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What Gmail's New Features Do


What Gmail's New Features Do

Photograph by Steve Prezant/Gallery Stock

Gmail is like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York—construction began in 1892, and it’s still unfinished.

Some new features were announced recently and are gradually being rolled out to users across the globe. Perhaps most significant among them is the introduction of tabs to your inbox. Gmail (GOOG) will now automatically sort incoming mail into a few different groups: Primary (stuff from real people, such as friends, family, and colleagues); Social (alerts from Facebook (FB), Twitter, and the like); Promotions (sales e-mails and other marketing material from stores), and Updates (reciepts, statements and confirmations from banks, airlines, and other businesses).

The tabs sit at the top of your inbox, with preview numbers to let you know if anything new is in them. If a message is appearing in the wrong tab, you can drag and drop it into another one (or right click and select which tab you want), at which point Gmail will ask you if you’d like future e-mails from the same sender to go in the tab you selected. If you hate a tabbed inbox, you can go back to the old view any time.

The changes to Gmail will also appear on its Android and iOS apps. On those platforms, you’ll see your Primary inbox when you first open the app and will be able to swipe to the side to see the other tabs in your inbox. (By the way, did you know that, while looking at a Gmail message on your phone, you can swipe to the side to move to the next or previous message, without having to go back to the inbox? You can.)

The Gmail team has been fairly busy lately. Just a couple of weeks ago, they added “action buttons” to certain messages in your inbox. These are small buttons that appear in the header information of a message. If your friend has sent an invitation to you (either through Gmail’s invitation feature or from Outlook), you can now click on an RSVP button that will be next to the subject line and let them know if you’ll be coming without opening the entire message. Other shortcuts include confirming registration e-mails and checking on flights. You’ll also be able to interact with links from Netflix (NFLX) and Spotify right within Gmail, instead of opening an e-mail, clicking on a link, going to that site, doing that thing, and then returning to Gmail.

(One more thing: If you get an e-mail from an airline with flight information, Google will recognize that, extract the relevant info, and place it at the top of the message. It will also tell you if your flight’s on time.)

No doubt there’ll be more tweaks to Google’s e-mail service. After all, Gmail was technically in beta for five years. It’s a neverending story.

Grobart is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and the managing editor of Bloomberg Digital Video. Follow him on Twitter @samgrobart.

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