I'm A Product Guy.

Good, bad, great, all products can be better.

If you’re like me, you slightly obsess over every product you come across and are either impressed and inspired by an amazing experience or deeply disappointed by a total miss.  I can’t keep this ecstasy or misery to myself so there’s usually some rant which follows.

Filtering by Tag: gmail

Mobile Gmail + Calendar

For mobile, Gmail is great; and without much fanfare, Google Calendar get’s the job done.  However, the two together are, meh.

Happy new year!  If you’re like me, the end of the year speeds up to a blur of emails coordinating holidays, dinners, parties, even holiday dinner parties and the calendar, packed with reminders and lists, is as bloated as I feel from the holiday sweets and treats.

I could have used some help sorting myself out, but the deluge was too much for Gmail and Google Calendar, which were not working well together on mobile.    

 

Let’s start with an introduction: Gmail, meet Google Calendar.   I know, you’re probably thinking “Dude, Gmail is totally integrated with Google Calendar.”  (Not that you talk like that.)   

Sure, Gmail for desktop browsers is somewhat integrated with Google Calendar, which BTW continues to be the unsexy, utility player in the Google productivity suite.  The issue is with mobile, on my phone it’s like they never met.    

THE GOOD.

Calendar Invites in Gmail  
Calendar invites clearly stand out - even better than traditional desktop email software clients like Microsoft Outlook - and this is even better with Google Inbox, but you know how I feel about that.  Calendar specific attributes like who, what, where, and when are all given first class treatment.  Furthermore, the Inbox list view, even includes a crisp calendar icon with the actual day, so events stand apart from other email messages.  

Mobile Gmail Calendar Invite, Looks Good.

Mobile Gmail Calendar Invite, Looks Good.

The design is clean, bold, and free of non-essentials.   

THE OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT.

So why focus on Gmail + Google Calendar?  The inadequacy is creating Google Calendar items from Gmail;  and I can’t ignore the potential for greatness and missed opportunities.  I present two examples:  

Create a Google Calendar Event from Gmail

I get it, as a product guy, I understand that users often don't know the full story and functionality, seemingly straightforward, is not.  But come on!  this already exists on Gmail for desktop browsers, just add it to mobile.  

Create Event Imagined In A Google Inbox Email Message

Create Event Imagined In A Google Inbox Email Message

BTW, in Microsoft Outlook this is drag & drop, email into calendar, to pop open an event with the email text embedded in the body; while clunky, it works.  Come on Gmail, even Microsoft is showing you up here.

Quick Add to Calendar

It may be a minor comfort, but where are the smart “Add to Calendar” links, we know and love?  If you’re not yet smitten, Gmail recognizes dates and provides a sweet time saver for creating an event and can even look back to associate a time with a nearby date.  

Gmail Desktop "Add to Calendar" not available in Mobile

Gmail Desktop "Add to Calendar" not available in Mobile

Where is this for mobile?  I can even check into my flights, which is awesome!  but I can’t simply add this to my calendar and wouldn’t it be great to send reminders to friends, perhaps those I’m visiting?  These are Calendar + Email basics, just say’n.   

The fix for mobile: Replace the mouse over with a one-tap to reveal the “Add to Calendar” menu, the rest would behave the same as Gmail for desktop.

As an example, let’s say we’re planning a ski trip to Tahoe.  

  • We’ll volley a few emails back and forth to agree on dates

  • Start a list of things with assignment so we all don’t bring just marshmallows, leaving us a few bars of chocolate and graham crackers short of s'mores  

  • Once we have agreed on when, who, and what we’re bringing, I should be able to select the “Add to Calendar” line around the dates and create a calendar invite to everyone on the DL (with a final chance to edit before sending)

Once again, this is not rocket-surgery.

Mobile Gmail Imagined With "Add to Calendar"

Mobile Gmail Imagined With "Add to Calendar"

THE FUTURE.

With the recent Gmail upgrade automatically adding Reservation Confirmations to Calendar, the future is almost here.  While close, I still can’t add all other emails (not of a specific reservation confirmation format) to my calendar.  And there’s no mobile answer for the “Add to Calendar” underline to create a calendar event from the enclosed email.   And, eh hem, can we all just accept Google Inbox as the new Gmail and move on.

THE BOTTOM LINE.

Gmail + Google Calendar on desktop browsers is good and showing more promise with recent updates, and the recent addition of Google Inbox, the future is bright!   On the other hand, Gmail + Google Calendar integration on mobile leaves much to be desired; and not exactly “mobile first.”  So in the meantime, I still have a strong excuse for missing the occasional appointment that never made it from email to my calendar.  

Mobile Inbox Love from Google

Inbox from Google, you had me at “Sweep.”  Seriously, this is the biggest thing in email since the attachment.  And it’s been a long time coming.  

Taronga Zoo, SYD

Taronga Zoo, SYD

Recently my wife and I flew SFO>SYD to extend summer on some of Australia’s incredible beaches and my invitation to try out Google Inbox arrived just in time.  

