Big Changes Hit Gmail Today - Here's All The New Features

By James O Malley on at

Oh god, change! Is there anything worse than when something you use every day is changed by the developers and it upsets your routine? Yes, it's unpleasant - and today that sensation will be hitting users of Gmail, as Google's mail client is undergoing its biggest revamp in years. But don't worry - though it looks scary and different, it might not actually be that bad. In fact, some of the features sound positively great. So here's a run through of what to expect.

Confidential Mode

Google is making a big show of beefing up Gmail's security credentials, and in a briefing with journalists ahead of today's launch, its spokesperson alluded to the 2016 hack of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta's emails as one motivation behind the additions.

So what's new? First and foremost, you can now send highly secure, encrypted messages via email. The way it works is not with the ancient SMTP protocol that email has been built on for decades, but instead effectively embeds the contents of your message on a secure page, which is loaded up inside the email if your recipient is also a Gmail user. If not, the email will display a link to a secure "portal" page from which to view the contents on Google's servers. Printing and forwarding will be automatically disabled. (This is a bit like how Apple's Mail app will handle large attachments - hosting them on iCloud rather than attaching them, and automatically transforming what would display a web link to non-Apple users into an attachment for Mail users.)

The upshot of doing it this way means Google has been able to build some other clever functionality on top: These emails can now be set to expire, or you can revoke access to its contents (effectively the recipient is viewing the contents on a space that you control). And if you're really paranoid, you can even insist on having the recipient complete a two-factor authentication prompt before they are allowed to view.

Slightly less excitingly, Google will also be increasing the size of the banners it puts on top of dodgy emails warning of phishing attempts and the like, to really hammer home to users that they shouldn't click the links within.

It's all pretty clever then - and while Google admits it still won't make your emails completely bulletproof (there's nothing to stop you literally taking a photo of your screen with your phone), it will reduce opportunities for crimes of convenience. The only downside? As some commentators noted when news of these features first leaked, it arguably puts up barriers and makes email less of an open system, as it relies on Google systems on top of it rather than common standards.

New Productivity Features

It isn't just security - Google is adding a bunch of new features too. Most of which sound pretty cool - and some of which might sound a little familiar.

The biggest new change is the sidebar to the right. The idea is that you can call up Google Calendar, or your task list - or one of a bunch of plugins - to have side by side with your emails. Create reminders with ease, or drag emails on to your tasks as a to-do list. (In fact, to support you getting shit done, Google also revealed that will be releasing separate Google Tasks apps on both iOS and Android shortly).

That syncing feeling.

There will also be a new native offline mode - no Chrome plugins required. This means that - to use the completely relatable example that silicon valley executives always use - you can write responses to your emails while on a flight, and then sync your inbox and send 'em once you're on the ground.

The other new features will be familiar to anyone who has used Google Inbox, the company's more experimental email client. Google is bringing over Inbox's best feature: the ability to snooze emails. So you can make an email disappear from you inbox until a user-specified time. It's also bringing over "nudging", where your Gmail will attempt to intelligently make suggestions for tasks that you need to do, such as reply to a certain email that has languished in your inbox for a week. The company will also be adding smart replies, where Google offers you intelligent touch-button responses to the web version of Gmail for the first time.

Display-wise, attachments will now also be more readily available as "attachment chips" will start appearing underneath subject lines, without you needing to click into an email to get at what is attached.

And to try and help you declutter your mind, if you want you'll be able to switch to only receive push notifications for really important stuff, so that god forbid you might actually concentrate on that thing you need to get done without your inbox constantly pinging. Gmail will now make it even easier to unsubscribe from mailing lists, by flagging up unsubscribe suggestions for emails from senders that you always insta-delete.

So that's the new features. The roll-out begins today, and will be opt-in for the first while. Google's intention is to then make the new Gmail switch on by default, but give users to the option to switch back - before finally pulling the plug on the old Gmail entirely. Now stop faffing about on Giz, and go answer your emails.