The app updates hit quickly yesterday as about a dozen Google apps were given new versions. Among them, Gmail made an incremental bump to v5.6. There aren't any new features to speak of, but a look inside the apk gave up the goods on a couple of interesting additions we can look forward to in the future. Users will soon have the option to send email with richly formatted text. On top of that, there are signs that we'll soon have deep calendar integration, which should make for smarter and more intuitive auto-suggest results.
Rich Text Formatting
Humans aren't very good at reading walls of raw text with no styling or formatting. At the very least, we need paragraphs, punctuation, and capitalization to give our eyes a clear cue about what we're reading. Sometimes we need more ways to structure our writing. Gmail's web interface offers some fairly extensive text styling options like fonts, sizes, the basic modifiers (i.e. bold, italic, and underline), and colors. There is even support for structural features like text alignment, lists, indents, and quotes. Strangely, the same functions aren't available on mobile. Not yet.
The latest Gmail includes pretty obvious evidence that things are about to change in the formatting department. A subset of the web options are described in a set of new strings. How small of a subset? For now, it's really just colors and the text modifiers, but there is no reason the structural controls can't be added in the future for things like lists and alignment.
Here is the list of modifiers that will definitely be available.
- Strikethrough (oddly, this isn't even on the web interface)
- Colors (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Gray, and Black)
- There's also a button to clear all formatting
<string name="rte_toolbar_button_foreground_color">Text color</string>
<string name="rte_toolbar_button_clear_formatting">Clear formatting</string>
<string name="rte_swatch_button_close">Close text colors</string>
<string name="rte_accessibility_showing_text_formatting">Showing text formatting</string>
<string name="rte_accessibility_close_text_formatting">Close text formatting</string>
<string name="rte_accessibility_showing_text_colors">Showing text colors</string>
<string name="rte_accessibility_close_text_colors">Close text colors</string>
<string name="rte_accessibility_formatting_cleared">Formatting cleared</string>
Since the elements are already there to be seen, I can also say that the formatting interface will be accessible from the overflow menu on the Compose screen. It should also be available for replies, as well. If there is space in the action bar, it may also appear as an icon there. The action is named "Format text" and will have the letter 'F' assigned as a shortcut key if you're using a physical keyboard.
<string name="toggle_text_formatting">Format text</string>
<item android:icon="@drawable/quantum_ic_text_format_white_24" android:id="@id/text_formatting" android:visible="false" android:title="@string/toggle_text_formatting" android:alphabeticShortcut="@string/trigger_formatting_char" app:showAsAction="always" />
Considering the web interface for Inbox just gained text formatting a couple of weeks ago, it's probably safe to assume the Inbox app will receive the same treatment very soon.
Finally, just because they are readily available, here are the icons. It looks like many of them aren't on a matching scale, which seems like a pretty good sign we'll have to wait for at least one more update to Gmail before rich text editing goes live.
Most people who have worked in an office will consider their email and calendar to be nearly inseparable tools. Strangely, Android has never had any real integration between the two, at least not on mobile. Now it looks like that's about to change.
The evidence is a bit light, and there's not really anything specific that can be made of it, but it's unmistakable that some integration is coming. There are two elements to this, starting with a new permission called com.google.android.calendar.permission.READ_OOBE. It's a "signature" level permission, which means the only apps that are allowed to use it must share the same signature as the app that creates the permission. In this case, that's Google. A look at the code tells me it definitely has access to at least the auto-generated calendar with your friends' birthdays, and I suspect it can read the rest of your calendars, as well.
The remaining evidence is made up of four empty strings – they have names, but no text. The names leave no mystery about the purpose of each string, they are labels for actions surrounding Google Calendar. Two of them are centered around getting and opening the app, depending on whether it's already installed, and the other two are linked to showing items from an agenda.
<string name="icr_show_agenda" />
<string name="icr_agenda_settings" />
<string name="open_google_calendar" />
<string name="get_google_calendar" />
How data from calendars will be used isn't clear, but it's likely to focus on streamlining basic tasks in Gmail. This can include fine-tuning automatic suggestions in the To field for email or popping up data about scheduled events that may conflict with a detected event in an email. It's too early to make any big assumptions, but we'll probably have more to see in some future updates. We'll keep our eyes peeled.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.
File Name: com.google.android.gm-5.6.102685581.release-56008676-minAPI14.apk
Version: 5.6.102685581.release (56008676)