Dear Google: Please Fix Gmail IMAP Problems


The iPhone's Mail app connects to Google Gmail -- and it's paid version, Google Accounts -- via the IMAP protocol [Wikipedia link]. Until Apple and/or Google get off their duffs and provide built-in push Gmail (or absent that, Google Sync Gmail for those not otherwise using their single Exchange ActiveSync slot), IMAP is all we have. (And IMAP IDLE may be what we have for push Gmail as well...) So what's the problem?

Gmail was born of and for the Web, and admittedly Gmail for the iPhone's Mobile Safari web browser is among the very best WebApps on any platform. However, many people still use, and even prefer to use, local clients like the iPhone's Mail app, and for that or any local client, Google's IMAP implementation has always been a second-class citizen.

Forgetting for now for the mapping of labels to folders results in multiple copies of the same email being stored on the local side, one of the major issues with Google's IMAP implementation is their ludicrous 10 simultaneous connection limit. This might not seem particularly strict, but given that every client can and does typically open multiple connections and having your iPhone, desktop, and laptop all open at the same time can cause Gmail to error out.

Gmail IMAP Error

On a daily basis, users have to carry the mental overhead of carefully and conscientiously closing email clients on one machine before turning on another, or enabling or disabling a VPN connection (which then treats the mail client as a new set of connections).

By contrast, MobileMe and Exchange/ActiveSync have no problem with this usage pattern. Add to this random "invalid certificate", "unable to find mailbox: inbox", "over capacity", and other errors, and the state of Google's IMAP implementation is really called into question.

For iPhone Gmail users, the lack of quality error messages (likely something that needs improving on Apple's side) makes it particularly frustrating, as many of the different problems listed above simply result in an "incorrect password" pop-up box. (See image at the top of this post).

Personally -- and I'm not alone in this -- I've pretty much abandoned front-facing Gmail. I still use the unmatched excellence of Gmail's server-side filters, but then forward the mail itself to MobileMe. (The irony of the once-plagued MobileMe service now proving more robust over IMAP than Gmail isn't lost on me and should be lost on Google).

For those who maintain Gmail is free and we shouldn't complain, Google Accounts -- which is paid for -- exhibits the exact same problems on a regular basis.

Gmail is arguably the best webmail on the internet. It could easily be the best email period. Google's finally taken the humorously long-standing "beta" tag off the service. It's gone prime time. It's time to make the IMAP implementation live up to that level of standard.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Dear Google: Please Fix Gmail IMAP Problems


Wow. I use Gmail as my primary email address, and I've never run into any of these problems. My iPhone client works exactly as I would hope. I also keep my desktop email client at home open all the time, and my iPhone client checks regularly, and I have never experienced any of these problems. In fact, no problems at all. I certainly don't have a solution, just my own anecdotal evidence that it's not all bad.

Yes! I don't know what is wrong but I can't even setup imap with googles instuctions. The iPhone always tells me I have to enter a password. Started 2 weeks ago, I made a form thread about it asking for help. But I haven't figured it out. Right now I just put my info into the iPhone client because that is all that seems to work now.

Everyone knows that just putting your account/password into the iPhone's client is not full IMAP and deleting/archiving/saving emails does not work the same way as if you follow Google's instructions for manual IMAP setup right?

I've always used e-mail as a web technology, nothing tied down to the actual OS until I started working for an office.
With that said, Gmail has worked exactly as I have expected it on my iPhone. I go to my mail app, it connects to the server, downloads my e-mail, and I view/delete whatever. It would be nice to be able to mark spam in my mobile version though.

Never, ever have this problem, even with using the actual IMAP settings from Google. I even use the free Google Apps for Your Domain stuff as well. I agree on the Push. I'd like to get rid of my Yahoo! account on my iPhone.

It's sad how many people think its "ok" to use a webmail client that parses your email and displays ads targeted to those email message. The interface of Gmail is nice, but where is the outrage that Microsoft and others received for littering ads all over their webmail clients.

The issues described above are known problems, especially the 10 simultaneous connections limitation (the link goes to Google's knowledge base about the issue). If you haven't had a problem, it just means you're currently operating under that limit and not triggering the problem.
If I have a desktop client always running (to filter spam, since server-side never captures everything), the iPhone running, and then open up a third client, I'll likely have the problem. If I open up a forth client, Gmail dies on 1 or 2 of those clients.
MobileMe and Exchange, no problem at all. Gmail should be equally as robust when it comes to IMAP, or Google should be working at making it so.

iPhone fetching gmail every 15 minutes is good enough for me but I know this is frustrating to a lot of people. Also, you can go into google labs and reinstate the beta tag on your gmail. I love googles little Easter eggs!

