The new gmail: Downgraded, hated by users

I really don’t understand this. My best guess: there’s a new Senior Manager at Google who was doing badly in their peer-reviews, and was determined to “make their mark” by changing Gmail – if necessary over the cold, dead bodies of the thousands of people pointing out that this is a bad idea.

I thought Google was a company that prided itself on taking the best of a group of people, and putting “Product” concerns above all else?

But this week they forced a change on all several hundred million users that removes core features, breaks existing features, and adds only 1 minor feature (you can compose two emails at once without opening a new tab).

Let’s run through it, using Google’s own “Learn more” page as a reference.

Line by line, from Google’s help page

You can now write messages in a cleaner, simpler experience that puts the focus on your message itself, not all the features around it. Here are some of the highlights:

This experience is cleaner, MORE COMPLICATED and puts the focus on BEING UNABLE TO WRITE YOUR MESSAGE.

Fast: Compose messages right from your inbox.

Yes. Except: Google’s popup code across their apps (e.g. Google Docs can’t be used from Firefox any more) has been breaking web-browsers for the past 6 months, so I’m not sure this is a “good” thing.

Today, within a few minutes of using it, I discovered a major cross-browser bug (Chrome + Firefox): the window pops up in a random place, sometimes on right edge of screen, sometimes at bottom edge. This means you have to click on extreme left of screen (to hit the Compose button), then hunt around with your mouse until you find the place where Gmail has “randomly” positioned the compose window, before you can click in fields.

Simple: Redesigned with a clean, streamlined look.

Yes.

Powerful: Check emails as you’re typing, minimize drafts for later, and even compose two messages at once.

Yes – features Gmail has lacked for a long time. HOWEVER: all these features were provided 5+ years ago when modern web browsers went “tab”-based, and Gmail allowed each tab to have separate “state”. (originally, Gmail was hardcoded to break multi-tab browsers, but they rapidly fixed it).

Details of the compose window

Instead of taking up your entire Gmail window, clicking Compose now opens a smaller window at the bottom of your screen. Here are some of the features that you’ll see:

All that money you spent on a large screen for your computer? Google doesn’t want you to use it.

Recipients: Click this text field to type email addresses. You can also click the Cc or Bcc links to add a new set of recipients. Drag and drop recipients from one field to another, or click the “x” to remove them from your message. Hover over the recipient to see details about them, or double-click on them to edit their address.

What percentage of emails NEVER use the CC/BCC fields? It’s hard to believe that this is anything but a step backwards: Google is removing a core feature of email.

If you read the (copious) amount of “I hate new gmail” postings on the web, this is one of the top “hates”.

Text formatting: Click this icon to add formatting like font size, bold, underline, and bullets. Or, use our new formatting keyboard shortcuts. Hover over

Gmail Text formatting has never worked well: it frequently breaks in other mail clients, it breaks on *all* Macs (Google breaks the keyboard shortcuts for Mac). It is not a “good thing” to make this more prominent.

each button to learn the keyboard shortcut you can use for that option. Alignment and indentation options are now collapsed under the alignment icon.

Where before you could read “words”, you now have to memorize arcane “hieroglyphs”. This is terrible UX. This has always been terrible UX. We know this; why does Google insist on it?

Attachments: Click the Attachment icon to attach files to your message. Hovering over the Attachment icon will also open the insert options menu.

The paperclip is rapidly becoming meaningless: people under the age of 30 or so have rarely encountered them. I guess the Google managers who approved this design don’t care about the billion or so children in the world, don’t see them as potential customers…

Insert options: Hover over the plus icon to embed photos, links, emoticons, and Google Calendar events. This menu will also open when hovering over the Attachment icon.

So … the same menu is in two places (a common sign of “failed UX design”), but is invisible until you hover.

i.e. this is “broken by design” on systems that have no mouse.

i.e. this “new” system won’t work on approximately half (and growing) of computing devices.

Hmm…

Discard: Click the trash can icon to delete your draft.

“Discard: first reference 1590’s” — Google believes that a word that has existed for almost 500 years is inferior to the crappy squiggle that one of their staff came up with the other day.

In their new interface, I struggled to find their “trash can icon”. Nearest I could see was a hieroglyph that – by deduction – was intended to be a “post modern representation of one person’s memory of a trash can they once saw”. I’ve never seen a trash can that looked like that (maybe it’s a North American thing?)

More options: Click this menu to see other tools such as spell check, plain text format, print, adding labels, and including original attachments.

90% of my emails HAVE TO BE in plaintext format, because IT IS THE INTERNATIONAL STANDARD. I have tried Google’s crappy “html emails”; they get rejected by clients, partners, and customers. For good reason. Every email client in the world lets you say “all emails are plaintext, because emails are by definition plain text” – except Google’s.

