Have you turned into one of Pavlov's dogs? The second your smartphone screen lights up, you reach for the phone to see what's new, regardless of who's sitting across from you. And frequently, it's just another message about an online sale or a new Twitter follower. Gmail now offers a partial solution.
Google's Gmail update for smartphones can help reduce these intrusions, but it's a little tricky to set up. Further, it just doesn't go far enough — especially in the iOS version.
You must start from your computer. The new inbox revolves around email categories, and Google has already set up the sorting process for you, but you'll have to activate it. By default, all of your emails are in the Primary group, but when you select additional categories, those types of emails will be moved out of your Primary inbox. Each category will show up as a tab on both your desktop and your phone app.
Here's how to set it up:
On your computer
From Gmail desktop, click on the gear icon and select Configure inbox. When you choose additional categories such as social, promotions, updates and forums, Google will automatically send your emails to the appropriate inbox. You don't have to select all of the categories — if you don't use forums that send announcements, don't check that box.
You won't be flying blind as you make your selections. Google has populated each category with the names of email senders you're already getting in your inbox. Hover over a category to see examples of existing email that would fall into it. For instance, Social could include notifications from Facebook and Twitter , as well as alerts from Match.com.
Back to your phone
The same categories you activated on your desktop will appear in Gmail on your phone — as long as you've updated to the latest version. You'll see only your Primary mail when you open the app. To access the other categories, tap the three-bar icon in the upper-left corner of either the Android or iPhone app.
Alerts are limited in the iPhone version. By default, you'll only see a notification on your phone when a primary email arrives. In the app settings, you can opt to receive notifications for all incoming mail or choose to eliminate alerts altogether. You have greater control in the Android version. Tap the three dots in the upper righ-hand corner of the app, then select Settings and finally Manage Labels near the bottom of the screen. Here you can configure alerts for each of the new category inboxes.
Because the Primary category is really a catch-all for any messages that don't fit in the other categories, primary may not mean important. We'd like to see Google add a VIP or similar repository for emails that are really worth interrupting a face-to-face conversation for, which could be based on Gmail's "important" tag that shows as a yellow arrow next to the email listing.
Similarly, notification choices could also be expanded in the iOS version. Say you're waiting for a response from a Match.com contact, it would be helpful to be able to turn on alerts for incoming Social mail without seeing alerts for the other mail categories.
If you decide you don't like the new tabbed-style inbox categories, you can restore the old version. On your desktop, go to Settings under the gear icon and select the Inbox tab. Open the dropdown box next to Inbox type to return to Priority Inbox. The change will immediately take effect on your phone.