The New GMail for Android

The new GMail for Android UX sucks. I mean… it’s really awful.

They’ve replaced the checkboxes next to each message (useful) with sender images (gimmick), or, if there is no sender message (i.e., everything that’s not a G+ contact – so, every newsletter, receipt, order confirmation, etc. you’ll ever get), a big colorful first initial (completely useless waste of space). This image then acts as if it were the checkbox that used to be there (confusing) for selecting messages. You can turn off the images, but you don’t get the checkboxes back; you can only tap-hold to select multiple messages, though this isn’t mentioned anywhere, you just have to guess.

They’ve gotten rid of the delete button (why?), and moved it to the menu.

If you have no messages selected, pressing the device’s menu key gives you the menu. However, if you do have messages selected, the menu key does nothing, instead you must tap the menu button that appears at the top-right of the display. It’s not there if you don’t have messages selected.

Once you’re viewing a message, there are two menus: one when you tap the menu button, with 90% of the options in it, and another at the top-right gives you just two options, forward and reply-all; this almost makes sense, except that it uses the same, standard “here’s the menu” button that’s used on (some) other screens as the *only* available menu.

In the message view they’ve also gotten rid of the delete button (to match the annoyance of the message list, I supposed).

There is also a new “label settings” screen that’s fairly mysterious; I assume it applies to the current label, though this includes “Inbox”, which – while I understand it’s treated internally as a label – I think most users don’t think of as being a label in the typical sense.

Google Chrome

I downloaded and installed Google’s Chrome browser today, and I have to say, I’m impressed. It handles tabs better than FireFox 3 does. The UI is clean and intuitive, though no moreso than FireFox’s. It performs well, but not noticeably better or worse than FireFox 3. It has a desktop web app mode – exactly what Prism was supposed to be, only it actually works.

What I find particularly striking about Chrome’s interface is a kind of minimalism that one usually expects to see in mobile software. It makes me wonder if, like Apple bringing Safari to the iPhone, Google might be using the desktop as a proving ground for a browser destined for the Android mobile platform. Use it for a few minutes and tell me if you can’t picture using the same interface on a palm-top touch-screen.

It’s not all roses, however. Chrome is currently Windows-only, a big downside in my book, as I use my MacBook more often than the PC when it comes to web browsing. It doesn’t have all the options that FireFox does. It’s got some quirks – the “smart” address bar can be irritatingly overzealous, and the scroll wheel seems to scroll half a page at a time, with no way to change it. And, of course, all those lovely FireFox extensions I’ve gotten so used to having around aren’t going to work with Chrome. Still, it’s a solid alternative to IE, especially for the more casual web user. Web developers, however, are better off sticking with FireFox and it’s treasure trove of extensions.

Google Traffic Maps

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but some time in the last couple of days, Google finally added traffic information to Google Local/Google Maps. It’s not available everywhere, but it is available for the major freeways here in Atlanta, and many other US cities. Look for the stop-light icon on Google Maps.

More Googley Thoughts

I’m sitting here, right now, sending myself 7M of files on my Gmail account. Why? I left my thumbdrive at the office, I need to quickly port some files around, and I’ve got plenty of space available to do it. And it’s got me thinking.

Sure, there are hacks out there to let you use your Gmail as a mounted disk in Windows, but they still have to save the files as email messages with attachments, and that’s still a pain. Google needs to go ahead and start up some kind of Gdisk, letting you stash files online. Web interface, integration into Google Desktop and maybe a context menu option for Windows, and Samba/DAV support so you can mount it under Windows or Linux as a drive and use it that way. Give users direct access to their Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Picasa Web Albums, and Gmail attachments in subfolders. And, last but certainly not least, give each Google account a certain amount of space, and share that space between Gmail, D&S, and Picasa Web. It seems like that should be a relatively simple undertaking to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

Google – Make up your minds!

So, Google is on two separate and opposing rampages. On one hand, they’re talking about halting new releases to improve quality and integration, and (as mentioned in a previous post), even cutting their product count by a full 20%. On the other hand, they’re making acquisition after acquisition. It just doesn’t add up – do they want more products, or less? Are they bulking up or slimming down? I’m a rabid technophile, I read more tech news than most people read “real” news. So, which is it, Big G?

Anyone who’s read my blog knows I’m all for speculation, but this one has me stumped. I’d hate to see good in-house projects get dumped in favor of bringing in products from the outside – not so much because of the products themselves, but because of Google’s merger habits. You see, when they bring out a new in-house product, it’s, well, Googley. It’s got the familiar Google UI, and it typically has some level of integration with existing Google products – at the very least, it shares Google’s accounts system. But when they buy something up, well… how long have they had Blogger, and they’re just now integrating accounts into it? And that’s pretty much it. The UI is still the same dismal Blogger UI they’ve always had (and yes, I am using the “new” Blogger Beta), the Google logo is nowhere to be found, and integration is nearly non-existent. When they bought YouTube they stated they were keeping Google Video around, which indicates to me that they are planning on keeping the YouTube brand separate from Google for the foreseeable future.

With all their talk of wanting to scale down product count and focus on integration, they seem to be doing a lot of acquisition which works against both goals. It just doesn’t add up.

Google’s Internal Company Goals

As mentioned on Slashdot, Google Blogoscoped posted an article about Google’s internal goals, and it’s actually really interesting. It mentions some upcoming projects like a revamped Google News, Gmail 2.0, Google Archive Search, and “Another interesting feature foreshadowed in the Google papers was to grab relevant locations & dates from web pages allowing users to ‘view results on a timeline of map.'” I’m not entirely sure what the last one might look like, but it certainly sounds interesting.

What interested me the most about this post, however, was the note that Google intends to “Count total number of Google products and reduce by 20%.” When I first read this, I found it somewhat worrisome – I use a lot of Google products, and I’d hate to see a much-loved product hit the chopping block.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen – not that I don’t think they’ll reduce the product count by 20%, but that I don’t think that means many products will disappear. There are basically 3 ways they could remove a product from their product count:

  1. The obvious: dump the product entirely. I’m sure this will happen to some products.
  2. The unlikely: sell off products. I doubt if this will happen to any Google products; if they see fit to keep it online, they’ll keep it in-house as well.
  3. The sneaky: combine disparate products into a cohesive whole. E.g., Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools might become a single, combined entity.

Since they’ve already stated that they want to tighten up integration between their various products, I see #3 as being a highly viable option for them to use to reduce product count; it lets them kill two birds with one stone without actually having to “kill” a product.

At least, I hope they pick #3 if they’re looking at slimming down one of the many Google products I use on a daily basis.