IMAP on Blackberry: The Poor Mans BES
It's crazy to me how important email is; it's almost 2010 and I'm still, still, relying on email for communication more than anything else. Considering just how broken email is this, along with how I know it's broken, this isn't a little surprising. Managing the shear amount of email I get used to be pretty easy but now... it's a little more painful but still manageable.
When I had the day job I had access to a nice little network with Exchange 2003 and the latest Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES). It never really occurred to me how spoiled this would make me but, now that it's gone, it's pretty obvious how much I relied on it for my email management.
Why? Syncing. Loved the whole syncing aspect; open an email on your Blackberry and the email was marked as open in Exchange. Send an email from your Blackberry and it appeared in your sent folder in Outlook. Even better if you sent an email in Outlook, through Exchange, it was put in your sent folder on your Blackberry. Simple. This was great for things like filing and responding to emails. Put simply, using the Exchange/BES combo allowed you to keep all your communication in sync.
Then I get unplugged from the BES and have to setup a new solution. First, I went to POP3 (as I was most familiar with the protocol) but this was a cluster fuck of a bad idea. Yes, email was put on the Blackberry but it's a one way method and nothing was kept in sync. I'd do something on the device and when I would go to Gmail nothing would be there; this couldn't do.
I also tried the native Gmail Blackberry app but this too wasn't ideal; I hated how it wasn't truly a "native" app in that other apps would still open the default Blackberry message program to do anything email related. For example, if I clicked on an email on a web page while on the Blackberry it wouldn't open the Gmail app but the native messaging one instead. I was surprised how much this happened and how much it bothered me but it did.
Then I learned that Gmail has IMAP support and have been using it ever since. So far, IMAP is the closest approximation of the BES experience I've found. It's not without it's issues or anything, and technically it's not supported by Google, but it's the best solution I've found.
Probably the biggest issue I have with the IMAP integration is that mail manipulated on the Gmail site doesn't get synced to my Blackberry. This isn't too bad since I usually only use the Gmail site for sending but if I want to keep things in sync I have to treat the Blackberry as the master.
To keep the calendar and contacts in sync requires the use of another Blackberry app called Google Sync. Google Sync it's keeps your contacts and calendar synced up between Google Calendar and Gmail contacts and your Blackberry.
While it's not a perfect solution I've been mostly happy with IMAP and Gmail on the Blackberry. It's way, way, better than paying money for an outsourced BES / Exchange account.