The Column

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Possible fix (maybe) for mobile Gmail

It was one of those oh-the-heck-with-it ideas, and I still don't know if it was an actual fix. But after five days of being semi-incommunicado I am finally able to access my Google Mail box from my cell phone.

For me, it was simply a matter of changing my email preferences to always use https. Whatever that means.

I was shooting wild here, but not completely. I remembered .https was my default gmail setting for a long time, and I took it off because it wouldn't feed into iGoogle. So I kind of worked backward from there. Maybe it will make a difference in how my email loads, I thought.

So what the hey. Tuesday evening as I was finishing up at work (using the wifi hotspot in the office) I went into my Google Mail settings and clicked on the "always use .https" box. If it worked, great. If it didn't, it cost me nothing to try and I can always try something different later.

In truth, I thought so little of the idea I didn't bother to check until I got home an hour later. I cranked on the cell phone and went to my iGoogle home page. There, gmail refused to load:

--The Gmail gadget does not support the "always use https" preference that you selected in your Gmail settings. Learn more (includes a link from there)--

Just like before. Something, obviously, was happening. But just for grins, I went to my mobile bookmarks and tried to get into my Google mail that way, with https on.

And got in. And read my mail. Like I am supposed to.

Later I checked the Learn More link from iGoogle. It seems https is a lot more secure than http, and is recommended particularly if you're using public wireless Internet like I do. I'm not smart enough to figure a lot of this out, but https is sort of a combination of http and SSL, which is a security thing. But it does create its problems with iGoogle, and https is not an exact science yet. According to Google:

- Errors in the Gmail for mobile application may result in enabling this (always use https) setting.

- Errors in Google Toolbar may result from enabling this setting.

Errors in Gmail for mobile? Shoot, I'm getting more errors from not using that setting. And I really don't care for Google Toolbar, the resource hog that it is. So https it is.

So I'm not able to fully use iGoogle with the https setting on. Shoot, I'd rather be able to actually read and answer my email than just look at iGoogle and see what my most recent email communications are without being able to read them.

When I reported the mobile Gmail problem in this space, I did get a suggestion. Open a Hotmail account and forward my Google mail into that so it can be read. I considered that, but I'd prefer not to go through all this forwarding routine just to read some email.

Meanwhile, the folks at Google were working on the problem. Ethan, who identifies himself as a Google employee in the mobile Google support forum, wrote the following missive Tuesday afternoon:

"Thanks for your reports. The team has narrowed down the cause of the 404 errors, but we need your help to investigate further.

"Please visit our secure webform to send us your phone's IP address so our engineers can debug:


And the matter remained ignored by much of the tech media. I subscribe to several: ReadWriteWeb, Slashdot, TechCrunch, and Mashable! While I'm able to keep up to speed on many tech issues with these, I have not found a word in any of these online publications about mobile Gmail access issues. According to MPCS-ProxyMan in the Google forum, we need to resolve this issue, we have over a million customers who are getting HTTP error 404 for your gmail app ... this is also affecting our android app for gmail." While it's hard to take anything mentioned in a user forum as gospel, I don't think this "over a million" is a funny number. Not at all.

But for me, the "always use https" setting seems to work. I'm not going to argue with the results, at least not right now.

Anyway, there it is. My fix, or maybe it's not a fix. Maybe it really is just in how you hold your mouth. Anyway, you're welcome to try it.

[You tell me: Does this little hack work for you? Anything else work? Are you able to get your mobile Gmail? Please share.]