The new Gmail


PCWorld (USA) - - Contents - BY JARED NEW­MAN

In April, Google launched its first ma­jor Gmail re­design ( go.pc­ gmup) since 2013, and in a sense it was an ac­knowl­edg­ment of all the ways Google had fallen be­hind.

With 1.4 bil­lion users log­ging into Gmail at least once per month, the ser­vice has be­come re­sis­tant to change. This in turn has been a boon to the email soft­ware busi­ness, al­low­ing third-party apps like Mail­box, Spark, Astro, and New­ton to in­vent new fea­tures on a more reg­u­lar ba­sis. Sev­eral of Gmail’s most no­table new fea­tures come straight from these apps, and from the broader soft­ware world in gen­eral. And while some have pre­vi­ously ap­peared in Google’s more for­ward-think­ing In­box app ( go.pc­world. com/gvsi), others are new to Gmail en­tirely.

But as Gmail gets with the times, it’s also in­tro­duc­ing some new ideas that haven’t yet oc­curred to its com­peti­tors. The re­sult is a much-needed game of fea­ture leapfrog, which will hope­fully com­pel other email apps to in­vent even more ways to make email less painful. To that end, here’s a look at what’s new—and not so new—with Gmail’s big up­grade:


One of Gmail’s most over­due ad­di­tions is a Snooze but­ton, which can resur­face old emails at a later date and time. A Gmail ex­ten­sion called Boomerang ( go.pc­world. com/bmgm) pro­vided sim­i­lar func­tion­al­ity eight years ago, fol­lowed by AOL’S Alto (which used the term [ go.pc­] “Snooze”). Mail­box ( go.pc­ helped pop­u­lar­ize the Snooze but­ton in 2013, and it’s since be­come a ta­ble-stakes fea­ture for prac­ti­cally ev­ery new email client, in­clud­ing Google’s In­box, which launched in 2014. Gmail doesn’t do much to ad­vance the con­cept—in fact, New­ton’s mo­bile app has a handy Snooze Un­til Back At Desk­top fea­ture that other apps would be wise to copy—but at least it’s there.


To make bet­ter use of desk­top PC real es­tate, the new Gmail can load minia­ture ver­sions of Google’s Keep, Cal­en­dar, and Tasks apps in a right-hand side­bar. That way, you can quickly take notes, make ap­point­ments, and cre­ate to-do items with­out switch­ing browser tabs.

It’s a novel idea for an email app, but the Chromium-based browser Vi­valdi ( go. pc­ of­fers a sim­i­lar fea­ture called Web Pan­els, which can open any web­page in an ex­pand­able side­bar view. (Opera also of­fers web pan­els through a browser add-on [ go.pc­].) Google’s pan­els do have one ad­van­tage: You can cre­ate to-do items by drag­ging an email into Tasks, though that’s also not a new idea. Some Gmail ex­ten­sions such as Sortd ( go. pc­ and Yanado ( go.pc­world. com/yndo) of­fer sim­i­lar drag-and-drop fea­tures.


Gmail has al­lowed users to fil­ter out bulk mail with in­box tabs ( go.pc­ for years now, but a new high-pri­or­ity notifications fea­ture will go a step fur­ther, us­ing AI to alert you only to the most im­por­tant emails. While this fea­ture hasn’t ar­rived in the new Gmail yet, it sounds sim­i­lar to Out­look’s Fo­cused In­box, which first launched on mo­bile de­vices in 2015 fol­low­ing Mi­crosoft’s ac­qui­si­tion of Acom­pli ( go. pc­ As Mi­crosoft’s sup­port page notes ( go.pc­, Fo­cused In­box “in­tel­li­gently pre­sorts your email so you can fo­cus on what mat­ters,” and gets bet­ter the more you use it. (Google’s In­box has of­fered this type of in­tel­li­gent fil­ter­ing since 2014, but only started rolling out pri­or­ity notifications [ go.pc­ hipr] last year.)


Here’s an­other bor­rowed fea­ture from Google’s In­box app: By hov­er­ing your cur­sor over an email, you’ll see op­tions to Archive, Delete, Snooze, and Mark As Read with one tap. It’s a handy way to delete or archive lots of emails in rapid suc­ces­sion.

Google can’t take credit for the idea, though. Among the first to im­ple­ment hover fea­tures was AOL’S Alto ( go.pc­world. com/aolt), which launched in 2012 and shut down last year. New­ton also de­serves some credit for go­ing a step fur­ther, let­ting users change the or­der of hover actions and set up quick actions for spam and folder sort­ing.


