Why isn’t there a native Gmail app for Mac?
It might sound like an odd question – after all, Gmail was one of the first truly functional web apps. It’s always been in the browser, and that’s arguably a key selling point even today.
That’s one perspective; here’s another. Gmail offers native apps on Android and iOS, both of which blend with their operating systems. Why shouldn’t the far more powerful desktop operating systems get the same treatment?
It’s a particularly relevant question for Mac users, who love the window management, notifications, and other features of OS X. We went searching for the perfect Mac Gmail client, but I’m not convinced we ever found it. All have some sort of limitation that feels like you’re missing out on great Gmail features, such as instant search and proper label support.
Isn’t there some sort of compromise?
Kiwi: Less Than a Client; More Than A Browser
Clearly lots of people feel the same way I do, thinking Gmail deserves a dedicated desktop app. 3,444 backers pledged $42,202 on Kickstarter for something called “Gmail for Mac” (since re-branded as Kiwi for Gmail).
The video makes a lot of promises; does the final product measure up?
Taking Gmail Beyond The Browser
Before we get started: obviously on some level this is Gmail running in a browser, albeit a browser with numerous Gmail-specific features.
The approach is similar to Current, a Facebook app for Mac, which takes Facebook’s website and better integrates it into the Mac environment. There are pros and cons here, obviously.
On one hand you get a complete experience: everything you expect from Gmail works just the way it does in a browser. On the other hand, you might argue this is little more than just a browser window.
But there’s more going on here. Here are a few features Kiwi offers that you can’t readily get in the browser:
- Gmail in a separate window, with its own app icon on the dock and elsewhere. Sure, you could turn Gmail into a Mac app with Fluid, but this is a touch more elegant.
- One-click support for multiple Gmail accounts. No load times; no signing in and out. Just click the other account in the menubar and you’ve switched.
- Quick menubar access to all of your accounts.
- Separate compose windows, which you can quickly open from the menubar for any of your accounts
- Can be used as your default mail client.
- Makes use of native Mac notifications, optionally only for Important emails.
Let’s take a look at a few of these features, and see how they work.
Gmail With Native Mac Notifications
As someone who thinks of notifications as some sort of mental poison, I was really impressed with the way the Kiwi team implemented native notifications. The reason: for the first time, you can choose to see notifications only for emails Gmail deems “Important”.
Most people don’t pay a lot of attention to Gmail’s “Important” tag, but it turns out (at least for me) that it does a pretty good job of only showing the emails I’m likely to care about. If you want to be notified of important emails, and only important emails, this is a great feature. You can better “train” the feature better by flagging email you consider important, and vice versa.
You can also see a count of unread emails on the menubar and the dock icon, if you like, and choose whether there’s a sound. A built-in “Do Not Disturb” feature, accessible from the menubar, lets you turn off email notifications for a while. You can also launch compose windows from here.
Detached Compose Windows
A few years ago Google changed the way “Compose” works in Gmail, making them hover over the rest of Gmail. Some people like this; others hate it.
Whatever your feelings about how compose works within Gmail, I think you’ll agree that separate windows are better. In Kiwi, you can launch such a window from the menubar or by use of a keyboard shortcut (Control + Option + Command + M by default). Set Kiwi as the default mail client and these detached windows will also show up when you write a message.
Quickly Switch Between Users
You’ve probably noticed a box with an email address at the top of every window here. Click that box and you can switch email accounts, quickly. And when I say quickly, I mean just that: you won’t be waiting for another instance of Gmail to load. It’s seamless.
It’s a small thing, sure, but if you use one Gmail account for personal use and another for work this is a big deal.
I think Kiwi just might be the Gmail client Mac users are looking for, but it is missing a few things.
- There’s no offline support, which for some defeats the whole purpose of an email client.
- There’s no notification center widget (though some might prefer the menu bar icon in any case).
- There’s not yet support for Gmail plugins, meaning loyal Rapportive and Boomerang users should probably look elsewhere for now.
- If you use Gmail’s built-in chat, there’s no support for notifications (but you should already be using Messages for OS X instead).
Try Kiwi For Free; $10 For All Features
Curious about this app? You can download Kiwi right now. You can choose between Kiwi ($10) or Kiwi Lite (free). Lite differs in a few ways:
- Only supports one account
- No keyboard shortcuts
- No important-only notifications
- No do not disturb feature
- No support for Gmail plugins (when such support comes)
Which version you need is obviously up to you, but Lite is free so there’s no reason not to try it out.
Is This The Ideal Mac Gmail Client?
When Google bought Sparrow, a much-loved Gmail client for Mac with a fully native interface, it prompted a lot of anger, but also some speculation. Might Google be planning to put out a Gmail app for Mac?
Three years later, it seems not. Google seems steadfast in its belief that desktop apps are a waste of time, and that absolutely everything should be run through Chrome.
That puts Mac users who also love Gmail in a tough spot, because there will likely never be an officially supported desktop version of their preferred email client – only unofficial attempts that don’t quite work.
From this perspective, Kiwi for Gmail just might be the best Gmail client for Mac we’ll ever see. All of Gmail’s web features are here, because the app is essentially Gmail running in a browser. Kiwi strikes a balance by providing just enough additional features to make it worth running.
Is all that worth $10? What do you think?