First I noticed the slick and super helpful flight confirmations, with key details parsed for quick reference on mobile devices - even including an image for my arrival city, Sydney.   It’s like the Gmail team crafted a personal response to my September Blog, yeah right, whatevs.  

Mostly, I read email on my iPhone 6, so let’s keep the conversation there, but this should apply to Inbox on android devices and desktop apps as well.

THE GOOD.

Sweep.

I’ve been a happy Gmail user since inception, 2004-ish, but lately the clutter has gotten out of hand - for real!  I was losing the fight against over communication; but now I just sweep it all away.  It’s serene, I’ll explain.  

SWEEP.png

The Google Now “brain” powering Inbox automagically finds low priority emails; which I review and quickly jettison away.  Why does this solution work?  it’s much easier to scan a presorted group of emails than hunt and peck through a mixed list of spam, important, and low priority emails.  I mean, I’d like to think I’ll get to these; but in the meantime, just want them out of the way.  Want to live on the edge?  hit the sweep button without reviewing the emails; it’s a total rush!  

Snooze.   

Two thirds of my email is forgettable cruft that can be swept away.  This leaves important emails which demand immediate attention and others which can be dealt with later.  For the latter, Google Inbox offers a big snooze bar - a means to postpone review to a future time... and place.  So let’s say you’re planning to stop at the grocery store on your way home from the office and wifie emails you a few things to pick up - snooze to “Whole Foods” - when you arrive the email will pop to the top, got it.

Bundle.  

Tags and Folders were great for filing away emails, but if you have anything close to my 68 Gmail labels, what was once helpful is now an OCD relapse waiting to happen.  Bundling takes similar logic behind Sweep and uses it to group emails, with pre-existing ones displayed for Travel, Finance, Purchases, and Low Priority and others bundles for Social, Promos, Updates and Forums available to be turned on from Settings (gear icon).   

Similar emails are grouped and can be reviewed in kind.

Parsed Emails With Rich Media

Google Inbox earns style points with the treatment of flight, hotel, calendar invite confirmation emails, which are all parsed and presented so important details stand out - an enabling crutch for those of us whom skim most emails (don’t judge).

SYD.png

When traveling, I rely on my mobile phone for all travel confirmations and on my recent trip to Sydney easily found these emails and could access most important details from the Inbox, list view.  Furthermore, videos and pics are displayed using a clean ribbon which can be flicked left and right to see more.        

THE OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT.

While Google Inbox is an awesome start to rethinking email; there’s opportunity to build on this while addressing a few important misses; all of which I’m sure the team is grooming in their backlog.

Add Delete To Messages

What is the Gmail team’s deal with the Delete button?!  seriously,  it’s slightly awkward how obsessed they are about it.  It’s like their personal crusade to save all of the unwanted email in the world.  I’m not going to get into specifics, but sometimes you just need to delete an email - use your imagination.  The “delete” trash can icon is present, but buried, and so should be added to the top - next to the “close” X and away from the priority icons on the right. 

rubbish_icon

Add Confirmations To Google Calendar

While the calendar invites look great there’s an opportunity to take this further.  If dates can be parsed from confirmations like Opentable reservations and flights they can be used to create Google Calendar events.  For example my Sydney trip flight confirmations from United Airlines should have created Google Calendar events.  A great opportunity for appless functionality, quietly working in the background without me getting in the way.  

Other Nits and Gnats

Can’t Edit Replies/Forwards: In the mobile version, the original email content of Replies/Forwards can’t be edited.  This functionality does exist in the desktop browser version; not exactly mobile first.   

Message Time: It’s helpful to see the message time, before opening the email.  Email delivery time is missing from the inbox list view, this should be added with thin, light grey font to the top right-hand side of the email message in list view - if you ask me.  

OVERALL

For years the zero inbox policy was my unicorn with wings.  I’m proud to say that after just a few weeks, I’ve attained that which had escaped me for years; and my Inbox count is currently a goose egg.  

The Gmail and Google Now teams have done good work.  Is it ready for primetime?  Yes.  Is there room for improvement?  Always.

Google Inbox has set the new standard for all email applications.  Aside from a few minor nits, the first version of Google Inbox is both ambitious and impressive.  If you haven’t yet requested an invite, I suggest you do so.  If you must, keep Gmail, Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook (I hope not) going while you get acquainted with Google Inbox, but if like me you’ll soon forget them as you cruise through your email and wonder what to do with all of your newfound free time.  


 

Update                                    8DEC 2014

My Christmas wish came early.   A week after starting this blog entry and a day after posting it I received a notice in Google Calendar that reservations for flights, restaurants, and other standard email confirmations will automatically be added to my calendar.  

Ask and you will receive.   Gmail confirmation emails now automatically display in Google Calendar.  

Ask and you will receive.   Gmail confirmation emails now automatically display in Google Calendar.  

While Google Inbox and Gmail are separate, this is officially a Gmail announcement.  However, this is a backend upgrade so it benefits both services.  

Wish granted.