Google Presents Gmail, Redesigned

Barry Levine,

Gmail is getting a makeover. On Tuesday, Google announced updates to its popular e-mail service, which will be rolled out to all users but can be optionally chosen now.

The changes include streamlined conversations, displays that adapt better to the screen size and type, new high-definition themes, and better navigation and search. A link in the bottom right of Gmail allows users to "switch to the new look."

'Clean, Simple and Intuitive'

In a video posted on the Web, Google Experience Designer Jason Cornwell said Gmail has been redesigned to make it as "clean, simple, and intuitive as possible." The visual design of the new Gmail has been compared by some observers to the company's redesign of Google Docs, with its more efficient look and its use of bright colors. Cornwell said that, "even if you do nothing" to use its new options, Gmail "adapts to you."

Conversation view has been redesigned so that it's easier to follow e-mail threads, with profile pictures accompanying the names of contacts in order to make it feel "more like a real conversation," Cornwell said.

For viewing Gmail on different kinds and sizes of displays, the spacing between elements will now automatically change for that screen. Users can also now manually change the density of spacing, via the Settings menu, to either Comfortable, Cozy or Compact.

Visual themes have been updated with a new set of images from iStockphoto, and the left navigation panel will keep labels and chat contacts always visible. Labels and chat areas can be resized to show more, or the chat area can be hidden entirely, via the Chats icon.

'Increasing Transparency'

The dropdown in the search box offers a new search panel, to speed up finding what one is looking for. The panel can also be used to create a new filter for search or for the inbox.

At the same time that Google announced the new Gmail interface elements and features, it also was unveiling what it described as "increasing transparency" about the ads it showed in Gmail, as well as in search. A "why these ads" link in both Gmail and search will provide an indication of reasons behind the specific ads shown.

Google's redesign, released after a couple of weeks of rumors, comes on the heels of some disruptions to the Gmail service for Google Apps, which were reported by users on Twitter and elsewhere throughout the day on Monday. The problems for some users involved an Error 718 message when trying to send e-mail or gain access to their account. Others reported pages that would not load.

The Google Dashboard, which updates status reports for the company's services, reported Monday afternoon that Gmail "has already been restored for some users, and we expect a resolution for all users in the near future."

The company now reports the problems have been resolved, but no explanation as to the cause has been offered.