Just before the launch of the Apple iPad Saturday, Google announced the iPad-optimization of its mobile e-mail interface for Gmail. When you add the Gmail site to your iPad desktop, it functions like an app, but it's really a web site executing in the Safari browser. The tweak made Gmail much nicer for iPad than it would have. But is it better than the Gmail-compatible Mail app that ships with the device?
Yes. And no. It depends. Gmail's mobile version has advantages and disadvantages compared with iPad's Mail.
Better searching of e-mail. When you use the Gmail site directly, you can search using Google's powerful search capabilities. And you can search every message in every folder at once. Within Apple's app, you can search only one folder at a time. For example, if you're in the inbox, the search lets you search only messages currently in the inbox.
Easy access to Buzz, Talk and other Google sites. As you can with all versions of Gmail, links to Buzz and Talk are ever-present. Click "More," and you get another list of links to Google sites. That's nice if you're a heavy Google user, especially if you like to switch back and forth between Gmail and Buzz.
Quicker to file mail that you read. When you're a Gmail user, most e-mail is either archived or deleted. On the Gmail site, this is optimized with "Archive" and "Delete" buttons right above the message. For e-mail that you don't reply to or forward, Gmail is faster. Just keep banging on the buttons and you can rip through your inbox pretty fast. With the iPad Mail app, there's an extra step. You press a button, which brings up all possible folders, then you tap the "All Mail" or "Trash" folders, which takes more time and attention.
Smaller type. Font size in "Compose" mode on the Gmail Mobile site is fixed, as far as I can tell, but Mail's isn't. In the settings app, you can choose Mail, Contacts, Calendars and change the "Minimum Font Size," which changes the font size for both reading and composing. Compose fonts are larger, cleaner looking and more pleasurable to look at in Mail, too.
Less iPad like interface. The Gmail Mobile site doesn't have an MPG (multi-touch, physics and gestures) interface. When you "flick" items in the left window, they stop in their tracks the second your finger lifts from the glass. They don't glide to a stop like real iPad apps do. It's a little jarring once you've acclimated yourself to the iPad interface. You can't use gestures to select multiple items for, say, deletion.
Slower to file mail that you don't read. If you're filing or deleting e-mail based solely on sender and subject, the iPad's Mail app lets you select messages en masse, either by taping on radio buttons or with fancy gestures, then process the whole pile.
So which is better? I find that Gmail is better for searching, normal reading and processing of messages and for accessing Buzz. But the iPad Mail app is better for composing messages. I use both. And I've placed the Gmail app into the bottom icon tray next to the Mail app (unlike the iPhone, the iPad tray holds up to six icons).
Meanwhile, I'd love to see a third-party app that combines the best of both -- plus the ability to change Compose-mode font size and do other things that are standard on desktop e-mail applications.
In the meantime, if you want the best of both worlds, you need to use both apps.