I have my Google apps for domains IMAP GMail account checking for mail every 15 minutes. I've never had any of the problems noted here and I have my email at home and at work ( almost ) always open.

I often get the iPhone error message seen above, as well as another that I can't recall off the top of my head (something about IMAP). Exiting and rebooting the mail app usually clears them up, but I sure wish I didn't have to do that...

You need to open three clients to check your mail? Isn't the idea of 'mobile' and portable that we won't need to follow everything in each device? If I have to be signed in on three devices at the same time, I'm NSA...
Why not just log out of one or more clients? What is the big deal? Seriously, I'd like to understand why you need three devices connected at the dame time.

Truth why are you always lying?
Also, push Gmail wouldve already happened if they were going to implement it. Apple's probably putting a hold on that so it won't compete with MobileMe. Honestly if it were a real feature I wouldn't bother with MobileMe either, I'd already be able to sync contacts and calendars and push mail. Complain to Apple and Google.

Been having a bunch of problems with my Gmail account on iPhone 3GS over the past few days... mostly, I get the error that the phone is unable to verify the certificate at, but I've also gotten hangs in Mail where I'll hit the refresh button and while the individual accounts tell me constantly that they're "connecting" without getting past that, the progress wheel on the menu bar fails to appear.

I suspect some hozed settings somewhere causes this problem because it never happens for me or anyone I know.
I have 5 machines logged into the same google account at all times.
Those seeing this should try changing passwords. There is a good chance you are pwned, and someone else is reading your mail.
As for adding spam filtering on top of googles, the is a fools errend. GMail spam filtering is so good that this is pointless and counter productive. Better to leave the spam sit there till you have the report as spam button available (or pop open safari). Report it once and you will never see it again. Delete it with an external spam filter and it will be back.

how many third party logins to the account do you have? I'M+ nuevasync etc each count as a connection. Things you tried out and forgotten?

The ads on the web mail interface were always part of the deal. They were there when we signed up for the FREE mail service. Get over them or get your email account elsewhere.
If you pay for GMail you can get rid of them.


It’s sad how many people think its “ok” to use a webmail client that parses your email and displays ads targeted to those email message.

Not only that, but I've always felt that Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail addresses were too awkward and seemingly unprofessional to give out, or to receive, anyway...
"Hi I'm Joe Blow from Progressive Insurance... here's my card, you can email me at!"
Uhhhh... no thanks, Joe (tosses card away).
I have a required Gmail address to access Google Webmaster Tools and Google AdWords for my sites (and I post here with it), but that's it. I never give it out or even check my inbox. The whole Webmail/Calendar/Contacts, jumping-through-flaming-hoops syncing work-around mess (not to mention what's being discussed here) seems like a lot of trouble to save a coupl'a bucks. But to each his own, I guess.

I use a free google apps account for home mail (it gathers up several other accounts), and a paid apps account for work. I use the gmail web app on my laptop (gmail imap and Outlook do NOT work well together, Thunderbird has big problems with Gmails street addresses in contacts). Never had a problem.
Syncing with iphone mail looks a little ugly because of the folder/label layout issues, but works just great. Calendar and contacts sync with gmail using Gmail's exchange sync protocol, maybe they'll let us use Exchange sync for email one day.
My problems with Google's IMAP implementation is that it is non-standard and, when coupled with MS Outlook's non-standard implementation there are problems (mostly great slowness).
I wish companies could figure out (are you listening GOOG, MSFT, AAPL) that they maximize profits and shareholder value and create more value for their customer (for which they can charge)when they make products that work in as open a fashion as possible, not when the products are crippled by design.


Forgetting for now for the mapping of labels to folders results in multiple copies of the same email being stored on the local side

I thought the whole point of Imap was that there is no storage on the local device. All that was stored on the local side was some header caches. ???

@fastlane "Not only that, but I’ve always felt that Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail addresses were too awkward and seemingly unprofessional to give out, or to receive, anyway…"
you don't need to do that. set up your domain to forward email to gmail, then set your gmail return address to be the address at your domain instead of @gmail.
i don't use gmail to save a buck [i have my own domain] i use it because it is actually good and because customizing it to use my own domain in the email address is relatively simple.

Yeah I have that problem allot too. That's a shame I had to switch to Yahoo and I don't have any problems out of that one.

Thanks, I didn't know that. I've spent a total of one minute in my Gmail and never bothered with it. ;)

I have 3 clients always on and never have issues. Sounds like the author is looking to create some sort of anti gmail hysteria.

Hey, if you're having problems because for some reason you are logged into Gmail when you don't think you are, just use remote log out. Scroll to the bottom of the gmail page and you will see a thing that says "last activity from IP address Click on that and you will see where you gmail is being axcessed. You can then click "remote log out"

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