First Look: Mailplane – A desktop Gmail client for OS X

These days, web apps are giving their desktop equivalents a run for their money. Still, desktop apps provide a level of integration that is difficult to recreate through a browser. Mailplane aims to provide the best of both worlds for users of the popular web-based email service Gmail, plus some clever new features that aren’t found anywhere else. Mailplane will be released in the coming weeks – here’s our first look.

Desktop Integration

Mailplane tries to bridge the gap between web app and desktop, bringing drag-and-drop file management and integration with other applications to Gmail. While you can still use the “attach a file” link when composing an email, it’s now possible to simply drop an attachment into a new message. An “iMedia” browser gives direct access to the most likely locations for media files, potentially removing several steps from the process of attaching frequently mailed file types. While these features may be nothing new for most well-made Mac applications, Mailplane makes Gmail feel right at home on the desktop.

Mailplane Review
You can even attach multiple files in one step. Try that with Gmail’s file dialog.

There are also some unexpected niceties that aren’t all that common place. When composing a new message, for example, a “Screenshot” button becomes available. This opens Grab and prompts you to select an area of the screen to capture. Your new screen grab is immediately attached to the email. While it might be a little specific, it’s a useful feature that I’d love to see make its way into Mail.app.

Managing Multiple Accounts

Through a traditional browser, Gmail only allows one account to be logged in at a time, making managing multiple accounts a real chore. Mailplane works around this limitation, providing a sidebar listing of available Gmail accounts and unread messages in each. Switching accounts is as simple as a double click.

Mailplane Review

One small catch: while Mailplane handles the process of logging out of one account and in to the next, it can’t hold your place when you switch back. This means that if you just put together a complicated search in one Gmail account, then switched accounts to quickly read a new message, you’ll have to start your search all over again upon switching back.

A Specialized Browser

Mailplane is, at its heart, a specialized web browser exclusively for use with Gmail. This contributes both some strengths and weaknesses.

On the up side, you always see the full Gmail interface in the center of the Mailplane screen. This means that if Google decides to add a new feature or change the shortcut for a function, you won’t be stuck going back to Safari until Mailplane gets updated. That’s nothing to sneeze at considering how quickly things can change in the world of web apps.

On the downside, the buttons in the Toolbar are effectively “hacks”. They require Gmail’s Keyboard Shortcuts to be turned on (which Mailplane does nicely remind you to do when adding a new account,) and are limited to the functions that are accessible through those shortcuts. Those shortcuts do include 90% of what you’re likely to do in Gmail, but one could argue that you might as well just learn the shortcuts yourself, or use the buttons built in to the Gmail web interface. Luckily, the Toolbar is easy to customize, so you can mix and match as you see fit.

Mailplane Review
Sure, I could use the Toolbar button, but the regular one is so much closer.

Additionally, since Gmail doesn’t work without an internet connection, neither does Mailplane. No, I’m not expecting to be able to magically receive emails offline, but it would be nice to be able to review those I’ve already received and draft new messages. This is something we’ve taken for granted for a long time in clients like Mail.app, but making this possible in Mailplane would require some action on Google’s part. With Google Gears, however, it may not be long until this gets remedied.

Mailplane Review
I can see you, email… If only I could read you.

Overall, Mailplane provides some great new functionality and increased ease of use for many Gmail users, with a handful of minor drawbacks. If you use multiple Gmail accounts from multiple locations, or work with Gmail through a standard browser, Mailplane is definitely worth a try. However, those currently using Mail.app to check their Gmail account and working primarily from one computer are unlikely to find a reason to switch.

Mailplane for OSX (Currently in Beta, v1.0 coming soon)

Price: $24.95 for 1 license, $32.95 for 5 system “Family Pack”

Pros: Mailplane provides Gmail users with the kind of OS integration that can still only be found in desktop applications, without watering down Gmail’s impressive feature set. Working with multiple Gmail accounts in multiple locations is a breeze. Extras like easy screenshot mailing and iLife integration are welcome additions.

Cons: Mailplane’s “specialized browser” approach can lead to redundant options that are often more of a pain to use than Gmail’s built-in buttons. Mailplane relies on an available internet connection to function, making offline composition or review of received emails impossible.

