THE NEW GMAIL: Google Is Breathing New Life into Email
DO MORE WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR INBOX
The refreshed design is appearing for Gmail users on the web, bringing it closer to the company’s tweaks for Gmail on mobile devices. Google is implementing smart replies for Gmail on the web, the same feature from mobile Gmail that provides suggestions to quickly reply to emails. A new snooze feature also lets you temporarily remove emails from your inbox until a certain time, so you can avoid certain email threads until you’re ready to reply. So, if you don’t have time to deal with something now, but you will later, you can have it hit the top of your inbox again so you don’t forget it or let it languish in your Starred folder you never look in. Snooze and Smart Reply are both currently part of Google’s Inbox app for Gmail, and both features are now making their way to Gmail on the web.
If you choose the standard display model—which makes the line for each email rather large—Gmail will also now show you previews of files that may be attached to emails. For instance, I bought two plane tickets that came attached as PDFs, and Gmail shows me buttons in the preview view that I can click to bring up the PDF. It works in a thread, so I don’t have to go searching through individual emails to find the correct one. It also works with images and other attachments. Google says it does this so you can do more directly from the main window.
The right column now has icons representing other Google apps, like Calendar, Tasks, and its note-taking app, Keep. Clicking on one of the icons brings up a snapshot of the activity in whatever app you choose. So, if you click on the calendar, you’ll get an overview of your day. Tasks will show you all the things you’ve fallen behind on while you click around and explore the new Gmail interface. This is perhaps the most useful part of the redesign that makes it easier to schedule meetings or see when you’re free when replying to an email.
A new confidential mode allows you to remove the option to forward, copy, download or print messages—useful for when you have to send sensitive information via email like a tax return or your social security number. You can also make a message expire after a set period of time to help you stay in control of your information.
Gmail will also “nudge” you to follow up and respond to messages with quick reminders that appear next to your email messages to help make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It uses algorithms to track messages you have not yet returned to your regular correspondents after a few days—and moves those unanswered messages to the top of your inbox with a gentle reminder to reply. (If you find this sort of software-based intervention creepy, you can turn off the nudge action in the Gmail settings).
Finally, the days of having to think about and physically type out emails are over, at least if Google’s new Smart Compose feature for Gmail has anything to say about it. Much like autocomplete in the search bar or on your smartphone’s keyboard, the new AI-powered feature promises to not only intelligently work out what you’re currently trying to write but to predict whole emails. It’s a logical extension of the existing Smart Reply feature in Gmail and simply appears as you start to compose an email in your browser. In order to try out this feature right now, you have to go into your setting and enable “experimental access.”
From your greeting to your closing (and common phrases in between), Smart Compose suggests complete sentences in your emails so that you can draft them with ease. Because it operates in the background, you can write an email like you normally would, and Smart Compose will offer suggestions as you type. When you see a suggestion that you like, click the “tab” button to use it. Smart Compose helps save you time by cutting back on repetitive writing, while reducing the chance of spelling and grammatical errors. It can even suggest relevant contextual phrases. For example, if it's Friday it may suggest “Have a great weekend!” as a closing phrase.
According to Google, “Smart Compose is not designed to provide answers and may not always predict factually correct information.” In a note about machine learning, Google says it is researching how to improve its handling of unintended bias: “As language understanding models use billions of common phrases and sentences to automatically learn about the world, they can also reflect human cognitive biases, [...] Being aware of this is a good start, and the conversation around how to handle it is ongoing. Google is committed to making products that work well for everyone, and are actively researching unintended bias and mitigation strategies.”
The new Gmail now has an automatic and native offline mode—meaning you'll be able to open the standard Gmail website and read and write messages, even if you don't have an active internet connection (this will work only if you are using the Chrome browser, are signed into your Google account, and have accessed Gmail from that same computer before). This is a significant improvement over the old system, which required a separate extension and then used an awkwardly stripped-down mobile-like interface in place of the regular Gmail environment.
You can start using these new updates in Gmail on the web today, with some features appearing within the coming weeks. Go to Settings (the cog wheel in the top right corner of your inbox) and select “Try the new Gmail.” If you want to switch back later down the road, you can go to the same place and select “Go back to classic Gmail.” So far, we are loving what the new Gmail has to offer in regards to helpfulness in the work place. We predict other major email clients will follow suit with many of these changes in the coming months.