Gmail takes a bold step forward with new look [Update: official iOS app released]

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on November 1st, 2011

Today Google flipped the switch and transformed Gmail with a new look. It was previewed back in July and now it’s ready for primetime. The navigation panel on the left is more customizable;  you can resize the labels and chat areas depending on which section you access most often. Search has been upgraded, too. The search box up top now features a drop box with helpful options that should make finding exactly what you’re looking for easier and faster. You can also create filters from search queries. Emails have been aesthetically transformed to look like streamlined conversations. Profiles pictures for your contacts show up inside emails and unneccesary text has been stripped out of view making reading a conversation a better experience. In addition, Google has figured out a way to make the Gmail window fit your screen perfectly; the spacing between elements on the screen will automatically change based on the kind of display you’re using. In the settings menu, you can play around with display density and manually select “comfortable,” “cozy,” and “compact” views. Last, the Gmail team has added high resolution themes to the mix. They say most of the popular themes have been upgraded to HD, so the switch on your end should happen automatically. The new look has rolled out to everyone today; to enable it simply click the “Switch to the new look” link located at the bottom right in Gmail. There’s a brief video highlighting these changes after the break.

Update (11/3): Today Google finally released an official Gmail app for iOS devices. Google says they’ve “combined your favorite features from the Gmail mobile web app and iOS into one app so you can be more productive on the go.” The Gmail app promises to bring speed, efficiency, and optimized touch input to the table. The iPad version takes advantage of the larger display, naturally. Moments after Google released the Gmail app into the wild, unfortunately, they pulled it from the App Store due to “a bug which broke notifications.” As soon as the app returns to the Store you will be notified.

Update 2 (11/16): And it’s back! Get your download on right here.

[Via GoogleBlog; GmailBlog] (Click here for more…)

Google gets a makeover

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on July 13th, 2011

You can call it Exteme Makeover: Google Edition. Over the past few weeks Google has been rolling out a new look across many of their services, including the Google homepage, Gmail, Google Calendar, and YouTube. “The way people use and experience the web is evolving, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and consistent online experience—one that works no matter which Google product you’re using or what device you’re using it on,” explains Google. In a word they’re simply streamlining all their intertwined experiences, and the changes are ” founded on three key design principles: focus, elasticity and effortlessness.”

At Google‘s homepage you’ll surely notice the new black strip located across the top; the colorful logo is smaller and centered, the Search and Lucky buttons have a new hue, and the About, Privacy, and Advertising links have been moved to the bottom left-hand corner of the page. In Gmail and Calendar everything is bolder and more roomier to match the new homepage aesthetic. Design cues were certainly carried over from Google+. Google’s also experimenting with YouTube’s look; Cosmic Panda is the codename for the video player’s new sheen. YouTube is positively sleek in its new coat of paint.

Google’s homepage and Calendar changes have been rolling out to users automatically. To experience Gmail and YouTube’s new flairs you must enable it manually. In Gmail, select “Preview” and “Preview (Dense)” themes in the Themes tab in Gmail Settings; to play around with Cosmic Panda head over to this YouTube portal and click “Try it out.” Since Google’s still testing it out and awaiting customer feedback, you can revert back to the classic look at any time.

It will take time for every Google service to fall in line aesthetically with the new homepage, but there’s no denying that Google’s first wave of cosmetic changes is simply delightful and, well, downright sexy.

Google extends free voice calling in Gmail through the new year

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on December 22nd, 2010

I know you’ve been taking advantage of Google’s free calling in Gmail feature since it was integrated into the mail client back in August.  Well in the “spirit of holiday giving” Google has decided to extend free calling for all of 2011.  Thanks, Google!  Remember, free calls are only applied to those made in the U.S. and Canada.

[Via GmailBlog]

Google introduces Priority Inbox for Gmail

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on August 31st, 2010

If you’re the kind of person who is constantly receiving vast amounts of email from all over the place (friends, family, special offers, subscription renewals, junk and spam) and having a hard time organizing it all, you are going to jump for joy when Priority Inbox for Gmail hits your account.  Here is the problem Google is attempting to solve with Priority Inbox.  You receive so many emails every day and sometimes it is hard to sort and find what’s important and what isn’t.  Google prides itself for doing a pretty decent job of filtering out all the junk email into the spam folder.  Priority Inbox takes things one step further:

As messages come in, Gmail automatically flags some of them as important. Gmail uses a variety of signals to predict which messages are important, including the people you email most (if you email Bob a lot, a message from Bob is probably important) and which messages you open and reply to (these are likely more important than the ones you skip over). And as you use Gmail, it will get better at categorizing messages for you. You can help it get better by clicking the (+) or (-) buttons at the top of the inbox to correctly mark a conversation as important or not important. (You can even set up filters to always mark certain things important or unimportant, or rearrange and customize the three inbox sections.)

