Receive push Gmail alerts on iOS after losing ActiveSync support

Getting a new iOS device and then realizing you're no longer able to use Gmail as an Exchange account is frustrating, but there's hope.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Last December Google announced its plans to discontinue support for Google Sync as of January 30, 2013. Sync allowed users to access Gmail, Google Contacts and Calendar using Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync system. What this allowed iOS users to do was set up Gmail as an Exchange account, which in turn provides push alerts for new e-mails in a real-time sync of Calendars and Contacts.

The cutoff date has long passed, but if you had an account already set up and running on your iOS device as Exchange, you had nothing to worry about; Google promised to keep the service up and running for devices setup before the deadline. Great news, right? For some it is, but eventually you're going to get that iOS device replaced, whether it's for an upgrade or due to a warranty issue. Then after restoring your device you'll start receiving weird error messages that your device can't retrieve any e-mail -- and that's when it hits you -- you just lost push Gmail.

You are now forced to add a true Gmail account, using IMAP, to your iOS device and wait for your e-mail to be fetched every 15 minutes. Or you can download and use the Gmail app to receive push alerts. Neither solution will work for everyone, so thankfully there's a clever workaround posted on StackExchange, which was brought to my attention by Twitter user @neilr22 shortly after I took to Twitter to complain about my first-world problem.

The solution takes a bit of setting up and planning on your part, but once it's up and running, you'll be back to receiving push Gmail alerts.

Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

The first thing you'll need to do is set up an iCloud e-mail address on your iOS device. Should you use your current iCloud e-mail account a lot, you'll want to set up a throwaway account using your iDevice. Go into Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Add new account > iCloud and then tap on "Get a Free Apple ID" at the bottom of the screen.

Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Once you have your iCloud account set up on your device, go back and add your Gmail account in Mail, Contacts, Calendars. After your Gmail account is added, turn off the Mail integration.

Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

OK, the next step is where the magic happens. Now go back into your iCloud account and change the SMTP server. This is the server your iCloud account will use to send e-mails. You can get to the setting by tapping on your iCloud account > Account > Mail (under advanced) and then scroll to the bottom of the screen where you'll find the SMTP section. Tapping on it will allow you to turn off the iCloud server and turn on the Gmail server. Make sure to tap done and back out of settings, saving your work along the way.

Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Now when you compose an e-mail and select your iCloud account as the "From" address, your Gmail address will be used to send the message even though it isn't reflected in the Mail app. Go ahead, send someone a test message and ask them what address it came from. Pretty neat, huh? And yes, it does save a copy in the Sent folder on your Gmail account.

The last part to set up this whole process is the actual receiving of push alerts to new e-mail from your Gmail account. This is the easiest part: just log into your Gmail account and forward all incoming mail to your iCloud account (Settings > Forwarding on the Gmail Web site). Gmail will then forward any new messages to your iCloud account, which in turn will alert you of new messages on your iOS device in real time, and allow you to reply from your Gmail account. Sure, this is going to create some extra work when it comes to managing your inbox, but at least you're back to receiving e-mail alerts and being able to reply from within the native Mail app.