Push Gmail support for the iPhone is finally here. And you have Microsoft to thank.
No, Push support has not finally been added to Apple’s Mail app for the iPhone, that would be too easy and make too much sense. Instead, it appears that Google is once again working around Apple to provide customers with some functionality, this time by way of its Google Sync product.
Basically, to get it to work, you have to set up a Microsoft Exchange account on the iPhone using your Google account credentials. Read more about the process here. Previously, this option was available for some of the other Google apps like Calendar and Contacts, but now Gmail is supported, which is important, because it means that you will be instantly notified when a new message comes in.
This is a big deal to a lot of iPhone/Gmail users because with the iPhone’s built-in Gmail functionality, you can only manually pull messages from the servers. This means you have to wait longer to get your email depending on the time interval you set to check for new messages. Even though Apple offered Push support out of the box for Yahoo Mail, Gmail through the Mail app is still pull-only, for some unknown reason. Gmail push works fine on Android phones and the Palm Pre.
There have been several third-party apps that have come along to attempt to provide push support for your Gmail email. Gpush had one hell of a time getting accepted before it finally was, another, Boxcar 2.0, is still waiting.
The interesting side story to all of this is that Google is once again doing its own thing to bring a service to the iPhone. Apple would not allow a native Latitude application, so Google built a web app that would work with Safari on the iPhone. And, of course, we’re all still waiting to see what Google cooks up to get Google Voice funtionality on the iPhone, which Apple also won’t allow currently.
Google Sync works for all Google Apps accounts, and people with personal Gmail and Google Calendar accounts can also use it. Alongside push Gmail support for the iPhone and iPod touch, Google also launched it for Windows Mobile phones today.
Update: As several have noted, there is a downside to this method. The iPhone only supports one Exchange account, so if you happen to use one for something like work, you can’t also use it for your personal Google account.