Neat, huh?  That last part there is the most promising.  Over time Priority Inbox gets better at predicting what messages are important to you.  The new feature will automatically sort your messages into these three folders: important and unread, starred, and everything else.  You have the option to customize and rename these folders if you like.  Priority Inbox is currently in beta and is being rolled out to all Gmail users over the course of this week.  Once you see the “New! Priority Inbox” link at the top right corner of your Gmail window, click it to give it a try.  The video embedded above will help explain this new Gmail feature to you in a brief animation.

[Via GoogleBlog]

Google integrates calling phones feature into Gmail

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on August 30th, 2010

If you have a Gmail account, you can now call your friends and family from it.  A new button labeled “Call phone” is now visible at the top of your chat list.  Click it and a dial pad pops up; you can dial a person by entering their phone number or contact name.  After some initial test runs, I am happy to report that calls sound nearly crystal clear on both ends (far better than on Skype).  If you have a Google Voice account, you can easily tweak settings so that you can both send and receive phone calls on your cell phone, too.  Read more about that here.  “For at least the rest of the year” calls made to the U.S. and Canada will remain free of charge.  International rates are fairly cheap; they start as low as .2 cents per minute.  You will be able to purchase additional credits through Google Checkout.  Check out the full list of international rates here.  Before you can start using the new “call phone” feature inside Gmail, you must download the free voice and video plugin for your browser if you haven’t done so already.  Once that’s completed, you’re all set!  Give it a try and remember that calls made within the U.S. and Canada are free…so what are you waiting for?

[Via GoogleBlog]

Google intros Voice Actions, Chrome to Phone; updates Gmail UI and contacts section, enables multiple account sign-in

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on August 15th, 2010

On Thursday Google introduced a new app for Android devices called Voice Actions.  “Voice Actions are a series of spoken commands that let you control your phone using your voice.”  Sounds simple and yet it is extremely helpful.  There are a total of twelve voice actions you can perform by speaking into the device’s mic.  Including the already implemented method of performing a Google search with your voice, other actions include:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]
  • set alarim for [time]
  • Here’s how a number of them work.  You can complete a text message or email without touching the (physical or on-screen) keyboard simply by saying “send text to Bill Will” or “send email to Bill Will” respectively.  The phone will take a second to understand your speech input and then present your message all ready for delivery.  Tapping send will shoot your message off.  Speak and send, it’s that simple.  Voice actions extend beyond text messaging and emailing.  Say there’s a restaurant you want to call to make reservations for dinner.  You know the name and location of the restaurant, but you don’t have the business’ phone number handy.  You could bring up the browser and find the number that way, but with voice actions you can more quickly and efficiently obtain and dial the restaurant’s number.  The voice action “Call Sarabeth’s in NYC” will prompt your device to quickly search the Internet (using Google Maps)  for the restaurant’s phone number by pinging the name and specific location.  Within seconds of your voice action you’ll hear your phone ringing the restaurant or place of business.  You can even use voice actions to find and listen to music.  When you say “Listen to The Decemberists” your phone will search across your music library and any number of related apps (Pandora, last.fm, etc.) to start playing music from that particular band.  “Note to self”, as cliche as it sounds, serves as another interesting voice action that’ll likely come in handy from time to time.

    Voice Actions require Android 2.2 (Froyo) and they are currently available for U.S. English speakers only.  Droid 2 owners will find the app preinstalled on their device.  If you have an Android 2.2 device, search ‘Voice Search’ in the Android Market to find the free download.

    Google also announced Chrome to Phone, a Chrome browser extention and Android app that communicate with each other to send browser-specific information from your desktop to your phone.  Once you have Chrome to Phone installed on your desktop and phone, you can send websites, directions, and phone numbers from your desktop Chrome browser to your Android device.  For example, say you’re catching up on national news at The New York Times website but you are interuppted and forced to leave home.  Simply tap the new phone icon located at the top right corner of your Chrome browser window and the website will appear on your Android phone.  Now let’s say you are planning a road trip using Google Maps in Chrome.  Instead of wasting paper by printing out the directions, now you can send the directions from your desktop to your phone.  The instant transfer will automatically open up the Google Maps app on your phone and you’re just a tap away from initiating a Google Maps Navigation route using the transferred location information.  One more example.  You want to make a reservation at Sarabeth’s in NYC and you found the restaurant’s phone number on your desktop.  Ready to make the call?  Highlight the phone number, tap the new phone button in Chrome, and the transfer will bring up your phone’s dialer prepopulated with the restaurant’s number.

