Gmail as a replacement for MobileMe Mail

There are three weeks to go until my MobileMe subscription is due for renewal. The service isn’t cheap at £59 so I thought I would look into possible free (and maybe even superior) replacements.

The only feature of MobileMe that I use on a daily basis is email. It has worked almost flawlessly for me and I love the way it integrates seamlessly with my Mac and iPhone. Deleting or moving an email on one it is almost immediately mirrored on the other.

I have had a Gmail address (or Google Mail as it has be called in Britain) for quite a while but have almost never used it. There didn’t seem much point when the MobileMe mail worked so well but I thought maybe now was the time to give it a try.

I spent hours (make that days) trying to get Gmail properly set up with my iPhone and with Apple Mail on my Mac. There were two reasons I had difficulties (and both were down to my own ignorance). The first is that I need IMAP Gmail for syncing between the server and my Mac and iPhone. Unfortunately Apple Mail sets up a POP account by default. Handy hint: Follow the directions on this Gmail help page – had I read this in the first place I probably could have saved myself an hour!

I then went on to set up my mailboxes as directed by this Gmail help page. And this is where I ran into my second problem. What was this “All Mail” folder? Why were my emails duplicated – one in the inbox, one in All Mail? Where were my deleted emails going to? Not the trash, that was for sure. After a day of tearing my hair out, moaning and fiddling with settings I finally looked at the Gmail help pages and all was revealed. All Mail is just a smart folder. The emails aren’t duplicated at all. (Why I didn’t read the help pages first I don’t know. I usually love instruction manuals. I won’t touch a new gadget until I’ve read at least half the manual.)

I have always downloaded all my MobileMe mail and stored it on my hard drive rather than leaving it on the server. With Gmail, the emphasis is much more on retaining all your mail on the server. You are given so much storage (currently over 7GB) that there is no need to delete an email. Just archive them all and they’ll still be there, in All Mail, should you ever need to refer to them again. Well, there has been much humming and hawing over whether I should carry on as I have been or should I embrace the cloud. I could potentially free up a fair bit of hard disk space by keeping all my email on Gmail’s server and just use Apple Mail as a more attractive interface. But I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with cloud computing. What if my internet was down? What if Gmail was down? After three days of pondering on this (with useful input from family and Twitter pals) and trying a multitude of different setups, I have finally decided to continue to download email to my hard drive for storage. I just feel more comfortable that way.

Advanced IMAP controls (in Google Mail Labs) has been very useful. It allows you to select which Gmail labels you don’t want to appear as folders in Apple Mail. So now I no longer have All Mail and Spam in my Mail sidebar. (Thank goodness. I didn’t much care to see how many spam emails I had building up.) I also mapped Sent Mail, Drafts and Bin to their corresponding folders in Mail. (Select the Gmail label in the Mail sidebar, click Mailbox (in the menu bar at the top), click Use This Mailbox For and pick the appropriate mailbox.) This makes everything look nice and tidy.

Now that everything is up and running properly I’m very pleased with Gmail and, assuming everything runs smoothly over the next three weeks, it is more than capable of replacing MobileMe Mail.


Apple fixes continuous playback of podcasts on iPhone

I listen to a lot of podcasts on my iPhone – when I’m doing housework, weeding, walking the dog. Something that has annoyed me is that when a podcast ends the next doesn’t automatically start playing in the same way that music tracks do. This is particularly irritating when listening to a series of short podcasts such as the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 where each item is only five to ten minutes long. Every ten minutes, gardening gloves off, iPhone out of pocket, choose next podcast, iPhone back in pocket, gloves back on. 

To get around this I have been creating an On-The-Go playlist. Which is fine so long as you remember to do it. The number of times I’ve set off for a walk with the dog and realised I’ve forgotten to create a playlist of podcasts. Poor dog – he’s desperate for a pee and I’m fiddling with my iPhone!

However, no more. I noticed yesterday the podcasts were playing through continuously. I can only assume this was part of the 2.1 software update. Goodness knows why it wasn’t like this at the start but I’m very grateful it’s fixed now.

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Travelling with my trusty iPhone

Over the last few years I have become utterly reliant on the internet. I now rarely buy newspapers and read almost all my news online. I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds and blogs. All my banking is done online. I work with email every day. And of course, Twitter (which has become a bit of an addiction).

We have recently returned from a holiday visiting my husband’s family in Wales. Clearly I was going to need my regular online access to avoid withdrawal symptoms. My in-laws don’t have wi-fi and I didn’t fancy having to plug in the MacBook everytime I just wanted to check Twitter. Luckily I have an iPhone and what with the 2.0 software update a few days before we left, I was all set.

I was fully prepared – I had my mains charger of course but I also bought a car charger which turned out to be essential as the battery life seems so poor since 2.0. (It also doubled as a charger for the children’s iPod Nano. We filled it with Wallace and Grommet and Sean the Sheep episodes. Kept them amused for hours.)

For most of the time I was relying on the standard GPRS signal. I found the O2 signal to be patchy, especially on the motorways. I rarely picked up EDGE and the only time I found wi-fi (via The Cloud in MacDonalds) it didn’t work. So I was generally relying on a super-slow connection. But better than nothing.

The 10 hour drive was made much more pleasant than previous trips thanks to my trusty iPhone. I was able to read the news, check the weather, read blogs and keep up to date with Twitter and email. The Maps app also proved extremely helpful, especially as it was able to update itself to show our current location. Not as good as the GPS on the new iPhone but useful nonetheless.

I was disappointed to find that the O2 signal is virtually non-existent where my husband’s parents live in West Wales. I was however able to get 1 bar sitting sideways on the toilet and leaning towards the window! Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s time to apply GTD to my life

I have only finished reading Getting Things Done in the last week. I found the last three chapters a bit of a slog – too waffly for me. But now that I’ve finished it I really need to start applying it properly.

Actually, over the last two months I have gradually been implementing the principles. I started by maintaining to-do lists on the computer. Initially I used Omnifocus but ultimately I chose Things, having tried out virtually every other Mac GTD app along the way.

I spent three evenings with my husband doing an initial “collection”. Our dining room was the dumping ground for paperwork, journals, all sorts of rubbish. We filed loads of it and shredded and threw away even more. I have made three piles of “things to read” based on whether I think it will take under 15 minutes, between 15 and 30 minutes or over 30 minutes to read. Actually, I’m really pleased with my reading piles – I’m finding I’m actually starting to get through them as I can easily choose something to read that fits in with how much time I have to spare. (The idea for sorting my reading material like this came from Ready-Set-Do!, an app that I liked but ultimately discounted as it was too slow.) Read the rest of this entry »

Which email for my iPhone?

What’s the best type of email for using with an iPhone? For me it has to be IMAP so I can sync it with my Mac easily. My usual email set up is a POP3 Yahoo account (with BT Internet) that forwards mail to my IMAP .Mac account.

Things had been working well until last week when I noticed some emails weren’t coming through. I had registered with a couple of websites and never received the promised welcome emails. I suspect they were (incorrectly) categorised as spam. I fiddled around with some settings, turned off the spam filters and stopped Yahoo forwarding to .Mac and had the emails resent. Everything worked fine if they were sent to either Yahoo or .Mac but not when forwarded. I don’t know whether the fault lies with BT or Apple. But either way, I have lost confidence in my email setup. So I considered alternatives. Read the rest of this entry »