GMail Updates: Google Voice and Priority Inbox

Google have been doing a lot of interesting things with everyone’s favourite free email service recently. GMail has been a bit stagnent for a long time up until recently. They started with a little refresh of the left navigation. They made contacts and tasks a bigger focus at the top of the page, while also adding a proper button for the compose new message function where before it was plain text. These updates were nice and probably long overdue, but they didn’t stop there.

The next new addition was the integration of Google Voice technology into gmail. You can make free US and Canada calls from within the email window, and you don’t need a Google Voice account. You do need one if you want to have a number that can be called from other phones, similar to Skype‘s online number, or if you want to call other countries. Since the product isn’t officially available outside the US and Canada yet it’s probably not recommended.

It’s not a new concept to call phones from the internet or even receiving calls from phones on your computer thanks to Skype and their pioneering efforts. However, this is the first time we’ve really seen an implementation of VOIP in a browser like this. It’s quite hard to get your head around the fact that you can do this now, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the future of internet based communication looks set to integrate tightly with landline phones and maybe even replace them in the longer term.

Shortly following the voice update, Google have turned their attention to revolutionising the humble inbox. Nothing has really changed in how email inboxes work for many years, essentially they’ve remained unchanged since email began almost. Google have now launched Priority Inbox, a new view in GMail which is optional. What it does is group email into defined groups in the same inbox view. Important messages appear at the top. Starred messages in the middle and everything else underneath. You can modify the groups to work to your preferences, but those are the default settings, and they work well.

After you’ve set up priority inbox to your specific tastes, you then just use your email as normal. Gmail will learn from how you interact with your mail which is important and which isn’t, and you can give it a helping hand by manually tagging messages as important or¬†unimportant. Hopefully it will end up successfully sorting important mail from newsletters and other throwaway messages to give the greatest effect. It’s definitely a nice improvement to Gmail and I would suggest all users go and update their accounts straight away. There should be a link in red in the top right of the screen, you can then watch an intro video and get started.