Email remains the linchpin of online communication, and while we heavily rely on everything from instant messaging to video chat in order to stay in touch with the people we need to in our lives, we always find ourselves turning back to tried-and-true email. Of course, even for something so utilitarian as email, there are still a million companies putting their own spin on it, and for so many Android users around the globe, Gmail is their email service of choice.
Over the years we've seen Gmail pick up a lot of new functionality — and when a service stays labeled as a “beta” for as long as Gmail did, we'd sure expect it to be undergoing plenty of active development. Google's given us an intelligent alternative to traditional Gmail in the form of Inbox (if that's to your taste), and most recently we've been hit with this whole new Gmail interface, complete with additional functionality, rolling out to users everywhere.
All of that's great — we love to have options for how we work with Gmail, and we love to see Google continue to add useful new features. But for all the service offers now, there are still a number of things that Gmail can't (or maybe more accurately, won't) do, doesn't do well, or forces users to turn to third-party solutions for. That's what brings us to this list, where we look at 10 features we'd love to see Gmail embrace.
Before we get started, our apologies for skipping your number-one must-have feature. Because let's face it: with email as widely used as it is, and with user habits dating back decades, everyone's going to have their idiosyncrasies for how they use email to get things done. Maybe you still employ Gmail as a to-do list, or email yourself files rather than saving them to Drive. And as a result, not all of us are going to care the same about different features. But as you browse these pet peeves, think to yourself about what would go on your own Gmail wish list, and maybe share some of your favorite ideas in the comments.
A better search interface
What was that great recipe your mom sent you last spring? It was for a pot roast, right? Or maybe lamb chops? But it definitely said “recipe” in the subject line … unless it didn't? Well, you know it was from last spring, at least.
Gmail's got some powerful search tools, letting you narrow down your archive of old mail to find the messages you're looking for. And while many of those work well, they're far from as easy to use as they could be.
Take the date-range search, for example. On the web interface, you can hit the drop-down arrow from your search bar to access a list of search fields, including one for the date. But here it's limited to searching through a time range (one week, one month) centered around a particular date. You can manually specify a different range by typing out “before:” and “after:” search operators, but these take a particular date format that you may not find intuitive: “before:2017-8-3” works but “before:8/3/2017” doesn't.
On Android it's even worse, and you don't even get that range-based option; all you can do is manually type in those “before:” and “after:” operators, struggling to get the formatting just right.
This is all sorts of ridiculous. What Gmail should do is give us a nice mini-calendar interface: click on one date to set the start of the search range, and one date to mark the end. Would that be so hard?
Really, what we need is a full-on overhaul to the search UI. The web interface is a start, but for the most advanced features you still need to manually type out search operators, which feels like how people were searching for emails 30 years ago. And the lack of any search UI on Android beyond a single text field is just embarrassing.
Deleting single messages from a thread
One of Gmail's most important features is its conversation view, grouping together a message and its responses all in one thread. Beyond just helping to reduce inbox clutter, it makes following a long conversation a trivial task.
But sometimes those conversations can get out of hand, and someone replies with a bunch of extraneous info that's just threatening to derail things. For those of us who really value order to our inbox, that's just something we can't have.
On the web, Gmail has you covered, and all you have to do is view the message you want to remove, hit the drop-down arrow on the right, and select “Delete this message.”
But on Android? No such luck. Single emails we can still delete, or you can take the scorched earth approach and delete a whole conversation at once, but there's no option to nuke individual messages that Gmail's displaying as part of a thread.
Working with filters
Here's another one where we we've got a lack of feature parity between Gmail on the web and the Android app on our phones. Gmail's ability to set up filters can be incredibly powerful, helping you manage the deluge of incoming messages by using rules that automatically perform pre-defined actions. Maybe emails from certain senders should pick up a specific label, or those with keywords in the subject line need to be forwarded to a colleague.
On the web, Gmail delivers an interface for both creating the filters that identify particular types of messages, and also choosing which actions should be applied to them.
While those filters continue to work their magic on all your messages, including those you view on the Gmail Android app, the app lacks any kind of system for creating, editing, or disabling these rules. That it works at all is better than nothing, but this still feels really odd from a company that's otherwise so very invested in giving users the tools they need to live mobile-first lives.
Gmail's bulk actions can be a great time-saver for users dealing with dozens upon dozens of new emails every day. You just select as many or as few as you want, and in one fell swoop you can delete them, move them, apply labels, or just mark as read. But for some reason, you can't forward them.
This isn't a feature we feel the itch to use everyday, but when the situation that calls for it presents itself (like bringing a new party up to speed on a number of separate email threads) it would be great if you could check off the pertinent ones, select “forward” from a menu, and send them all off to the recipient of your choice.
Obviously this sort of bulk sending wouldn't make a lot of sense for replies, but when we're talking about forwards, which are often shuttled off without any additional notes from the sender, there's little technical reason why Gmail shouldn't let you forward more than one email at a time.
Better controls for external accounts
A lot of us live our complete email lives within the confines of Gmail, but sometimes we need to step outside its walls and connect with an external email account. While Gmail makes it relatively easy to add an external account, when accessing it Gmail can prove to be a little too clever for its own good.
Once you add an external POP server, Gmail will automatically pull those messages and let you display them right alongside your regular Gmail content in your inbox. But if you're dealing with a lot of traffic coming through that way, you may start noticing a disconcerting amount of lag, where emails from that POP server can take the better part of forever to show up.
