Offline Gmail is back. Originally built around Google’s Gears plugin, the company announced earlier this year that it was pulling the Gears-based feature and rewriting it to use HTML5 and web standards. Now offline Gmail is back (along with offline support for Google Docs and Calendar) and no longer requires the Gears browser add-on.
Offline Gmail does, however, require the Google Chrome web browser. In fact, the offline version of Gmail is an entirely separate app you’ll need to install through the Chrome Web Store. The Web Store app is based on the Gmail web app for tablets and uses a widescreen layout that will look familiar to anyone using Gmail on an iPad or the new three-pane mail interface.
Unfortunately, the offline app for Gmail is just that, a separate web app. You won’t be able to use Gmail offline simply by clicking a button in the regular web interface. Rather you’ll need to install the offline Gmail app and switch over to that interface whenever you’re offline.
And that’s not the only downside to this release. Offline Gmail will only give you access to the last three to seven days’ worth of email (the exact amount will vary depending on how many messages you get each day). All of your starred messages will also be available, but beyond that you’re out of luck — there’s no way to, for example, download a specific tag or set of messages for offline use.
Things are even worse in the offline version of Google Docs which, for now, is limited to read-only access — not exactly helpful when you’re trying to finish that report sans wifi.
Google says these issues are temporary and that the offline support is a work in progress, but given the extremely limited functionality one wonders why they were released at all. Of course Google’s motto is release early, release often; clearly they’ve released early, hopefully the often will kick in soon.
In the mean time if you need offline access to your email, we suggest a traditional desktop client.