Inbox Unicorns With Gmail & IMAP

December 13, 2009


As of iOS 4.2, Apple Mail has native support for archive in Gmail and MobileMe.

The Problem

Like many folks, I consume email using a GTD-ish approach of an Inbox and an Everything Else box. I’ve disabled autocheck on my Mac, and cranked the polling time on my iPhone to an hour.

My personal email is hosted on Google Apps, which provides the great Gmail web experience along with an excellent IMAP implementation. Likewise for my previous and current company mail. The Gmail Inbox / All Mail paradigm maps neatly to the aforementioned GTD approach.

On the desktop, I use Mail.app. I prefer it over the Gmail interface for a number of reasons including offline search and its ability to aggregate a number of accounts with the “magic” folders Inbox, Sent and Junk.

One place where Gmail’s interface punks Apple Mail is one-button archiving. It even has a keyboard shortcut! Wham. Hit one key, and that email disappears from the Inbox forever.

With Apple Mail, archiving a message requires a click, drag and a prayer, exacerbated by every additional email account. You could drive a truck through the hole Fitts left in your otherwise optimized process.

The Solution: Archive via Delete

It’s possible to bend Gmail, IMAP and Apple Mail to your will. The following steps describe how to configure things so that Delete acts like Archive: one click (or keypress) archives messages in Apple mail on the desktop and the iPhone.

Step 1. Enable advanced IMAP controls. You’ll find this under the Labs tab in Gmail settings.

Gmail Labs Settings

Step 2. Enable auto-expunge. This is found under the IMAP/Pop tab in Gmail settings. This sounds scary, but isn’t. Gmail keeps a copy of each message in All Mail, regardless if it’s in the Inbox or not.

Gmail IMAP Settings

Step 3. Configure Apple Mail. Uncheck “Move deleted messages to The Trash mailbox” and set the IMAP prefix to “[Gmail]”.

Apple Mail Settings 1 Apple Mail Settings 2

Step 4. Use “All Mail” for sent messages. Since Gmail already stores every message, sent or received in All Mail, this step just instructs Apple Mail to work that way too. If you have multiple accounts, Sent is aggregated just like Inbox.

Use the Mailbox for

Step 5. Configure your iPhone.

iPhone Mail Settings

Presto! Faster email consumption.

In Apple mail you’ll see something like this:

Apple Mail Inboxes

On an iPhone, the Delete icon will remove messages from the Inbox, but leave them in All Mail. Note: Be careful not to tap Delete when viewing messages in All Mail—they’ll be permanently deleted!



  • Use Gmail, IMAP, and Apple Mail tricks to read & process email faster.
  • Uses fun terms like “auto expunge” and training yourself that hitting Delete is okay.
  • Vader.


I’ve been using this to manage my email for 2 years. It works great, is fast, and frankly hitting Delete when I’m done with an email is really satisfying.