Branding is always remarkably revealing. When you open Gmail, the splash screen shows that it is part of “Google Workspace”. This brand was introduced in 2020 and compared to G Suite makes it very clear that Gmail, Meet, Chat, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Keep and Voice help you be productive. People obviously use Gmail for work, but many others use it in their personal lives and this use case, lately, has been somewhat ignored by Google. One way to address this lack of new innovation can be found in Gmail’s past: Inbox.
To its credit, the phenomenal change brought about by the Rebrand workspace is the speed at which new features are now being introduced. Google is moving quickly to make its family of apps the best place to get things done in any scenario (remote, hybrid, or desktop). At the center of this push is an integrated Gmail that lets you multitask and access Chat, Spaces and Meet, as well as Docs, all in one place to reduce tab switching.
However, ever since Google proclaimed its email service to be the new ‘home for work’, the overwhelming majority of new features and changes have been made to improve the experience for enterprise customers. Although free users have benefited, they are not the intended audience.
These personal users, at best, are ambivalent about the Dating tab, while it would certainly be interesting to see what the free Chat and Spaces usage numbers transition to in the middle of Hangouts. The biggest non-workspace related changes of late have been purely cosmetic with the Material you’re redesigning on Android, which also introduced a new widget, and the ‘new Gmail view’ on the web which is defined by the new navigation sidebar.
It wasn’t always like this
The last significant change to the core messaging experience was the previous redesign in 2018. This included the ability to take action directly from the inbox view, including opening photos and emails. other attachments, archiving, deleting, marking as read/unread and repeating. There was also quick access to Calendar, Conservation, and Tasks add-ons, new security warnings, and unsubscribe prompts. The other big focus was Smart Reply, which was later augmented by Smart Compose to I/O that year.
The main focus was to make it easier to manage and sort your emails, as well as Google offering smart suggestions. By comparison, Workspace’s rationale – while laudable – is very attractive, team-focused, “get things done,” and synergistic. It does not reflect non-work life.
Many of these new Gmail features have their origins in Inbox, which the company announced was going away five months after this redesign was announced. Google said Inbox was a “great place to experiment with new ideas” and that it “learned a lot about how to make email better”. The reason it closed Inbox was that it wanted focus on a single app, and that the consolidation was good after years of stagnant inbox development.
If Inbox was how Gmail was able to get new features – though four years later, Google needs to do it again.
kennedy Inbox, or The manhattan Inbox Project
As a free/personal user, you may not agree with all changes made to Workspace in Gmail. However, the redesign makes sense for the target audience because Google wants to sell an end-to-end productivity solution for businesses.
You can largely continue to use personal Gmail in a pre-Workspace fashion (i.e. hide new tabs), but the basic experience becomes obsolete.
Today, email is just input/information and destined to be somewhat dumb in the Google ecosystem, with other applications intended to produce it. Messages, such as those related to travel and events, are often served by other Google services (Assistant and At a Glance) as proactive notifications. This help should not be exclusive to other experiences. It should also be integrated into the familiar Gmail app for wider reach.
When Inbox first launched, it was somewhat odd that Google now had two email clients. This approach, however, made a lot of sense in that the company needed a place to experiment without affecting most people’s day-to-day work. Gmail is just too critical to drastically change in an unproven way.
Over the past decade, Google must have had some bold ideas, others certainly did, on how to improve email management and make Gmail more useful. AI-backed intelligences should pop out of the Compose window, while – at the very least – many ideas are worth revisiting.
For example, Bundles never made it out of the inbox in Gmail and there was a newsletter feature that highlighted articles directly. In general, Inbox was great at summarizing emails on your behalf and presenting information in a more prominent way. Gmail does a bit of curating, but it’s not willing to be as prominent or editorial as Inbox was in the past. On the contrary, it is more necessary than ever with today’s deluge of content.
It’s time for Google to start innovating the personal use of Gmail and provide help for something people interact with on a daily basis: their inbox. The inbox route may be the best way to go about creating a clear boundary from Workspace. After all, it has worked in the past.
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