Jure Stern Design & Development

650 words
2 min 10 sec

Usability problems of the Gmail app for iOS

Published on 20 Jan 2013 Comments

Upon the release of the redesigned Gmail app for the iPhone I thought about switching from the Apple Mail app. I never had any problems with the latter, except from missing features of Gmail accounts. I set up my three Gmail accounts and started using the app. Soon I encountered some usability issues.

What the app does right

With the new 2.0 update we got a new look that coincides with the Google's flat design principle. The emails now show profile pictures and use infinite scrolling. A nice feature is also autocomplete in search and full search of all emails on the server. We can also directly respond to the calendar invitations directly from the mail app.

Despite all of the great features I came to realize, that there are some things that make the app not so enjoyable to use. They are listed below and are just my reflections when using the app.

No support for the non-Gmail accounts

This one is obvious, we can't use a non-Gmail account in the app, but it supports switching for up to 5 Gmail accounts. We can always import non-Gmail accounts (under account settings) into Gmail and have them centralized.

More accounts mean slower app loading

Loading indicator of the Gmail app
I tried to make the animation of the indicator as concise as possible.

When first starting the app I saw a unique colorful loading indicator, never imagined that I will see it so often. With 3 accounts setup, the first load time is about 4 seconds. It doesn't sound much, but it's a problem. Especially if you get frequent emails, you have to start the app and wait every time.

Email count number and switching between accounts requires two steps

Animation of the Gmail app account switching
To switch between accounts you need to take 2 actions.

Loading the app does not bring you to the all accounts screen, which is in my opinion a big drawback. If you have more then one email, the default screen should be the all accounts one. Imagine getting email in all 3 accounts. When looking in one account you have no idea of how much emails there are in the other two accounts. Every time you want to check you have to swipe right and then tap on the account tab at the top. So you need two steps to see the email count number for specific accounts and to switch between them.

Active email account not recognizable

When you pick an email account you get a notification popup at the bottom. It shows you in which email account you currently are, but it disappears quickly. After that you have no idea where you're located. You have to swipe right again to see the account. A better way would probably be to have the account email in the title bar, that way you always know where you are.

Bottom popup for the gmail account name
The popup disappears and you don't know in which email account you're located.

Email body text size is a little too small

Here is a comparison of the same email viewed in the Gmail app and the Mail app. The body text is smaller in the Gmail app. Though it has a much nicer line height, the text could be a little bit bigger.

Compared font size between Mail app and the Gmail iPhone app
The font size in the Gmail app is a little bit smaller compared to the Mail app.

After reading the email on another computer the notification on the iPhone still exists until you unlock the phone

When receiving an email you get a notification message on the iPhone. If you're like me you have an email client open on a mac and are reading emails. Even when the email was read on another device the notification stays on the iPhone screen. You have to unlock the phone to delete the notification. It would be great if the notification would get deleted after you read the email on a different device.

Conclusion

I'm not saying that the app is not usable, but there is space for improvements. Right now for me the biggest drawback is the loading time of the app and the steps for switching between different accounts.

This blog post was inspired by a similar post: Design Details of Google Maps for iOS by Sacha Greif.

About the Author

A picture of Jure Stern

Jure Stern is a Freelance Web Designer & Developer from Slovenia. He worked at a startup in Canada and is now living his dream of being a freelancer.

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