The iPhone Native Mail App vs The Gmail App


Both of these apps are capable of recieving emails from Gmail but they are, in fact, completely different.

Occasionally, an excited email designer contacts us, saying, “I was testing on my iOS and suddenly my styles are working in Gmail!  It’s actually responding to my responsive design!” Or a frustrated designer will email us, saying, “I thought responsive designs worked on the iPhone? My customer says this email isn’t working at all.” These misunderstandings have a common source: confusion about the mail apps for the iPhone (and the rest of the iOS family.)

Quick tip: The easiest way to tell these two apart at a glance is the status bar at the top of the screen, which displays the current time, battery power, reception and so on. If the status bar is black, it’s the Gmail app. If the status bar is blue, it’s the native Mail app.

Difference between gmail and native mail app

Sometimes things get confusing in the wild.

A Gmail account can be connected to the native mail app, or a user can choose to download the Gmail app itself. These two clients don’t render emails quite the same way, so it’s important to know the difference. This is especially true when it comes to responsive design, which isn’t functional in the Gmail app. In fact, the Gmail app strips out the entire style block.

How do users get these apps?

The native “Mail” app is so called because it comes installed on all iOS devices. The Gmail app is available for free download from the app store. Users may install more than one mail app on their phones, which means that a phone with both apps can display a given email both with and without responsive design.

Let’s take a look at the visual differences between these two apps.

Native App Icon
Native App Icon
Gmail App Icon
Gmail App Icon
Native “Mailboxes”
Native "Mailboxes"
Gmail “Tabs”
Gmail "Tabs"
From this screen, it’s easy to tell the difference between these two apps. The native mail app (left) has “Mailboxes” at the top, with blue on white. The “Tabs” screen of the Gmail app (right) has lighter text on a dark background and should have a mailbox called “Primary” at the top. Note that the status bar at the top of the screen (with time, battery power, etc) is black in the Gmail app in all screens. Touch “Inbox” in the native app or “Primary” in the Gmail app to go to the next example screen.
Native Inbox
Gmail Inbox
The native mail app’s inbox (left) uses a blue on white interface. The button at the top-left reads “Mailboxes.” In the Gmail app’s inbox (right), the interface is grey on white, and the top-left button has three lines. Next we’ll look at a responsive email in both clients.
Responsive Email in Native App
Responsive Email in Native App
Responsive Email in Gmail App
Responsive Email in Gmail App
The native mail app (left) has an increased font size and a different header layout. In the Gmail app (right), this email’s text is too small and the header is still all on one line. If you’re curious about responsive design, or need a responsive email for testing, check out our responsive template.

More Resources

If you’re having trouble with a responsive design, check out our article on 5 Reasons Why the Mobile Version of your Email Might Not be Displaying. We also just released a blog of 7 tips for designing for the iPhone. If it’s the Gmail app you’re curious about, check out our 12 Things you MUST Know when Developing Emails for Gmail and Gmail Mobile Apps blog.

Got a question not covered here? Let us know in the comments below!

Author: Alex Ilhan

11 thoughts on “The iPhone Native Mail App vs The Gmail App”

  1. I don’t believe that Gmail app is responsive, it has it’s own built in function to reorganise the content to fit on the screen “auto-fit message” in “general settings” but it rarely obeys exactly what your media query states, in fact it may not even refer to it.
    I’ve not spent too much time testing if it is some css or none or where the css needs to be for gmail to use it, eg: inside body tag;
    generally I make the HTML in a way that Gmail’s adjustments do what I want, eg: drop right columns below the left column -but so far the text size is not really working. This needs a proper study really.

  2. You’re right Andy, I don’t think it was the article’s intention to claim that the Gmail app reads media queries.

    I’ve done some extensive study on Auto-fit and while it doesn’t read any media query, It’s basic attitude is to resize the table tag (not the td’s) to 100% and change the size of images, it’s also heavily tied to whether the width of images etc.. are wider than the width of the view pane, meaning inconsistent results across different devices.

  3. Sharing a great compression between native mail apps and gamil apps that available on app store. Your images clearly give a exact different between native and gamil apps.

  4. Finally, after years of the native Gmail app having the one disastrous problem of minuscule fonts and unreadable messages…someone other than me “gets it”. Thanks for this comment that makes me feel like I’m not alone. I’d love to use the native Gmail app as I’m a Google Apps user, but this app is probably never going to be usable with its readability issues.

  5. I am using the Mail App for my e mails but while I receive in all my e mails, the Mail App Icon on my phone screen does not shown the number of e mails I have received and not read.
    I have checked with my IT professionals and my Phone company and nobody can discover why I am not being notified on the phone screen.

    Any help would be appreciated – Gerry

  6. OK you brainiacs. Can someone PLEASE tell me once and for all…. if using the gmail app for iOS, does it read the emails online, just like it does from my broser on my iMAC? Or does it download all the mail to my iphone just like the native iOS default, native mail app? I ask because I am always deleting crap to make more room. I actually have 3 gmai accounts. 2 are my domain mail which I currently access only from my desktop on iMAC at home, or from safari browser when travelling. My main business account mail comes through my iphone onto native mail map and it does use up a lot of storage. If I switch to the gmail mail client, will I free up more storage and be able to manage all three accounts on the iphone 6+? Assuming it uses the internet to store the mail, that should be the case. But I cannot find one article that answers this question!

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