Google Updates Gmail Mobile, Introduces Offline Capabilities

Google has just announced on its corporate blog that it has released an update for the mobile version of Gmail. The update runs on the iPhone as well as on all Android powered smartphones and emphasizes offline functionality for the application.
According to the company, the software update now takes advantage of the latest browser technology innovations available on these devices and also updated its user interface, making it easier faster for its users to open email messages and perform batch actions on them — such as archiving or moving multiple messages at once. The new Gmail for mobile phones now also supports some basic offline functionality for the first time.

"Despite the advent of 3G networks and wifi, smartphones still lack a high-speed, always-on broadband connection and can have connections far less reliable than their desktop brethren. So, just like when we redesigned the Gmail for mobile client app last October, we've gone back to the drawing board and redesigned Gmail for the mobile browser to overcome some of these limitations. We made performance more consistent, regardless of connection type, and laid the foundation for future improvements," said Google Mobile engineer Rob Kroeger.

For this reason, Google decided to put more emphasis on this area and to develop a good basis for the future development of flexible offline functionality on mobile devices. The search engine already has a similar mechanism for desktop computers, called "Google Gears", that allows its users to access a lot of the functionality of its applications even when users are disconnected from the Internet.

To achieve this result, some radical changes had to be made as to how the information is being sent between the device and the Google servers up in the cloud when no connection is available. "Now, when you go to from your iPhone or Android browser, archiving email is quicker because it doesn't require a response from a remote server. Instead, we cache mail on the device itself (using database storage on the iPhone and a device-local mobile Gears database on Android-powered phones)," Kroeger explained in his post.

Actions such as archiving, labeling or starring messages are therefore first applied to the cache on the user's phone, and are then automatically being sent to the Gmail servers in the background as soon as the internet connection is restored. Of course, though, users will still have to wait for a server response (therefore having to be connected) if they request an uncached message.

Other improvements featured in the new version of the software include a "floaty bar" that lets users archive, delete or apply more actions to messages. The bar is animated through CSS transformations and can be controlled, at least in part, via touch control. It also scrolls along with the user's finger to keep at the top of the screen, thus proving one more shortcut for the mobile user in addition to the bar featured at the bottom of the screen.

Finally, the HTML5 canvas tag is used to render the progress spinner without having to download animated GIFs to the device, which can be useful in case of slow connectivity. But this is, according to the Google team, just a very first example of what they will be able to come up with now that they have developed a better framework. Objectives for future releases include faster performance, further improvements to all offline operations, new functionality, as well as user interface improvements to take advantage specifically of the unique user interface of smartphones.

Users who wish to try this new version of Gmail for mobile phones should simply go to from their devices and they will be presented with a link to download the software update, which will only work on Android or iPhone OS 2.2.1 or higher. At the moment, the version is only available in English, but the Gmail team said it plans to roll out translations soon.

Recently criticized by some of its users for the reliability and privacy issues raised by its approach that heavily relies on cloud computing for its Web applications, Google has lately rolled out a number of improvements on its Web applications in the hope users will perceive the issues are being addressed in a timely fashion.

According to some, the new offline capabilities offered by many of its desktop applications — and now even Gmail for mobile — could in part help the company cope with temporary problems on its servers, such as the 2 1/2 hours downtime experienced by Gmail not too long ago.

BY Dario Borghino

© Copyright 2002 - 2009. Internet Search Engine Database. All rights reserved.



Copyright 2008-2009 Daily IT News | Contact Us