Google has been experimenting with the Gmail interface for some time, with the “Priority Inbox” and “Important First” views available alongside the familiar old list view. Now Gmail is going old school, introducing a new “preview pane” layout reminiscent of desktop e-mail clients like Thunderbird, Outlook or Apple Mail. The new option will also look familiar to those using Gmail on the iPad.
To try out the new preview pane, head to Gmail Labs and enable the aptly named Preview Pane feature. Reload Gmail and you’ll see the new widescreen version of the preview pane. To see the more traditional horizontally-split pane just click the toggle button in the upper right-hand corner of the mail view (which also has an option for no split when you want to turn off the preview pane).
When you’re reading your email in the new preview pane view, there’s a three-second delay before previewed messages are marked as read. You can adjust that timing on Gmail’s settings page.
While Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and just about every other web-based email interface have long offered a three pane view, Gmail has stubbornly resisted. For those that have been waiting for Gmail to at least acknowledge something beyond a list view of messages, well, your day has finally arrived.
Gmail users can now drag e-mail attachments out of the browser window and drop them onto the desktop — if they’re using Google Chrome.
Back in April, Gmail added the ability to drag attachments from the desktop onto open e-mails in the browser. This feature works on most modern browsers, like Firefox and Safari. Now, the same feature works in reverse, so you can grab an attachment and just drag it to the desktop without having to click the “Download” link.
Browser-specific features are considered by some to be a no-no in the world of open web development. Some developers feel that new web features should work in all browsers equally to create a unified user experience. But there is an argument to be made that developers should be encouraged to innovate wherever they can as often as they can. It’s a way to accelerate the growth of web apps and to nudge other browser vendors into adopting new features. Besides, the standards upon which these new capabilities are based — HTML5 and its related technologies — are moving targets that are still being drafted, and if developers were to wait for all browsers to adopt all aspects of an unfinished standard, they wouldn’t be able to freely experiment new features.
Gmail continues to roll out new features steadily, and has become an exemplar of the iterative model for web app development. New features appear every few weeks, sometimes in one or two browsers at a time. The mobile version of Gmail is also being updated frequently to take advantage of new capabilities in the Android and Mobile Safari browsers as well as the iPad’s larger screen size.
The new drag-and-drop feature in Gmail was made available Wednesday for Chrome users. When you open an e-mail and hover over the attachment, you’ll see a little tooltip that says “Click to view OR drag to your desktop to save.” If you drag it to your desktop, the file appears on your desktop. If you click the link, it gets dumped into whatever you’ve chosen as your standard downloads folder.
It also works with Gmail’s auto-archive feature — if somebody sends you a bunch of photos, Gmail gives you the option of downloading all of them as a single Zip archive. You can drag that “Download all” link to the desktop and Gmail will Zip everything for you on the fly.
Google has updated its mobile Gmail interface for iPad users. The company announced the update Monday on the official Google Mobile blog. To see the updated interface, just surf to Gmail using Safari on your iPad.
Gone is the split-screen interface for composing e-mails. Now, you get a tasteful, lightboxed modal overlay — fewer distractions, cleaner and more room for the text of your e-mail. A screenshot is above. The changes will only show up for iPad users, and the new site (for now) is only available to English-language users.
It’s not a major update, but it demonstrates a new way of developing the web app that allows Google to respond more quickly to user feedback. Google switched the product over to a more easily-iterative HTML5 codebase last year. The mobile Gmail site gets updated more frequently — usually just small stuff here and there — and is becoming faster and more usable all the time.
On my own iPhone, I switched from the native Apple mail app to Gmail’s mobile web interface long ago, and I’ve never gone back. I still use the native mail app to send e-mails when I have to (from Twitter or Instapaper, for instance) but for everything else, I use the Gmail web app in Safari. In the early days, it was fairly painful, but it’s gotten much faster and much more usable since Google switched to the current iterative approach. The floating control bar, the swipe-to-archive gesture, the menu navigation and the way threaded conversations expand and contract are elegant, innovative enhancements that all web app developers can learn from.
What do you use for mobile e-mail? Native or web app? Let us know and tell us why you chose that route in the comments.
Google continues to use HTML5 to push its web apps into the future. The latest bit of HTML5 to feel Google’s love is drag-and-drop support, which is now a standard part of Gmail. If you’re using Google Chrome 4 or Firefox 3.6, you can now simply drag a file from your desktop onto a message window and Gmail will automatically attach the file.
The new feature solves one of the most common complaints from web app users — why can’t I just drag and drop files like I do everywhere else? Well, thanks to the new APIs in HTML5, you can.
We’ve seen a few implementations of HTML5′s drag-and-drop features, including on Google’s own Wave, but Gmail, which has over 140 million users, is by far the most popular web app to embrace the new features. Part of the reason for the slow uptake of drag-and-drop support might well be some of the difficulties developers have had in supporting the feature — differences between browsers make drag-and-drop one of the most complex HTML5 features to implement.
Hopefully, with Gmail leading the way, drag-and-drop for uploading files will become more common since it is, as your less tech-savvy friends have no doubt pointed out, the way things should have been from the beginning of the web app era.
Gmail’s drag-and-drop support has skipped the usual Gmail Labs trial period and gone straight to standard feature (the feature is also already available for Google Apps for your Domain users).
To see drag-and-drop in action, just grab a file off your desktop and drag it into a Gmail compose window. The area above your message, where attachments are shown, will change to say “Drop files here.” Drop the file in the target area and it will automatically be uploaded and attached to your message.
For now, the new features are limited to Firefox 3.6 and the latest version of Chrome, but Google says it’s working on support for other browsers. However, that’s an odd thing for the company to say given that the only real way to use HTML5 drag-and-drop is if the browsers themselves have added support (again Internet Explorer 8 is left behind since it doesn’t support drag-and-drop — unless you’re running Google Chrome Frame).
Curiously, Safari 4 supports the HTML5 drag-and-drop API, but for now, the feature won’t work in Gmail if you’re using Safari.
Google has announced OAuth support for Gmail. The new features means that third-party applications can now access your Gmail account without needing your username and password.
OAuth allows outside applications to access your Gmail account with a single click — you’ll be redirected to Gmail where you can approve (or reject) applications that want access to your contacts and mail. Twitter has had OAuth support for a while, so if you’ve ever given a third-party website or application the permission to post something to your tweet stream, you’ve used this type of interaction before.
At the moment OAuth support is a Google Labs feature. Interested developers can get an overview of the process on the Google Labs site.
The most obvious benefit is social networking sites which often want to import your address book so you can find your friends on the new site. Previously, that meant handing over your username and password, something savvy users were loath to do. Now, outside sites can grab your address data without forcing you to give away the keys to your e-mail account.
Perhaps more important in the long-run, OAuth support also means that outside applications can interact with your mail. For the launch of OAuth support, Syphir has developed an iphone application that allows you to apply complex filters to your mail and use those filters to push, for example, only messages from your boss, on to your iPhone.
Unlike other push notification and Gmail apps in the iTunes Store, Syphir’s SmartPush never sees or stores your Gmail password thanks to the new OAuth support.
Other examples include Backupify, which will backup your Gmail account for safe, off-Google storage. Previously Backupify used traditional IMAP, which meant the site stored your username and password. Thanks to OAuth that’s no longer necessary.
Although OAuth is intended for webapps, it’s possible that desktop e-mail clients — like Mozilla’s Thunderbird — may also adopt the OAuth method.