Yesterday, Google released a long-anticipated sequel to their iOS Gmail app. It’s been over a year since the original app’s release, and for the past 6 months, Google has hunkered down to create the new app.
No doubt, you’ll hear about the new features: Multiple inboxes, predictive search, GCal/G+ integration, and infinite scrolling. And while all these features are essentials for the Gmail power user, the greatest improvement is far more intrinsic: It’s the feel. Launching Gmail 2.0 for the first time is like opening the windows of a stuffy house, airing things out during the first warm day in spring.
"Your email list is really a to-do list that others have made for you. It’s really important that it not feel overwhelming, that it feel like a nice place to inhabit," Jason Cornwell, lead designer for Gmail, tells me. "We spent a lot of time with typography to make it feel light and clean, and not like a burden."
The new, airier design was largely influenced by Google’s iOS Chrome app, which itself is based on the work of an internal, cross-functional iOS design team at Google. This team works on Google’s marquee programs for iOS, so while Google as a company may innovate from the bottom up, they’re beginning to develop a successful design language all their own. (Google has the same sorts of design teams for web and Android, too.)
"I think Google’s always been good at technical interaction design, making products that are very efficient. In the past year or so we’ve put a lot of effort on polish and beautification," Cornwell says. "We want apps to feel native to the platform they’re running on. If you design for the web, it should feel like it belongs on the web. If it’s on iOS, it should feel like iOS. But if we just design [Gmail] to look like an Apple app, we’ve sort of failed. We want it to have some personality that’s its own."
Gmail 2.0 runs on the iPhone, but it isn’t Apple. In fact, I think it looks and works better than Apple’s stale mail app. It makes liberal use of white space, feels responsive to your touch (the infinite scrolling inbox really helps here) and offers the instantaneous, deep archive searching we’ve come to expect from Google products. Even the little things—like the fact that threaded conversations now have avatars (to feel more personal and casual, like instant messaging) or a subtle new animation that takes you from page to page—add to an overall experience of joyfulness when checking your inbox.
That is until you realize, you really do have to answer that email you’ve been dreading.