Kiwi for Gmail: A Review

In Gmail in a Box, I mentioned having bought Kiwi for Gmail. This review will first cover the app itself, and an optional appendix at the end will detail my initial experiences as an early adopter.

Kiwi for Gmail Logo

Background

Zive Inc. launched their Kickstarter campaign for “Gmail for Mac” on November 15, 2014, dubbing it “the true desktop email client for Gmail”.1 The project was fully funded within six days, and by the time the pledge ended, Zive had raised $42,200: more than two times their initial goal. The app’s name was changed in May after Zive were approached — politely they say — by Google.

Kiwi for Gmail launched on June 23 and costs $10 on the Mac App Store.

Two Kiwis

A free version — “Kiwi for Gmail Light” — can also be found on the App Store. Contrary to the full version, Kiwi Light lets you add only one account, and does not support shortcuts, important-only notifications, do-not-disturb mode, or Gmail plugins.

Setup

The setup process is very simple. A tutorial is presented on first launch, after which you’re taken to a standard login window, and then to your inbox. Two-step verification is supported, so there is no need to create an app-specific password for Kiwi.

Preferences

Once you set up your first account, up to five more can be added through the “accounts” tab in the preferences pane. There, it’s also possible to change various account-specific settings: notifications, sounds, and colors.

Kiwi for Gmail Screenshot

There are three other tabs besides “accounts” in the preferences pane:

General: where you can set Kiwi to launch on login, and supposedly make it your default client. Supposedly, because this box is greyed-out for Yosemite users. Zive says this is “a bug” that affects all email clients, and that the only way to set one as the default is via Mail.app’s preferences. However, to merely access those preferences one first needs to have an account authenticated in Mail.app. Annoying.

Notifications: set global settings for notifications and sounds, and choose whether the unread mail badge is shown on the dock, menubar, or both.

Shortcuts: Kiwi supports several of them, but only the “new email” shortcut appears here. Press ⌘ ⌥ ⌃ M anywhere and a new window opens with a list of your accounts. The list’s item order corresponds to the keyboard’s numbers, so typing “2” would select the second account. There isn’t a way to choose a default account to compose from.

Inside the app, ⌘ ⇧ and [ ] are used to switch between accounts. To cycle between active windows, you can press ⌘ `.

I was puzzled to see no shortcut for simply bringing up Kiwi’s window. Adding shortcuts is relatively easy in OS X, but every email client should ship with a default, configurable one.

Design & User Interface

Kiwi’s menubar item comes in the shape of an envelope (no kidding!) and displays the total count of unread items.2 A neat menu opens when you click on it, featuring individual counts, as well as buttons to start composing for each account.

Kiwi for Gmail Screenshot

A thin, colored strip is visible right below Kiwi’s title bar. Envelopes — each in its designated account color — are horizontally stacked from the right. Switching from one account to the other will update the address on and the color of the ribbon on the left. Other than these, there aren’t any noticeable aesthetic differences compared to the browser experience.

Kiwi for Gmail looks as nice as a “web-view” app can. Zive can’t control Gmail’s own interface design, but they have done their part of the deal.

Features Overview

Multi-account support: Zive promised 100% fidelity and zero friction for Kiwi’s biggest selling feature. And the execution here is flawless. I’ve set up three different accounts in less than ten minutes, and switching between them is instantaneous. For those with more than one Gmail account, the benefits here can’t be overstated.

Drive support & attachment handling: Seems to work great but asks to you switch to the older look because “your browser (which is actually the new window opened inside of Kiwi) is old and unsupported”. A killer feature for those who use Drive regularly.

Gestures: left is “back” and right is “next”, which is just about enough. These work inside the web-view and not for going back and forth between accounts.

Lab support: I have several lab features turned on and they all worked fine inside Kiwi.

Zen Switch: the ability to turn-off all notifications until the next day. Works as expected.

Filter by flags: I haven’t tested this one, but if works as advertised it should be pretty useful for those who do use flagging.

Gmail plugin support: “coming soon” according to Zive’s product page.

Bottom Line

A month after its launch, Kiwi for Gmail does what it set out to very well. There are minor annoyances, but my Gmail experience has been less cumbersome and nicely streamlined after the Driver bug got fixed. (see below)

For me, Kiwi was well-worth its price.

Appendix: Labour Pains & How to Piss off Your Customers

I have a soft spot for indie developers, so I’ll try to proceed as gracefully as I can.

Let’s start with launch day: in one of the first batches sent to customers, thousands of email addresses were exposed because whoever sent it was careless enough to simply dump them in the “to:” field. Zive were quick to respond, but the damage had already been done.3

Second, the Google Drive feature wouldn’t work during the first week. When I contacted Zive, I was told this bug was affecting some retina Macs, and that I should “turn on low-resolution mode until a fix is released”. When was a fix coming? “No ETA.”

I replied saying I would’ve gotten insulted. “Would have”, because I’m sure Zive’s support rep wasn’t using a retina screen himself. Otherwise, this idea wouldn’t have even crossed his mind. It’s not “inconvenient but usable” or “a trade-off”, as he insisted thereafter, it’s impossible.

My gripe isn’t with the bug. Stuff happens, and again: if you’re a small team working under tight conditions, I can sympathize. Just don’t give me the impression I’m complaining about some minor issue, or insist I patch it with something that makes the app itself unusable. How about this instead: “Sorry our app/this feature is nonfunctional, we’re working on a fix”.

The exchange that followed with Zive’s support, while polite and prompt, was quite frustrating. Several days after I tweeted about it, Zive’s founder Eric Shashoua got in touch and said he’d like to know more about how his team had handled this. More importantly, a new version rolled out on June 30, fixing the Google Drive bug.

All things considered, Kiwi is an excellent app if you want the full Gmail experience. I can’t help but feel it shipped one or two weeks too early though.


  1. There’s a technical explanation on “how Kiwi is different than other single-site browser apps” in the FAQ section↩︎
  2. You can exclude accounts on individual basis. ↩︎
  3. No, the irony of this happening to an email client developer didn’t escape me. I don’t think it’s fair to judge the app itself by this, or to give Zive more hard time than they’ve already had for it. ↩︎
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