As we reported at Google I/O in May, Google has been working on offline versions of their three most popular apps: Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Google previously offered offline access for Gmail, Calendar, and Docs but leveraged Gears. But Gears is no longer being supported by Google as Chrome gains many of the same features via HTML5. And offline-acces functionality was limited. Today, Google is announcing that it has rebuilt offline access for these applications, in the form of a HTML5 Chrome web app. Gmail offline will be available today, and offline for Google Calendar and Google Docs will be rolling out over the next week, starting today.
The HTML5-powered Gmail Offline is a Chrome Web Store app that is based on the Gmail web app for tablets, which was built to function with or without web access. After you install the Gmail Offline app from the Chrome Web Store, you can continue using Gmail when you lose your connection by clicking the Gmail Offline icon on Chrome’s “new tab” page. You can read reply, send, and organize email regardless of an email connection.
Rajen Sheth, Google group product manager, tells us that the Gmail app will synchronize mail whenever you have internet connection even if app isn’t open in a tab. Previously Gmail Offline was a plugin to browser, and Sheth says that the ability to sync without opening the actual app was a big goal for the Gmail team when building the app. Soon you’ll also be able to customize the amount of mail you want to be synced.
The Chrome Web Apps for Google Calendar and Google Docs let transition between on- and offline modes. When you’re offline in Google Calendar, you can view events from your calendars and RSVP to appointments. With Google Docs you can view documents and spreadsheets. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t added offline editing to Docs, but it working on this.
Offline access for Gmail and other popular applications is key to the company’s efforts in competing with Microsoft stronghold. The fact that Chrome now offers offline access is a big step in helping Chromebooks and the browser-based OS compete with Windows.