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Comments
12 Responses to “First Look: Mailplane – A desktop Gmail client for OS X”
  1. I joined the Mailplane beta late, and used the product for about a month, maybe two. This app is so good the minute they announced pricing I plunked my dough down and bought a copy (even though its technically still in beta).

    I want to support the developer(s) and keep them working on this, its now part of my ‘must have’ software on my MBP.

    If anyone has more than 1 gmail account, this is a *must* have. I have 5 gmail accounts and 1 google-apps-for-your-domain account. This used to be a major nightmare trying to check all my inboxes…multiple browsers, signing in and out and watching gmail get confused.

    I love that I can, at a glance, see my email status (securely) across all my accounts at once. I also like the drag n drop attachment stuff.

    I highly recommend this app.

  2. DAG says:

    I have used G-Mail with both Apple’s Mail app and M$ Entourage with no problem. The UI looks like some cheesy LINUX or Windoze app. I’ll pass.

  3. Justin says:

    I don’t get it. Gmail has free POP access, so I use Gmail with OS X’s native mail application. It works great. Mailplane seems like a waste.

  4. bob. says:

    Yeah I agree with the last two posters… why not just use Mail.app or ANY other normal email program. You can then read mail offline, too.

  5. gb says:

    I’ve been using Mailplane for about two months ago and find it indispensable — it accesses Gmail more quickly than Safari, and I no longer inadvertently close the wrong Safari window or tab when surfing and email concurrently.

    Redundant? Kinda. But many useful apps are redundant or derivative.

    As far as using a “normal” email app (like Mail.app), my beef with using them with web-based email is I want the same look, feel, and CONTENT each and every time I access my email, esp. since I do email on multiple computers. I tried using Mail.app on my primary computer, and found the difference between Gmail via Mail.app and Gmail via the web unnecessarily distracting.

    Your milage may vary, but for me, I’m glad Mailplane is an available choice.

  6. Ami says:

    You can use Mail but then you have no Conversations and searching is better in Gmail. If it was not for MailTags and the Act On plugins I would use Gyazmail anyway… Mailplane is for Gmail users and not for Mail or other offline clients.

  7. jk says:

    The problem with Gmail in Mail.app occurs when trying to use it from multiple locations… Since Gmail only supports POP, once one client downloads the new messages, they’re unavailable elsewhere. So if I have Mail at home and Mail at work set up to check the same Gmail account, anything I receive at work is unavailable at home and vice-versa. Yes, there are ways around this, but not good ones. Until Gmail starts supporting IMAP, it’s either Gmail through a browser at work, or Gmail through Mailplane, and Mailplane wins hands down.

  8. Van says:

    Way to overpriced for what you get (a glorified webkit based browser).

    I was one of the first beta testers for the this app, and I loved it. It’s a simple intuitve way to access my gmail accounts. But 25 dollars? The developer must be joking. When tesing, I was thinking along the lines of: 5 to 10 bucks.

  9. Ami says:

    Answer to nº 7

    You can use Gmail on multiply devices and client. You just have to had “recent:” before the account ID. Look it up here:

  10. imajoebob says:

    You left out the biggest con: Absolutely no privacy or security from prying eyes. Google’s history of rolling over for ANY government(s) requests for your email messages makes WWII Belgium look like the Spartans, and the telcos like the ACLU. If you have anything you want to keep confidential, NEVER use Gmail. Or the Google apps. They treat their users with impunity and disdain.

    And if you think I’m being paranoid, I dare you to email something with some magic phrases regarding certain religious sects that are antagonistic toward America. Or better, liinks to their websites. You’ll quickly find out how private your Gmail really is (not).

  11. jk says:

    No. 9: That would be one of the aforementioned “not good” workarounds…

    Personally, implementations like “Recent” mode, that depart from standards, just rub me the wrong way. If I can’t use IMAP, I’d rather have one definitive POP client. However, that may be a good solution for many folks.

  12. Rob Schultz says:

    Like you Justin (No 3) I cant help but shake the feeling that this is redundant. While the design looks great, and I’m sure that it does what’s advertised, I just don’t see a huge need for something like this.

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