Window size: The writing pane grows as your message gets longer. If you want the window to be bigger, click the middle icon at the top right of the pane to open the message in a new window. Use the other icons to minimize or close the window (which will also save your draft).

Why does it grow? When it’s a reply to a thread, it should start big. Otherwise, how are we supposed to read what we’re replying to?

Answer: an action that took ZERO CLICKS (reading the thread) now needs CLICK A TINY TINY BUTTON (the “…” button is extremely difficult to hit – it’s smaller than the OS-mandated “minimum button size” both on Windows and OS X).

Saving: Gmail automatically saves your drafts while you’re writing, so we’ve removed the “Save now” button (but you can verify that it’s saved if you see the word, “Saved” next to the Discard button). Your draft will also be automatically saved when you close the compose window.

No, this is not true. Gmail DOES NOT SAVE while you’re writing. Google has now removed one of the core features of Gmail :(.

(what actually happens: Gmail “attempts to” save – but frequently fails. e.g. if you are using one of the 1 billion smartphones on the planet, or the similar number of “free wifi” or “contested” connections, Gmail auto-save … fails … as soon as the internet connection suffers a hiccup. The internet was designed to work this way – this is STANDARD BEHAVIOUR – which Google used to support via the optional button. But apparently: they’re now ignoring)

Try it for yourself: compose an email on a slow connection, on a laptop, and close the lid. Open it again in a place with slow wifi. Old gmail would show you the issue, and allow you to keep trying until you’d saved; new gmail simply crashes and fails to save OR SEND the email

(you have to copy/paste the email into a new window, close gmail, open a new window, go to the gmail website, start a new email, copy/paste the email back into gmail. All to achieve something that used to be 2 button clicks!)

Send mail as: If you use Gmail to send mail from another address (like your work address), click the address in the “From” field to choose a different address. If you don’t see the “From” field, first click into the “Recipients” field at the top of the compose window.
Changes when replying or forwarding

Great. I rarely use this feature, but I thought it used to work the same way before.

You’ll also see some differences when replying to or forwarding messages. Most of the changes are similar to those that you’ll see when composing a brand new message. Here are a few additional changes

Read carefully: they say “here are a few additional changes” – i.e. they avoid mentioning some of them.

In particular: Google has broken the “Send” button, so that it now archives the message as soon as you press it. You can still access the OLD “Send” button – but you have to work very hard to do it: they have changed the colour, changed the position, so that your brain and fingers have to avoid the new Send button. Decades of HCI research show this is extremely difficult to do if you’ve spent the past few years constantly doing a different action.

I agree this is probably a positive change for many people – but it’s a MAJOR change, and it should be an option, not a hardcoded thing.

Recipients: To change who your message should be sent to, click into the recipient field when you’re replying.
Type of response: Click the arrow next to the recipient’s name to choose whether your message is a reply, reply all, or forward.
Subject: To change the subject of your message, click the arrow next to the recipient’s name and click Edit subject.
Pop out reply: To write your reply in a compose window, click the arrow next to the recipient’s name and click Pop out reply .

These are pretty meaningless; I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I guess it will become clear with usage.

Respond inline: If you want to see the previous message within your reply, scroll down until you see the “Show trimmed content” icon and click it.
Try it out!

i.e. According to Google, almost every email I write NOW REQUIRES FOUR CLICKS, where they USED TO REQUIRE ONE CLICK.

Google has done the exact opposite of what they claimed to be doing – this is:

Faster? No
Simpler? No
More powerful? No

Once you click the Compose button, click the “new compose experience” link right next to the Labels button at the top of the message. Until the change is fully launched, you’ll be able to choose whether you use the new or current experience.
If you change your mind, you can switch back to the old experience at any time. Here’s how:

“Until the change is fully launched, we will pretend to care about our users, and our product quality. The truth is: we don’t. Prepare to be shafted, at some indeterminate future date of our choosing. Have a nice day!”

Click Compose
At the bottom corner of the message pane, click the More menu icon next to the Discard button.
Select “Temporarily switch back to old compose.”

Where is the “Permanently remember this change?” tickbox, as required by all good product design? Oh, that’s right – Google doesn’t care what you think, you will be forced to the new system very soon anyway.

Haters gonna hate…

A quick sampling of Google search for “gmail new compose” suggests that the vast majority of people “hate” the new system. Not “dislike”, but “hate”.

e.g. from the top of TechCrunch’s comments feed:

“”If it isn’t broken, either break it or discontinue it.” – Google”
“I hate, hate, hate it! It wasn’t broken until Google tried to fix it.”
“unacceptable, crap, terrible, unintuitive, small, dumb”
“Why are you screwing our lives up? Gives the original system back it worked great.”

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