Gmail web app
Gmail mobile web app

There’s a rumor going around that Google has finally developed an official Gmail app for iOS and submitted it to Apple for approval. It will allow users to send and receive email without firing up a web browser — and it will support push email, which is something the web app simply can’t do.

Don’t get me wrong, Google’s mobile web apps for Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, and other services are excellent demonstrations of just what you can do with a modern mobile web browser.

But a web app doesn’t collect messages for reading offline when the browser is closed. It doesn’t send you notifications when new messages appear. And even if you link the native iOS Mail app to your Gmail account you don’t get Push notifications — or the ability to use Gmail features such as Priority Inbox, starred messages, or labels.

MG Siegler reports that those are likely just some of the features that will be included in the native Gmail app once it’s approved… if it’s approved.

When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs was almost giddy with excitement over the prospect of the web browser as the most important app. If developers wanted to write apps for the iPhone, all they had to do was create web sites that could be accessed in Mobile Safari.

It didn’t take long for developers to insist that the browser wasn’t good enough, and that they wanted a native software developer kit, and the following year Apple caved, launched the App Store, and the rest is history.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s taken Google four years to jump on board with a native Gmail app. Google shares Jobs’ early vision of web apps replacing native apps, even though the company has been building native apps for Android for the last few years. But the truth is that there are still some things that work best in a native app which is more tightly integrated with the operating system than a browser-based app.

Update: The Gmail app for iOS is now available for download.

Brad Linder

Brad Linder is editor of Liliputing and Mobiputing. He's been tinkering with mobile tech for decades and writing about it since...