Google has recently announced new features that would greatly benefit mobile users -- offline Gmail, Docs and Calendar. Working via a Chrome browser plugin and HTML5, the new offline functionality will let users access messages, documents and appointments even without an active Internet connection.

Google used to offer offline access to Gmail messages through Gears, but that has since been a deprecated feature. With the continuing development of HTML5 standards, the new functionality is expected to have wider platform and browser support, although the service currently works exclusively with Chrome through a free application that can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store.

Gmail Offline Access
Gmail can now be accessed offline through an HTML5 interface

Gmail Offline is a Chrome Web Store app that's intended for situations when you need to read, respond to, organize and archive email without an internet connection. This HTML5-powered app is based on the Gmail web app for tablets, which was built to function with or without web access. After you install the Gmail Offline app from the Chrome Web Store, you can continue using Gmail when you lose your connection by clicking the Gmail Offline icon on Chrome's 'new tab' page.

Features Under Construction

At this early stage, the offline Gmail functionality is a bit limited, and users will have to work around the limitations for an effective offline Gmail, Docs and Calendar experience.

  • Google plans support for a wider user base, but the app only works on Chrome at the moment.
  • Docs support is read-only for now, but Google is working on support for write-access for offline Docs.
  • The Gmail service uses a different application than the usual web app, although the interface is akin to running Gmail on an iPad.
  • Gmail storage is limited to three to seven days, depending on mailbox size, and all starred message. No selective label support is implemented at this time.
  • Users can read Calendars and respond to RSVPs, but cannot create new calendar entries.

Are We There Yet?

Now the good news here is for Chromebook users. Users with an Acer AC700, Samsung Series 5 or even Google Cr-48 will get the most out of Google's new offline functionality. These being mainly cloud-based computers, usability is hampered when there is no decent Internet connection (whether Wi-Fi or 3G). These features will enable Chromebook users to work even while offline.

The offline functionality is available on Gmail today, and Google promises to roll out offline support in Docs and Calendar. Google says IT staff can install these features remotely through administrative policies in Chrome. Offline support is available both in Gmail and services and through Google Apps.

Google is investing heavily in mobile, and enabling offline access to services is the next logical step to improving its services and product offerings like the Chromebook.