For many users, however, their first response is "it's about time!" and others have even gone as far as saying "it's finally here, no thanks to Apple." This new feature, unveiled this morning by Google, has even been called a "workaround" to Apple's alleged refusal to support push email, but in reality this isn't the case.
Push: What is it, and how does it work?
To understand why push services have not been available before, let's first discuss what exactly push is. When a client (be it a mail program, Twitter client, or web browser) needs to notify a user when new content or information is available, it has to periodically connect to the server and check for changes.
This is the way email clients have worked for years: the client checks with the server at a defined interval (usually every 5-15 minutes), downloads any new messages, and notifies the user that new mail has arrived. Many other services, such as RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, and even the Gmail website work the same way; they just check the server more often, which gives the appearance of real-time notifications.
Other services, such as instant messaging clients, maintain a constant, active connection to the server at all times. When new information is available for the client, the server sends, or "pushes" the information directly to the client as soon as it is available. In corporate environments, mail services such as Microsoft Exchange have paved the way for push email, by having the mail client (usually Outlook, Entourage, or other clients that support Exchange) maintain an active connection to the mail server, which allows the server to notify the client immediately when new mail arrives.
Read on to find out how Gmail push works, and what you need to know to get it set up on your phone.