Gmail will in­tro­duce a new fea­ture called Nudging, which uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to re­mind you about emails that might need a re­sponse. It could be a neat fea­ture, but it’s not unique to Gmail. Both Astro ( go.pc­world. com/astr) and Trove ( go.pc­ pro­vide sim­i­lar nudges based on ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. (The for­mer is more for in­di­vid­u­als, while the lat­ter is aimed at

com­pa­nies that want to im­prove communications within their net­works.)


While Gmail can al­ready sur­face unsubscribe links in mass emails, it’ll soon go a step fur­ther by flag­ging emails you haven’t read in a while and sug­gest­ing that you unsubscribe. Again, it’s a fea­ture al­ready of­fered by Astro, whose In­sights sec­tion of­fers unsubscribe links for emails you haven’t opened lately.


Confidential Mode refers to a suite of up­com­ing Gmail fea­tures for pro­tect­ing out­bound mes­sages. Users will be able to set ex­pi­ra­tion dates; pre­vent emails from be­ing copied, printed, down­loaded or for­warded; and lock emails be­hind a twofac­tor au­then­ti­ca­tion code sent to the re­cip­i­ent via text mes­sage.

Not all of these fea­tures are new. Mi­crosoft’s Out­look and Ex­change also use In­te­grated Rights Man­age­ment tech­nolo­gies to pre­vent email copy­ing, and they al­low users to set ex­pi­ra­tion dates on emails. Mean­while, third-party ex­ten­sions such as Van­ishh ( go. pc­ and Snap­mail ( go.pc­ snml) al­low Gmail users to send self-de­struc­t­ing mes­sages to­day. But on the whole, Gmail will make these fea­tures eas­ier for a broader au­di­ence to use while also adding new ideas

like two-fac­tor au­then­ti­ca­tion for in­di­vid­ual emails.


While some apps such as Out­look and Edi­son Mail pro­vide users with a list of all email at­tach­ments, Google’s mak­ing things a lit­tle eas­ier by sur­fac­ing attachment links from the main in­box view. That way, you can quickly view an im­age or doc­u­ment with­out hav­ing to click into the in­di­vid­ual email. This is prime fod­der for other email apps to copy in the fu­ture.


Google’s Smart Reply fea­ture is sup­posed to save you time by of­fer­ing in­tel­li­gent, canned re­sponses based on the con­tent of the mes­sage. For in­stance, if the email asks if you’d like to meet on Mon­day, you can tap a but­ton to quickly re­spond with “Mon­day works for me.” The fea­ture de­buted as part of Google In­box in 2015, and headed to the mo­bile ver­sion of Gmail last year. Now it’s headed to desk­top Gmail, where it re­mains un­copied by other email apps. (If you don’t trust Google’s AI to write emails for you, check out Spark’s Quick Replies [ go.pc­world. com/spqr], which lets you cus­tom­ize your own one-touch canned re­sponses.)

Gmail also sup­ports Google’s new Smart Com­pose fea­ture in ex­per­i­men­tal mode ( go. pc­, which makes Ai-based sug­ges­tions sen­tence-by-sen­tence while writ­ing fuller emails. Smart Com­pose isn’t any­where near as help­ful as Smart Reply in its early days though.

The mak­ers of other email apps might feel dis­mayed now that some of their best ideas are part of Gmail proper. But if his­tory is any guide, they’ll have un­til the year 2023 or so to fig­ure out where to take things next.


Gmail’s new Snooze fea­ture (left) was pop­u­lar­ized by Mail­box (right) in 2013.

The Vi­valdi browser (right) lets you open web apps in a panel along­side any web­site—not just Gmail.

Gmail (left) now lets you quickly act on emails with hover actions, though they’re not cus­tom­iz­a­ble like New­ton’s (right).

Mi­crosoft’s mo­bile Out­look app (right) was do­ing pri­or­ity notifications be­fore Gmail (left) and Google’s In­box app.

Both Gmail (left) and Astro (right) can help you unsubscribe to news­let­ters you aren’t read­ing.

Gmail (left) will soon of­fer a “nudge” fea­ture sim­i­lar to one that’s al­ready avail­able with Trove (right).

Saved you a click: Gmail now brings attachment links to the in­box view.

Gmail will soon of­fer sev­eral fea­tures that limit ac­cess to emails af­ter you’ve sent them.

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