    The Google Chrome to Phone Extention is available (in English only) to download today.  The free Chrome to Phone app requires Android 2.2 (Froyo) and can be found in the Android Market by searching ‘Chrome to Phone.’

    Look after the break to learn about Gmail’s latest updates.  There you’ll also find brief video demonstrations for Voice Actions and Chrome to Phone. (Click here for more…)

    Google Buzz is Twitter on steroids

    Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on February 10th, 2010

    Google’s latest foray into the social networking business has everyone atwitter; so what’s all the buzz about?  Google Buzz is a new way to share updates with friends.  It goes beyond the standard “status update” from Facebook and breaks free from a 140-character tweet from Twitter, allowing you to quickly and easily share content across the Internet.  Buzz is built into Gmail.  If you have a Gmail account you are already set up for the service; your current list of contacts and people you chat with the most automatically become your followers.  That last word strikes a familiar chord, doesn’t it?  Buzz is very similar to Twitter; you follow people, people follow you, you post updates, and so on.  What makes it different (and so much more expansive) is that there’s no character limit and the means of interaction with others is much more fluid.  It fosters greater interaction with the ability to share links, photos, and video.  YouTube videos can be embedded right into posts, along with pictures that can be viewed in full size and resolution.  Besides sharing your own information, you will be alerted about new posts from followers and their group of followers; Buzz recommends posts from people you’re not directly following to promote a growing community of new friends and acquaintances.  @-responses are supported, allowing you to specifically address a friend’s post.  You also have the option to connect Buzz to other accounts like Picasa, Flickr, Google Reader, and Twitter and spread your posts, pictures, and breaking news that way.  And don’t worry–you have the option to keep things private among friends or public with the Buzz community.

    Google Buzz should be fully integrated into everyone’s Gmail account by now.  You’ll notice a new small tab located under the Inbox tab labeled Buzz.  Now what if you’re away from the computer and still want to buzz about stuff?  Google’s created Buzz for mobile and it’s got some intruiging features.  What’s unique about posting on your phone is that Buzz uses location-based services to pinpoint exactly where you are when you post something, allowing your followers to find you on a map.  Tagged locations do away with long/lat numbers and display the actual names of places instead.  There are four ways to access Google Buzz on your cell phone.  (1) On an iPhone or Android phone go to buzz.google.com to access a Buzz web app; it has two views: “‘Following’ view shows buzz from the people you follow, just like Google Buzz in your Gmail; ‘Nearby’ view shows public buzz that has been tagged with a location near you, and might be from people you don’t follow. From Nearby view, you can also select a specific place from the list of nearby places and view posts attached to that place.”  (2) Buzz on Google Maps for mobile, available only on Android phones, adds a new Buzz layer to the Maps application and “allows you to see buzz near you or anywhere on the map. You can post public buzz directly from the layer, and even attach a photo from your phone.”  (3) Buzz Shortcut from Google.com allows any cell phone with a browser to access Buzz. (4) The Google Voice application, available on Android phones in the quick search widget and on iPhones in the Google Mobile App, “allows you to post buzz without typing anything. Just say ‘post buzz,’ followed by whatever you’d like to post.”

    Is Google Buzz going to be a success?  Will it catch on with the masses a la Facebook and Twitter?  Buzz surely has the potential to replace Twitter as a social networking tool.  At its core, Buzz is all about “start[ing] conversations about the things you find interesting” and it does it pretty well already.  I agree with Mashable when they say “if Google Wave is the future, Google Buzz is the present.”  The Google Wave beta made heads tilt in confusion, and Google thinks Buzz is an appropriate stepping stone to it.  Buzz goes beyond email and IM but it does not overstep its boundaries (aka the craziness that is Wave).  Thing is, Buzz does not feel like a transition service because it comes off as Twitter on steroids–something we’re used to, just beefier.  Buzz is already making noise; today Facebook and AOL have joined forces to allow IM users to chat with Facebook friends over the AIM client.  And Twitter should be scared, too; their 140-character limit and lack of expanding services may start to wear thin with Buzz lurking around the corner.  A potential issue for some may arise in the fact that Buzz requires Gmail sign up but to these naysayers I say so what?  Gmail is the best Internet email client out there anyway; now’s a better time than ever to jump on the bandwagon and join the Gmail community.  Because that’s what it’s becoming thanks to Buzz–one giant place to share the things you find interesting with others.

    Google Buzz in Gmail, for mobile, and the launch event can be found in video form after the break, you know, if you’re into that stuff.

    [Via GoogleBlog, here & here]

    (Click here for more…)