Google on Wednesday announced a major redesign for Gmail, aiming to expand the app beyond an email service and into a hub for planning projects and chatting with co-workers. The update brings Gmail in more direct competition with other productivity apps from rivals including Slack and Microsoft, which has a product called Teams.
The idea is to bring Google's separate services, like Google Docs, Drive and Calendar, all to one place. The new design shows four tabs at the bottom of a user's screen: Mail, Chat, Meet for video calling, and Rooms.
The newest feature, Rooms, is similar to Slack rooms, which lets people on the same team at work collaborate in real time. In Google's version, people can chat, swap files and edit Google Docs without switching tabs.
"There's the task of bringing them together, and the task of making them greater than the sum of their parts," Javier Soltero, head of Google's GSuite division for productivity apps, said in an interview Wednesday.
The redesign comes as businesses around the world shift to remote work in the face of the. Companies have closed their offices and have depended on productivity software to keep their workers connected.
Social distancing has been a boon to Google products, too. In April, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said usage of Meet had surged. He said the service was adding 3 million new users a day during the pandemic, up from 2 million new users a day a few weeks earlier. Pichai said the service has 100 million meeting participants a day. Google also added a Meet button to Gmail in April, and the redesign makes the integration even more prominent.
Critics of Google, though, may be wary of the search giant using the scale of its platforms to push people to its other products, where competitors don't get such an upper hand. For example, Gmail, with more than 1 billion users, puts Meet front and center, instead of a rival like Zoom. In a report in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Google was also accused of favoring YouTube in search results over other video services. The company is under antitrust scrutiny by federal and state officials looking into the company's market dominance.
On Wednesday, Soltero said Google has a long history of product integrations, and the Gmail redesign is about making those crossovers a more cohesive experience.
The updated app also has other features, like snoozing notifications, assigning tasks and applying a "do not disturb" filter. Google is testing the redesign app with a few companies now before it rolls out the service more broadly next month.