Gmail revamp puts focus on security, privacy, ease of use

(CBS NEWS) -- Big changes are coming for the millions of workers who use G Suite, the professional version of Gmail and Google's other productivity apps. Google says changes rolling out starting today will "help the more than 4 million paying businesses that use G Suite work safer, smarter and more efficiently."

Rumors of a major Gmail update have been floating around for a while, and while the changes are primarily aimed at business customers, many of them will be coming to the free consumer version of Gmail, as well.

Topping that list are security and privacy, with expiration dates, the ability to revoke some email content, and SMS authentication all coming to a feature called confidential mode. That's especially important right now, with increased awareness of data and security issues in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook controversy.

But, many of the new Gmail features revolve around getting you the information you need without having to click through to an individual email and open it up.  

And by having Google's AI scan your email, it can nudge you on important messages you may have missed, or restrict pop-up notifications to only the highest-priority emails.

These changes may be inspired in part by big shifts in both work and personal communication, with work teams collaborating through Slack and other chat apps, and friends and family communicating through Facebook MessengerKikWhatsApp and other platforms -- all taking the place of traditional email communication. 

Here are some of the major ways Gmail will be changing for you in the coming weeks:

Security and confidential mode

Confidential mode adds several new features to email that allow much more control over information after it leaves your inbox. Email can be sent with an expiration date (kind of like a Snapchat message), and there are more options for revoking messages after they're sent. A form of two-factor authentication can be required for some individual emails, which Google says will "protect data even if a recipient's email account has been hijacked."

Messages can be further protected through IRM, or information rights management. That means an email can be tagged to not allow it to be forwarded, downloaded or even printed. There's probably no solution for someone screen-capturing an email, but this could cut down on accidental (or deliberate) forwarding of confidential information.

Finally, Google says security warnings for potentially risky email will be bigger, bolder and simpler, making it more likely you'll delete or archive potentially dangerous messages.

Click less with new inbox tools

The web version of Gmail, even in its professional G Suite form, involves a lot of clicking into individual messages, which take your entire message window, then backing out to your inbox. Some new tools and features coming to Gmail make it easier to do things right from the inbox view, saving countless clicks in the process.

For example, users will now be able to hover over an email subject line to RSVP to an invite, archive a message or set a snooze alarm. Attachments can also be viewed without opening an entire email thread.

Side-panel integration of other apps, like Google Calendar or third-party apps, is coming as well, which means you won't necessarily have to have those tools open in separate tabs. Tasks, another current Google tool, is getting a new design both on the web and in its Android/iOS apps, with the ability to drag an email into the Tasks window and create an automatic to-do list.

AI for email

Smart Reply has changed the way people use Gmail, with tons of context-sensitive message options like "Got it" or "I'm busy" to be sent with a single tap. Google says more than 10 percent of Gmail replies on mobile are Smart Replies, and now the technology is coming to the web-based version of Gmail.

Making sure you see the right emails amid all the clutter is important, especially for business users. (I've struggled with email overload for years, at times topping 100,000 unread messages.) A new Nudging feature will remind you to read and reply to emails the AI deems important, you'll be able to "snooze" some messages, hiding them until a predetermined time, and a new setting for high-priority notifications will reduce pop-up notices to only the most important messages.

To start clearing out some of that inbox clutter, Gmail will now recommend mailing lists to unsubscribe from, based on how often you get these mass mailings versus how often you actually read them.

Google Docs already offers a robust offline mode so you can work away from Wi-Fi. Now Gmail is adding more offline support, so users can read, write and reply to emails offline. You can even search through up to 90 days of messages, thanks to local caching.

The first Gmail users getting access to these new features are G Suite customers who sign up for the G Suite Early Adopter Program via the Admin panel. Personal Gmail users will be able to try the new features as well, by going to Settings and looking for "Try the new Gmail."

Not all these features will be available on Day 1, with some launching immediately, others rolling out "in the coming weeks," according to Google. 

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