Here’s the drill: the best of Gmail’s new and updated inbox tools made easy

12th September 2018

Our Gmail accounts, they are a changin’. And, to continue borrowing from the piercing pen of Bob Dylan, “The old road is/ Rapidly fadin’/ Please get out of the way/ If you can’t lend your hand.” So, come gather round people, take my hand and we’ll discover these changes together.

I’m going out on a limb and presuming that most of you reading this have a Gmail account. To be honest, knowing that, as of April of this year, there were 1.4 billion Gmail users on the planet gives me just shy of a one in five chance of being right. If I consider the geographical spread of users, I reckon I’m backing a 2/1 hot favourite.

If you don’t have a Gmail account you may want to find something else to divert your attention (I’d heartily recommend this piece on the greatest songs about satellites ever recorded) or you may want to stay with us and find out what you may be missing.

Just like your kids sprouting from teens to young adults, not only does Gmail look different, it’s started to behave differently too

If you do have a Gmail account, the chances are you may have logged in recently and been greeted with the message “your account has a fresh new look”. And do not feel bad if this fresh new look has passed you by, I mentioned it to my boss and shhhhhh, she had no idea what I was talking about.

Just like your kids sprouting from teens to young adults, not only does Gmail look different, it’s started to behave differently too: a little more intuitive and responsive; more concerned with safety and security; capable of thinking for itself; a bit more organised…

Whether you use your Gmail account for personal or business purposes, the changes are to be welcomed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s the Viagra version of email feature updates but it’s definitely a candle-lit head rub and back massage.

There are too many changes to just cover off in one blog but here are my top five that are worth paying attention to and getting to know better. Tune in on Friday and I’ll run you through the rest of the new features worth your attention, including the rather controversial Confidential Mode and the new Sidebar.

You snooze, you lose? No, now you choose
You clock an email in your inbox. It’s important but not so important that it needs an immediate response. Perhaps it’s one of the kids asking for another ‘loan’, the blood pressure’s up, the credit/debit ledger in your mind is whirring, a BLOCK CAPITAL response is already formulating in your head.

Well, now you can breathe, hover over the email and click on the ‘clock’ icon**. That will bring up a drop-down menu with a choice of dates and times to be reminded of this email.

It means an end to scrabbling through one’s memory bank to recall that response that needed sending to that email you received on Monday, or was it yesterday or maybe last week, it was definitely from Johnny, or perhaps Carrie, maybe it wasn’t an email, it’s not my wedding anniversary today is it?

Whatever the answer, this Snooze feature means that no longer will said email be pushed further and further down your inbox by newsletters and brand offers and relatives’ holiday photos.

Just how many newsletters to does one human need?!
The National Trust, check. Your bank and building society, check. Your insurance company, check. That theatre you went to once and swore you’d go back to at least four times a year, check. GDPR or no GDPR, our inboxes are still inundated with more email newsletters than we can keep track of.

Well, be inundated no more. Your new Gmail is smart enough to suggest which newsletters you should be unsubscribing from, based on its knowledge of how often you open, read and engage with them.

Perhaps a little-too-SmartReply
If you’ve been using the Gmail app on your smartphone over the last six months, you may well have taken heed of this feature but as it’s just been rolled out on Gmail’s desktop version, it’s worth flagging up. When you open up an email now, Google’s new SmartReply feature uses neural networking to give you three options for one-click replies based on its AI reading of the content.

It certainly makes sorting through your inbox a little more efficient, although there is something disturbingly dehumanising about the whole process. My rule-of-thumb is, if the email warrants nothing more than the shortest of replies, then grand. For anything else, let’s unite and keep control in human hands (for now).

Having said all that, for nothing other than comedic value, it’s often worth checking out Gmail’s suggested replies. While writing this piece one of my less-literate directors (he has many other gifts) emailed me some copy that he wanted re-writing with a dash of flair and panache (my words not his). He signed off his email with, “Thanks. I am useless at that sort of stuff”. One of Gmail’s suggestions was the blunt and brutal, “I know!”

Oh, to live in hover
I’ve been waiting all my life for the hoverboard from Back to the Future II to be invented,  but for now I’ll settle for Gmail’s new Hover Action. It may not be revolutionary but, as Spike Milligan once most wondrously illustrated, sometimes it’s the “little things that count.”

With your ‘display density’ set to ‘default’ (this is the view option I’d recommend), when you hover your cursor arrow over an email it will bring up an icon bar. This will give you the option to do things like archive, delete, snooze, mark as read or RSVP without having to go through the shenanigans of having to actually open the damn thing – and given that we open less than a quarter of the emails we receive, that’s no bad thing in my book.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink
So many emails, so little time. Distinguishing the necessary from the cacophony is often like panning for gold at Afon Wen. Well, now Gmail will hand-deliver the nuggets right to your door with no need for a sieve or a pitched tent in Dolgellau. From within the brown trout-filled sludge of your inbox, Gmail will dish up suggestions to follow up on old emails.

These prompts, called nudges, will ‘nudge’ (hence the name) the neglected message up to the top of your inbox. And if that’s not obvious enough for the likes of you and me, it will also signpost a little reminder along the lines of, “Received 3 days ago. Reply?” You can adjust these ‘nudges’ in your Settings by choosing what sort of messages you’d like to receive nudges for or you can just turn them off completely.

I long for simpler days of ‘You’ve got mail’
If you’re not yet ready for these changes to “shake your windows” and “rattle your walls” (Bob again), you can choose to keep your old Gmail look by clicking on the ‘Cog’ icon and selecting “Go back to classic Gmail.” You’ll be able to nostalgically cling onto the past until mid-October but then you’ll have no choice but to accept that the times they are a-changin’.

** If the clock icon doesn’t appear, it is most likely because you need to set Conversation View to ‘on’ in your Settings. You can click on the cog icon in the top right-hand corner of your window to get to Settings, scroll down and choose the ‘on’ option beside Conversation View. This will have the useful benefit of grouping your emails into one strand rather than a whole load of individual emails clogging up your inbox.