Three things combine to make Google Apps and Apple Mail the best email system:

  • Google’s enormous 25GB mailbox allowance.
  • Google’s near perfect SPAM filtering.
  • Apple Mail’s almost instant search facility.

System Requirements

  • Minimum OSX 10.6.8 with Apple Mail 4.6 (see update for Mavericks below)
  • Google Apps for Business (not Gmail)

Google’s Web Mail page can work pretty well once you get used to the layout but scrolling through thousands of emails one page at a time is quite hopeless. So I totally recommend using Apple Mail, where scrolling down from one end to the other takes a fraction of a second and searching for emails is instantaneous.


Seriously? Use this button to scroll through 136 pages of messages?

Also if we lose Internet access or Google’s Servers drop offline–it has happened once or twice–we’ll still have the locally stored email on our Mac.

Configure your account in Apple Mail as IMAP
To gain all the advantages of using Google Mail you must set up your account as IMAP. Using IMAP on all your devices means that they will stay synchronised and you won’t have to delete the same email from your iPhone and your Mac and your iPad. You can manage email from anywhere, for instance delete a message from one device and it’s instantly gone from all of them; send an email from your iPhone and it’s instantly copied to the Sent Items on your Mac.

The iPhone will only hold the 200 most recent emails–great for dealing with current messages but it can search for old mail on the Google Server, so even on the road, you’ll be able to find ancient email from 10 years ago.

On the iPhone/iPad always add the account using the MS Exchange option if you can; depending on when your Google Apps business account was set up and only if it’s a paid for account, we’re not talking here about Gmail.

Don’t create folders
Leave everything in one place and then you’ll always be able to find it. Organising your email into folders isn’t more efficient, it just wastes time and fragments your email so making it actually harder to find what you’re looking for. If this concept fills you with horror, it’s because you don’t understand how to search in Apple Mail and don’t realise how effective it is. Running IMAP with hundreds of folders/labels is very slow and it makes searching for messages in Apple Mail rather cumbersome.

The reason I delayed a client’s migration from MS Exchange to Google Apps was because one of the directors had been filing her email over several years and had created more than 900 folders–an inevitable consequence of trying to categorise everything!

NOTE:  By default the delete button in Apple Mail will not actually delete the email, it only removes the ‘Inbox’ label so you’ll still see your ‘deleted’ messages in the All Mail folder. However ticking the second box in Mail  preferences (Store deleted messages on the server) will change that behaviour and deleted emails go to the Bin(UK) or Trash(US) where they sit for 30 days before being deleted.

trash mail

Note that deleting messages on iOS7 will remove all labels and leave them in the All Mail folder. There is an option in Mail >Account >Advanced Settings to Archive deleted mail but it doesn’t work for me.


Move Discarded Messages into Archive Mailbox – changes the swipe in iOS7…

…from Delete delete …to Archivearchive

…but I just get this message when I tap Archive:


So to permanently expunge an email use Apple Mail or the Google Mail web page; select your email and press the Trash icon. This moves it to the Bin* (Trash in US) and after 30 days it will be flushed forever.

You may want to delete all unlabelled email from Google Mail – to do so search in the All Mail folder using this string:

has:nouserlabels -label:Inbox -label:sent -label:drafts

Managing your Email: keep everything in the Inbox!
Using Apple Mail, the unread number next to your Inbox will warn you if there’s any email you’ve missed or not dealt with. If after reading it you think an email will require further attention, either mark it as unread or flag it. Once you have dealt with it just leave it in the Inbox where you can easily find it again or delete (archive) it.

*Changing language in Google Apps affects things like the name of the Trash/Bin folder, also you may see Out of Office AutoReply or Vacation Responder.

UPDATE FOR MAVERICKS – Dec 2013  Jan 2015

My brief affair with AirMail has ended – it was a little too buggy and the search wasn’t working properly. Apple have now improved support for Google Apps in Mail (now version 7.3) Mavericks and Google Apps are now great together, if you set it up correctly everything just works:

  • Creating folders/editing folder names in Apple Mail will create a new label/update the label name in Google Webmail
  • Items sent using another device (iPhone) will appear immediately in Apple Mail’s Sent Items and in the same folder as items sent via Apple Mail.
  • Deleting messages will move them to the Trash/Bin – Google will delete them after 30 days.
  • Moving items to a local Mailbox on the Mac will remove them from Google Mail – hold the Alt key to save a copy.
  • An Archive button on the Apple Mail Menu Bar will move items from the Inbox to a [Gmail]Archive folder.
  • Tick ‘Move deleted messages to the Trash Mailbox’ – sends deleted mail to All Mail folder.
  • Tick ‘Store Deleted Messages on the Server’ – sends deleted items to the Gmail Trash/Bin.

So here’s my updated guide to configuring Apple Mail, Mavericks, the iPhone and Google Apps Mail to work in perfect harmony.

Start in Google Apps WebMail Settings – under Labels preferences, Pasted Graphic 4tick only the Trash/Bin folder and Sent Items as shown below (Inbox is always ticked by default)

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In Apple Mail set up the account as a Google Mail account and turn off Mail’s Junk Filtering–it’s not required unless you have other accounts where you don’t trust the provider to filter out Spam.

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Note: It’s no longer possible to configure some Mailbox Behaviours in Apple Mail preferences because these settings are now influenced by the Settings in Google Apps. So ticking “Store draft messages on server” won’t stick unless it’s also ticked in the Account Settings on Gmail.

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Restart Apple Mail and configure Mailbox Behaviours as shown above and configure Advanced Settings as shown below.
(important: do not use the IMAP Path Prefix)no-prefix

Using the IMAP prefix [Gmail] is no longer a good idea. Under your account name in the sidebar you will find a Sent Items folder. Select this and go to the Menu >Mailbox >Use this Mailbox as… >Sent Mailbox. This will give a simpler layout of folders in the sidebar with only one ‘Sent’ folder per account. Using an ‘Archive’ button on the toolbar will create an Archive folder

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Press Cmd-0 to view the Activity window in Apple Mail and give it plenty of time to finish syncing. It’s often worth restarting Mail if things don’t look right–that will resync missing items and check the current IMAP settings.


OS X 10.10.1  comes with a new version of Mail (v8.1) which finally seems to understand Google Apps for Work (for that is how it shall be called henceforth). Just set up the account as a Google Account and follow the prompts – Job Done.