog.


The benefits of accessing your email via IMAP could not be any clearer. So you go on, accessing and reading your email from your fancy iPhone via IMAP. Then Google announces Push. You jump for joy and follow the setup instructions to add the Google service as an Exchange Server. Guess what, if you didn’t delete your existing IMAP Gmail account, you now have TWO Gmail accounts on your phone.

Gmail #1 syncs your unread / read and deleted email with your inbox. Downside, emails are fetched automatically at set intervals OR manually fetched on refresh.

Gmail #2 pushes new messages alerts to your device but has zero sync capabilities. Those 30 emails marked as read you had in your inbox a few minutes ago aren’t showing up in your iPhone inbox. Confused, you back out of the inbox and climb back up the Mail tree and are reminded of your two different accounts.

What do you? Do you continue accessing Gmail IMAP and leave Gmail Push enabled for a hybrid overkill system to satisfy your email addiction? Or, do you disable Push, marvel at the convenience of IMAP access and wait for Apple to put a little more attention into managing Push notifications?

Somewhere in the middle: Gmail IMAP + Boxcar

So you want the convenience of IMAP but the instant gratification of Push notifications at the same time? Try the Gmail IMAP + Boxcar (iTunes) combo. Boxcar is the best choice for Push notifications from services too slow to deliver their own solution(s) without having to rely on Exchange.

With Boxcar, I can fine tune Push notifications from both a personal and work Gmail account, change sound settings, and keep my Exchange account open and unused.

How can Apple make Push notifications better?

Apple’s lack of fine grain control over Push events can easily drive a iPhone user mad. Your Push options are either on or off. You can toggle sounds, alerts, and badges off, but what’s the point of Push with those limited notifications disabled?

Why can’t standard iPhone users enjoy the same useful utilities available for jailbroken handsets? Don’t actually answer that. There’s a great utility which adds a icon to the iPhone menubar for new notifications. What changes to the Push notification settings would you like to see in order to make Push a little more to your liking?

Gmail IMAP vs. Push, where do you stand?

Which method do you prefer for accessing Gmail from your mobile device – IMAP, Push, or mobile version of Gmail? How about Push notifications, have they improved or taken away from your mobile experience?