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Google unveils, then yanks, Gmail app for the iPhone

Launched today, the new dedicated Gmail iOS app brings alerts, searches, photo uploads, and more to users of iOS devices. But first, Google has to fix a bug.

Google has launched its own Gmail app for Apple iOS devices.
Google has launched its own Gmail app for Apple iOS devices.
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

iPhone users with Gmail accounts may yet have a dedicated app to help them manage their mail.

Released today, the free Gmail iOS app is geared toward iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch owners. Though Gmail users can already access their mail via the Web, through a mobile site, and by setting up an account on their iOS device, the new app tries to borrow from all those sources to offer a host of useful features in one single shot.

But the debut proved rocky. Shortly after the launch, Google said it had yanked the app to deal with a bug:

Earlier today we launched a new Gmail app for iOS. Unfortunately, it contained a bug which broke notifications and caused users to see an error message when first opening the app. We've removed the app while we correct the problem, and we're working to bring you a new version soon. Everyone who's already installed the app can continue to use it.

Even setting aside that issue, the new app provoked many cries of frustration across the Web. Blogger Robert Scoble, for instance, had initially posted to his Google+ account "Go get the iPhone app for Gmail!" But he soon followed that up with a much different exhortation: "UPDATE: DO NOT. The Gmail app is really a piece of crud. Not worth loading. Very disappointed."

Robert Scoble reacts to Gmail iOS app
Screenshot by Jonathan Skillings/CNET

Writing at The Next Web, Anna Heim saysThis could be Google's biggest misstep of the year; while many iOS users have been waiting for a standalone Gmail app for the last three years, it turns out the one released today is pretty much useless compared to Apple's integrated Mail app." Though she does concede this much: "However, don't be surprised if the app turns out to be good after its first update - after all, install base, performance and stability are a first iteration's concern with apps. But isn't it our right to expect a bit more from Google?"

Here's how it's supposed to work: Like its Web-based counterpart, the new app is designed to you organize your e-mail by offering a priority inbox, which acts as home to what it considers important messages. You can follow a full trail of related e-mails by viewing conversation threads. And you can manage your mail by starring or labeling individual messages so that Gmail knows what's important and what's not.

You can set up push notifications so that you're alerted each time a new e-mail comes through. A search option lets you find e-mail by key terms, though unlike the new Gmail Web page, the app offers no advanced search option.

Typing the first few characters of your recipient's name or address brings up an autocomplete list where you can select the right person. You can also upload and attach any photo stored on your mobile device.

The app naturally takes advantage of your device's touch screen. You can swipe down on your inbox to retrieve new mail and swipe to the right to view and navigate to the various labels and folders for your mail. iPad users can also view both the labels and emails at the same time through a splitscreen view.

Since Gmail is available in several other ways, many users may see no reason for a dedicated app. Google said that it built the app with speed and efficiency in mind. And of course, it is free.

CNET's Jessica Dolcourt, among the many who tried to download the Gmail iOS app today, offered this perspective:

"This is not the first time that Google has released a product before it appears to have been thoroughly checked in-house," she writes, citing the disaster that was Google Buzz. "The flub [with the Gmail app] is also surprising because Google has plenty of experience launching successful iPhone apps, with its Google+ app just the latest example."

Update 11:22 a.m. PT: Added Google's note about pulling the app to address a bug, along with reaction to the Gmail app.