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Push Gmail for iPhone and Windows Mobile: Not Pushy Enough

Bobby Travis

This is a post by Bobby Travis, who wrote with me at 40Tech from 2009 through 2012. Bobby has since moved on to bigger and better things, but I've left all of his great contributions up on the site. - Evan
Bobby Travis

sync A few weeks back, Google unveiled the long-awaited push Gmail for iPhone and Windows Mobile. Push Gmail is part of the Google Sync package, which is still in Beta and previously offered only Google Calendar sync and Google Contacts sync. The calendar and contacts features have been working fairly flawlessly for some time now, aside from the inability to support multiple calendars and a few hiccups with the sync connection on some phones. Gmail push, unfortunately, has proven to be somewhat imperfect.

Google Sync works via the Microsoft Exchange protocol and, on the surface, is fairly easy to configure and get set up (set up for iPhone/iPod Touch | setup for Windows Mobile). Setting it up is only half the battle though, as getting it to work is a job unto itself. The main issue that is plaguing most users is that the server, at least with Gmail, often won’t connect at all. You may have several emails ready to be synced over to your mobile device, but there will be no transfer, no hint of activity, no nada. This is a platform agnostic problem, as the complaints from iPhone users are as loud and often as those on Windows Mobile. There are several potential causes to the lack of mail sync, among which are hardware, folder/label structure, and just general stubbornness on the part of the Google Sync program.

Hardware: Not all Windows Mobile phones are supported. Don’t think you’re safe if you have a more modern phone, either. HTC Diamond Pro and HTC Touch HD users both report problems, for example, while HTC Touch (Vogue) users have been able to get a decent degree of functionality.

Folder/Label Structure: This is a problem that results from using Gmail on a desktop mail client like Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird. If you set up multiple folders on your client, and give them a nested hierarchy (i.e.: Tech-Geek Stuff/Blog Subscriptions/40tech), these folders will be turned into labels in Gmail that reflect the hierarchy and have “/” in the name. Gmail push does not like this. Until you resolve the /’s, you will never be able to sync more than the folders (no content). TIP: Delete your exchange server connection from your device first, resolve your label names, then create a fresh connection. Hopefully that will solve your connection issues and your email will begin to sync.

General Google Sync Stubbornness: Unfortunately, there is sometimes nothing that you can do but keep trying. Seriously. You can delete and reassert the Exchange connection over and over using the exact same settings — and one time it might actually work. Reportedly, this has been the case for many people. Remember: Beta software. Beta often == weird.

If you do actually manage to get your phone connected to Gmail Push, you may then find that the Push feature is not quite pushy enough. This is to say it is only slightly (if at all) better than IMAP, at this point. Sometimes, the messages will appear on your phone within a few seconds, sometimes it takes up to 15 minutes or more. Also, messages that are opened on your device often take a long while to be marked as read within Gmail itself. The most common postulation for this lack of push in Push is that Google is upscaling slowly, as demand increases, and that the demand currently outstrips the capability of the servers. Due to these issues, unless you wish to add to the testing process, you may be better off sticking with IMAP and setting your phone to check for new mail every 15 minutes. The overall effect will be the same and you will (possibly) save some battery life. Push Gmail plays hell with your battery.

It should also be noted that, if you are currently using Exchange, you will not be able to use Push Gmail anyway, as you are only able to sync with the one server (if this has changed, please feel free to comment and we will update the post).

A final issue that many people are having with the current iteration of Gmail Push is that, while they can get mail in their inbox, they cannot get mail to populate in any of their label folders on their phone. For some, they have fixed this problem by doing a send/receive from the folder itself — but that didn’t work for everyone. If someone has a fix for this issue, please post it in the comments.

If you are having problems with Gmail Push, you may discover it is hard to find answers. For any query you type in, in Google Search anyway, you will have to wade through the miles of posts or articles telling the world that “Push Gmail is available for the iPhone!! (and windows mobile too…)” — no matter how specific you are in your search. You may find yourself better served to contact Google directly via their help forums.


Have you tried Google Sync with Push Gmail for your iPhone or Windows Mobile phone? Share your experiences! Do you have possible fixes for the issues noted above? — Let us know in the comments!