Google re-positions Gmail as collaboration hub for video, chat and doc access

A revamped Gmail could bolster interest in G Suite as it looks to take on rivals like Microsoft, Slack and others.

gmail minimalist interface productivity
Google/JR Raphael/IDG

Google has unveiled a revamped Gmail that will serve as a hub for collaboration with access to video, chat and shared files available directly from the email client. It’s a move designed to bring Google into closer competition with Microsoft Teams, according to one analyst, as well boosting its position against newcomers.

Google has moved in recent months to integrate its various G Suite apps with Gmail, with its Meet video and Chat team messaging applications gradually being melded with the email client. Indeed, despite expectations in some quarters that team chat will kill email, Google has long seen Gmail as the natural home for collaboration in its portfolio.

A new Gmail app unveiled at the company’s Cloud Next event on Wednesday underscored Google’s intention to connect its various tools even more tightly.

Part of the changes to Gmail include an updated mobile app with quick access to Mail, Chat, Rooms and Meet functionality via four buttons on the bottom menu bar. Rooms, similar to a Slack channel, will allow users to jump straight into a group chat, for example.

Google Rooms Google

The Rooms feature will allow users to jump straight into a group chat.

Google also wants to make it easier to switch between apps in the browser-based version of Gmail, with the ability to jump from a text chat to a video call, for instance, or shift a conversation from email to a chat room. The aim is to reduce distractions, allowing conversations to take place in the most appropriate channel, whether it be chat for real-time conversations, face-to-face video, or email for asynchronous messaging. 

The company has also focused on productivity, with the introduction of “side-by-side” document editing that lets team members work together on a document within Gmail. Access to Google Docs and Sheets from within a single app echoes Microsoft’s focus with Teams, which acts as a portal to its Office apps. It’s also possible to schedule tasks that can be assigned to teammates.

Other features announced Wednesday include:

  • Expanded Gmail search to cover Chat conversations, making it easier to locate information on a specific project, regardless of whether it is held in email or a group chat.
  • Do not disturb and out-of-office warnings that can be set up across the various apps, while suggestions and nudges will help to prioritize information.
  • New features still in the works, including the ability to jump straight into a video meeting from a shared document with picture-in-picture video.

The new Gmail is currently available as a preview, with Google to expand access to G Suite customers in the coming weeks.

Gmail search Google

Expanded Gmail search will cover Chat conversations, making it easier to locate information on a specific project.

Placing Gmail as the focal point of its collaboration strategy allows Google to play to its strengths as it competes with other collaboration vendors offering a suite of apps, said Raul Castanon, senior analyst at 451 Research/S&P Global Market Intelligence.

“It’s fair to say that Google is a bit late to the party, given that UCaaS vendors like Cisco, RingCentral, Fuze and Microsoft have been fighting the ‘best of breed’ vs integrated battle for a while,” he said, referring to unified communications as a service. “However, this latest update, which places Gmail as the central hub for productivity within G Suite, not only closes the gap but actually puts G Suite one step ahead.

“The mantra for productivity and collaboration has been to ‘kill email’ for several years, yet it remains the top productivity app in the workplace,” Castanon said.

Tighter integration between the G Suite apps, he said, “enhances the value” of Google’s chat and conferencing solutions, which helps as it competes with vendors offering point solutions for individual apps like chat and video.

“This should help strengthen its position against players such as Slack and Zoom, which have dominated the ‘best of breed’ conversation in those two areas, while at the same time moving into providing comprehensive productivity and collaboration technologies.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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