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Gmail, .Mac Mashup for the iPhone

The new iPhone has the best mail client I’ve ever used on a smartphone. When I first got my iPhone, I immediately connected it to my Gmail account. Unfortunately, Gmail uses POP to download messages. It started sending every single message from my archive — thousands of messages.

What’s worse is the lack of synchronization between my iPhone and the Mail program on my MacBook because of POP. If I delete a message on the iPhone, the message remains on Mail. I needed a better solution and it was Mike who came up with the answer. He suggested using .Mac and Gmail as a Mashup. Here is how it works for me.

I own a .Mac account. I’ve never used the email features before because I don’t think .Mac can match Gmail’s spam filtering. Gmail also archives every single message (sent and received) together in conversations on the server. On the other hand, .Mac does support IMAP. IMAP allows multiple computers to work on the same messages that are stored on the IMAP server. If you delete a message on an IMAP server, the message is deleted on all the clients of that server.

What I needed was the IMAP mailboxes, with Gmail filters. It’s trivial to forward all mail from Gmail to my .Mac account. The only problem is sending email. If I use the default configuration for .Mac on my iPhone, it will use the .Mac server to send my email. This forces my “From” address to the .Mac account. When someone replies to the email, it won’t be sent to Gmail. Instead it will go straight to .Mac, bypassing the Gmail spam filters and the archive.

The trick is to use .Mac to receive email and Gmail to send it.

Configure Gmail

  1. Log into Gmail
  2. Click “Settings” (upper left part of screen)
  3. Click “Forwarding and POP”
  4. Set “Forward a copy of incoming mail to” to my .Mac email address
  5. Set the next option to “archive Gmail’s copy”
  6. Disable POP (if enabled) as a security precaution
  7. Click “Save Changes”

My email is now forwarding to my .Mac account and Gmail is keeping a copy in the archive.

Configure .Mac

  1. Open Mail
  2. Click menu: Mail > Preferences
  3. Click “Accounts”
  4. Click the plus sign (+) in the lower left corner
  5. Set account type as .Mac and fill in the details of the .Mac account
  6. Click “Continue”, twice, then click “Done”
  7. Close preferences

Mail will automatically create a .Mac account as the incoming (IMAP) and outgoing (SMTP) server. That’s okay. We need the account working first before we make the mashup.

If you send (or have someone else send) a test message to your Gmail account, it should appear in the .Mac account.

Mashup

  1. Reopen Mail preferences
  2. Go to “Accounts”
  3. Click on “Account Information” if necessary
  4. At the bottom under “Outgoing Mail Server (SMTP)”, click “Server Settings…”
  5. Where it says “smtp.mac.com”, change to “smtp.gmail.com”
  6. Set the “Server port” to 587
  7. Leave “Use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)” set with a checkmark
  8. Leave “Authentication” set to “Password”
  9. Change “User Name” to the Gmail account’s username
  10. Change “Password” to the Gmail account’s password
  11. Click “OK”
  12. Close preferences
  13. It should ask if you want to save changes, click “Save”

Test this set up by sending messages from Mail to a separate account (a friend’s or a second email address you own). Look closely at the message received on the other end. It should say it’s “From” youraccount@gmail.com.

iPhone

The iPhone can be configured manually in exactly the same way (hint: use “Other” account instead of “.Mac”). But there is an easier way.

  1. Plug the iPhone into the computer using the USB cable
  2. Click the iPhone under “Devices” in iTunes
  3. Click the “Info” tab
  4. Scroll down to “Mail Accounts”
  5. Check the "Sync selected Mail accounts:
  6. Check the Mail account we just set up that has .Mac and Gmail combined
  7. Hit “Apply” on the lower left corner

That will do it. I would use a second email account (or a friend’s email account) to test sending and receiving email on the iPhone and the Mac.

Current vs Archive

Now for a neat side-effect of this set up. Not only is every sent message saved in Gmail. But because we are using IMAP, a copy of every sent message is saved on the .Mac server. (Granted, this required sending the message twice over the Internet, but it’s usually not an issue.)

I use the IMAP server as a kind of “current” email box. I typically go into my Mac’s Mail preferences and change the account’s “Mailbox Behaviors” to delete sent messages after they are “One month old”. I also set my Trash to permanently erase messages that are “One week old”.

This way the IMAP account has all my current mail, but my Gmail has the archive. If I ever need to get an old message, I log into the Gmail web interface and find it in the “All mail” box. Gmail also has the best search engine available, so finding old messages is easy.

Spam

All incoming email is filtered by Gmail. Sometimes it makes a mistake and marks a valid message as Spam. It’s a good idea to log into the Gmail account and check the Spam box from time-to-time. Mark any valid message as “Not Spam” so Gmail will learn what to look for next time. You will also have to manually forward the message to your .Mac account.

The Gmail filters may also let Spam through to your .Mac account. You need to go to Gmail and mark the messages (they are found in the “All Mail” box) as Spam.

More

You can set Gmail to use an aliased “From” address. For example: I have an email address for work called dave@monolithic.com. I have all of that email directly forwarded to my Gmail account. If I go into my Gmail settings, I can add dave@monolithic.com as an alias. I can even tell Gmail to use that alias instead of my Gmail account address as the “From” address on all outgoing email.

You can set up folders on the IMAP server. Just like the Inbox, they will synchronize between all the mail clients. I have a folder called “Read” that I put long messages into that I want to read later. When I am ready I can read the message on my iPhone or my computer.

I also set up a folder called “Waiting”. If I buy something online, I put the emailed receipt into that folder until the package arrives.

Conclusion

I love this set up. It’s very flexible and easy to use. My email works perfectly on the web, iPhone and my MacBook. Many times I never even need to touch the computer because the iPhone is so good at managing my email.