The problem here is that there's no way to set the frequency at which Gmail checks for messages on the external server. Maybe you'd prefer that Gmail check every five minutes, or every half-hour for less sensitive accounts, but instead Gmail sets its own pace based on the account's perceived level of activity. In theory, it should check often enough to match your usage patterns, but in our experience it still never seems to check fast enough.
Now, you can manually force Gmail to check external accounts, but it may be less obvious than it should be. You have to hit the “Refresh” button at the top of your inbox to do so. We know — seems straightforward. But how many of you have the habit of refreshing your inbox by instead clicking on the “Inbox” label to the left, or just hitting your browser's refresh button? While both of those may show new Gmail messages, neither will prompt Gmail to check your external accounts.
Maybe working with external servers is understandably not a high priority for Gmail, but it's proven so frustrating for so long that we'd love to see a change finally arrive.
If you fancy yourself a “creator,” you know just how important timing can be. You may have been working late to finish that new blog entry or sick video edit, but post them in the middle of the night and you could miss out on all those eyeballs making up your core audience. Just as scheduling those things out for a later, more opportune time can make a lot of sense, so can delaying your email.
Maybe you don't want to give your colleagues the impression that just because you can't sleep one night and are responding to emails at 1AM that this is a legitimate time to contact you with new, pressing issues — it's not, and you badly need your sleep. Or maybe you want to make sure that your response gets the attention it deserves by hitting the recipient's inbox when they're actively looking at it, rather than getting buried in a sea of messages they'll catch up with later. Whatever your reason for wanting to do so is, we'd really appreciate if Gmail gave us a way to schedule emails to go out later.
Admittedly, this is one of those features you can already take advantage of, but it requires the use of a third-party service like Boomerang. We just don't see any reason why it shouldn't be baked into Gmail itself.
Suffer from compulsive behavior? Have a bad habit of not proofreading? Whatever the reason, there's a certain type of Gmail user for whom the service's undo feature, letting you recall a seemingly-sent message, is an invaluable resource. On the web, you can set up the length of your undo buffer, letting you change your mind and cancel a sent email before it hits the recipient's inbox.
Unlike features you configure over the web but still work fine on Android (even if you can't change their options — like filter rules) this one is still very much web-only at the moment. Until Google gets around to changing that, better play it safe and draft your most potentially embarrassing emails in your browser. Well, that or the Inbox app.
Unhide the subject line
A lot of this list concerns things that don't work quite the way we'd like, or would be new functionality entirely. But for this entry we're turning back the clock and feeling nostalgic for the way Gmail used to work — but no longer does.
When forwarding or replying to a message, Gmail hides the subject line. A lot of the time, that's going to be just fine, but there are those of us who like to exercise a lot of control over the emails we send, and tweaking subject lines even when we're working with an existing message can be something of a compulsion. Maybe you're worried the recipient would gloss over a mail beginning with “FWD:” or you want to remove extraneous or personal details.
Regardless of why, changing the subject line with the Gmail web interface is no longer as straightforward as adding or removing recipients, instead forcing you to hit the “Type of response” button and choose “Edit subject” from its options.
Counter-intuitively, on Android the fully-editable subject line is displayed by default when replying or forwarding. If anything we'd think the situation would be reversed, and Google would be trying to conserve display real estate on more compact smartphone screens. Instead, Gmail's going out of its way to de-clutter its interface on only the largest screen you use.
All we ask is for a little check box to leave the subject line visible by default. Throw us a bone here, Google.
Emailing contact groups
Just as labels make it easy to sort and manage your inbox (especially with some automatic filters employed), you can also use labels in Google Contacts to organize the people you know. Maybe you set one up for family, one for friends, and one just for your kickball league.
Gmail can then take advantage of your penchant for organization by making it convenient to send out email blasts to a whole group at once. All you need to do is start typing the name of one of those labels in a message's “To:” field and Gmail will let you add the label's member contacts all at once.
In what's becoming a disappointing refrain for this wish list, this is once again a feature that works just fine in Gmail on the web, but Google somehow lost interest when it came to porting it to mobile. What's frustrating about this (and quite a few of these other missing features) is that it's not at all complicated or feels like it would require a Herculean effort; just add your list of custom labels to the data-bucket that contact suggestions draw from.
Sometimes it can feel like we're spending more time sending and responding to emails than doing anything else on our phones. And while Google does a decent job at making that experience as comfortable as possible with Gmail on Android, the app lacks the customization options that make the Gmail web interface slightly nicer to work with for hours on end.
Specifically, we're talking about Gmail's support for themes, letting users drape their workspace in a nice, relaxing nature photo, colorful solid-tone backdrop, or any custom option the user so chooses.
But on Android, Gmail looks how Gmail looks — take it or leave it. Now, we suppose there's a fair argument to be made that the combination of smaller screens and bigger text on mobile adds up to a situation that's less conducive to theming than the big, open white spaces of Gmail on the web, but we also think users could be trusted to show a little restraint, and choose theme options that don't detract from the interface's usability.
That's 10! Again, we're sure you've got your own issues with Gmail that you've been waiting years for Google to get around to fixing. This week's refresh gives us a small morsel of hope that some of those changes could still be coming. But considering how long some of these oversights have been sticking around — well, let's just say we're not holding our breath for solutions to start pouring in.