In an attempt to aid you in the battle against email overload, Google has redesigned the Gmail inbox. Your email is automatically funneled into categories based on whether it's a message from a friend, a notification from a social network, a newsletter, a promotional email, a bill, and so on.
Wait! What exactly is happening to my Gmail inbox?
You will soon have the option — yes, Google is giving you a choice — to have your email sorted for you. The inbox will be split into up to five categories; you can choose to use some or all of the following:
- Primary: Messages from friends, family and other individuals you seem to contact regularly (as well messages which don't fit into the other categories).
- Social: Messages from social networks, dating services and so on. This is where you'll find the email telling you that someone commented on your Facebook status.
- Promotions: Offers, deals and the like go into this category. This is where you'll find things like a Best Buy reminder about an upcoming sale.
- Updates: This is where many of the boring but important things go. Think order confirmations, receipts, bills and statements.
- Forums: Messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists wind up in this category. It's where you'll discover that someone replied to your post on the secret Squirrel Fanclub forum.
These categories basically become tabs in your inbox, but you have the ability to move messages between categories or set filters in order to teach Gmail where you want certain things — just in case it gets something wrong.
How well does this work?
In about a week of use, I've found that the new Gmail inbox is fairly reliable. It takes a bit of blind faith to actually trust the sorting process, but once your initial reservations are out of the way, things work fairly well.
I set up some filters to guarantee that a couple of items will land in specific categories and I've also moved some messages between categories. I've never had to tell Gmail something twice though — it accommodated my sorting preferences after each adjustment.
The Gmail for Android and Gmail for iOS apps will get a fresh new look as well, thanks to the new inbox.
Will this make my life easier? Harder?
After my trial week, the new inbox seems to provide a better at-a-glance overview of my email pile than the old one did. I see all of my Primary mail, and I can see how many new messages are waiting behind the other four tabs. It's a lot easier to ignore stupid promotional emails, but then again, I decided to reroute certain items that were automatically dumped in the Updates tab, such as online order confirmations.
You may need to tweak your email workflow a little bit — you'll have to peek into your different tabs, at least every so often — and if you're already prone to sorting email using filters, you may have to tweak your settings, but not as much as you might fear. Overall, it's an improvement.
How do I get the new inbox?
Google is gradually rolling out the new Gmail inbox over the next few weeks. Just keep an eye on the little gear menu in Gmail and pick the "Configure Inbox" option once it appears in the settings.
Will I get it on my smartphone?
Yep! The Gmail for Android and Gmail for iOS apps will be receiving updates to enable the new inbox. They're available through Google Play and the Apple App Store, respectively.
Google is a bit quiet on what happens if you use Gmail on your phone's standard mail app, however. We hope to see incoming Gmail automatically sorted into corresponding folders.
What if I don't like this new inbox?
No worries! You can switch off all the categories and tabs at anytime in order to return to the "classic" Gmail inbox (or another one of the available inbox types, like the "Important" view).
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First published May 29 2013, 9:01 AM