Google slips a sneak peak at Gmail redesign

Changes could be getting email service ready for eventual integration with Google+

Google seems to have accidentally given users a preview of an upcoming Gmail redesign.

Analysts say the changes could be part of a move to get the email service ready to be integrated with Google+.

On Thursday, the company posted a video announcement on its YouTube channel, touting the new features added to Google's popular, free email service. However, the video was quickly pulled, but not before a few people copied and reposted it.

"We've been hard at work to update Gmail with a new look," said Jason Cornwell, a Google user interface designer, in the video. "We've completely redesigned the look and feel of Gmail to make it as clean, simple and intuitive as possible."

Google hasn't said when the redesign will be launched. "Oops, you weren't supposed to see that," said Andrea Freund, a spokeswoman for Google, in an email to Computerworld. "Stay tuned. We'll be sharing more info on Gmail's new look soon."

In the video, Cornwell describes the added ability for users to customize several aspects of their Gmail experience, including the size of the chat area, how densely conversations are stacked, and Gmail search. Google also has added imagery and profile pictures for chat sessions.

Since Gmail is arguably the centerpiece of Google Apps, it's cloud-based suite of office applications, it could be that Google is getting its email service ready to be integrated with Google+.

"I think email usage has peaked and people will use social media more -- Twitter, Facebook messages, Google+," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research. "So for Google, if they can customize [Gmail] and make it more modular, it makes taking portions of Gmail and moving [them] to Google+ easier."

This week, Vic Gundotra, a Google engineering senior vice president, told an audience at the Web 2.0 Summit that Google+, the company's new social network, soon will be integrated with Google Apps.

And earlier this month, Google CEO Larry Page said he will use Google+ to transform the whole company.

Kerravala said he thinks Google is getting ready to integrate its email service with its social networking service.

"With Facebook, you just pop in and out of it," he added. "If they integrate Google+ and Gmail, then Google becomes the place to go to start your day, and you stay in it all day."

In July, Google began to roll out other redesign changes to Gmail. In that design update, Cornwell said the overhaul was part of a "Google-wide effort" to give all of its services a consistent look.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said in a previous interview that linking its services and giving them a unified look is a smart move for Google.

"A consistent look is essential for branding," he said this summer. "People should know they're on a Google property. Even someone glancing at someone else's screen should know they're on a Google property. It may be that Google+ was just the first view of the new look."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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