Back in February of 2010, Google announced that it was giving up on Google Gears, its neat-but-ultimately-unsatisfying technology that helped make Web services work even when the Web wasn’t available. The company said that it made more sense to concentrate on using HTML5 technologies to build offline capabilities into its Web apps. And now it’s done so, with offline-capable versions of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs.
In no case is Google delivering a full-blown version of the service in question that requires no Internet connection. It’s released a Chrome Web App for offline Gmail that also adds some offline features to Calendar and Docs. And the great news, as far as I’m concerned, is that the offline Gmail app is basically the tablet version of Gmail. Compared to full-blown Gmail, it’s stripped down–but it’s so nicely done that I prefer it to its fancier cousin, at least for simple e-mail triage. In fact, I spent a lot of time trying to make tablet Gmail work in a Mac browser, then gave up and started running Apple’s iOS simulator to do the job. From now on, I have to do is run the Chrome app.
I might be missing something, but I think that this version of Gmail doesn’t support keyboard shortcuts; if not, I hope Google is working on adding them back in. [UPDATE: It has support for basic shortcuts, but not the one I tried.]
The offline features for Calendar and Docs are limited: you can view calendar items and RSVP to them, and view documents and spreadsheets. Google says it’s working to add more capabilities, such as editing, and hopes to bring offline capabilities to browsers other than its own.
The single biggest questions about Google’s Chromebooks has always been “What do I do when I can’t get online?” These new offline features don’t render the issue moot, but they’re a step in the right direction. And me, I plan to run the new Gmail app even when I have all the Internet connectivity I could ever want…