Google is taking the lid off its oft-hinted redesign of Gmail, which includes a new look, a host of fresh features, increased security and an injection of artificial intelligence.
Gmail is one piece of Google’s larger G Suite productivity offerings that compete with a variety of tools from other tech giants, most notably Microsoft’s Office 365. Today, Google says G Suite has 4 million paid business users. For comparison Microsoft said late last year it had 120 million Office 365 business subscribers.
With around 1.2 billion users, Gmail is the second-most popular email client out there behind only Apple’s native iPhone client. Gmail is one of the flagship G Suite offerings, so it’s easy to see why Google is putting so much energy behind adding new capabilities.
A new Confidential Mode is perhaps the biggest security/privacy investment out of this batch of announcements. The sender can pick an expiration date for the message, basically a self-destruct function that means the recipient won’t be able to view it or download the information after a certain time. Gmail also recently introduced controls to let the sender remove the option of forwarding, copying, downloading or printing messages.
In a blog post announcing the new features, Google emphasized that it does not scan Gmail for targeting ads.
Every big tech company is investing in AI, and Google recently poached the head of Amazon’s Alexa AI research and development team to lead AI development for its cloud division. For Gmail, AI comes into the picture via a series of new features to help users sort through the mountains of messages and notifications they receive.
Smart Reply, a tool familiar to mobile users that provides three quick answers to an email, will make its way to Gmail’s desktop version. A feature called Nudging does just that — it reminds users to respond to messages they missed or ignored. The new ability to Snooze a message temporarily removes it from the inbox and drops it back in, at the top of the list, at a specific time.
The same way Priority Inbox attempts to learn which messages are most important, a new mobile notification system aims to filter the noise and only alert users to crucial messages. Gmail’s AI will also suggest when to unsubscribe from newsletters and other lists they don’t interact with often.
A common thread among many of the features is efficiency: the ability to do more within the desktop window itself without having to navigate elsewhere. A new panel along the right side of the page lets users pull up their calendar, jot down notes, manage to-do lists and interact with third-party apps.
Gmail is breaking out attachments from message threads, making it easier to access documents without having to scroll through an entire list of messages. Users can also perform simple tasks like deleting or snoozing a message or RSVPing to an event by hovering over the message.
Some of these new tools and features, such as Smart Reply, Snooze and the right-side panel are available immediately, while others will roll out in the coming weeks. G Suite business customers can be among the first to use the new Gmail by opting in to Google’s Early Adopter Program and personal users can switch over through the settings tab.