Google announced today a couple of additions to its web-based Gmail service aimed at making the product more fun to use, as well as more personal: it has now expanded its theme catalog, which allows you to customize the look-and-feel of Gmail, by adding hundreds of new themes to the service, and it has rolled out new emoji.
Themes have been a part of the Gmail experience since 2008, Google points out in a blog post announcing the changes. But they’re buried in the settings and Google hasn’t done much in the way of keeping the collection current with new and updated content over the years. That’s why the expansion of the themes section today is notable.
Where before, the catalog only featured a couple dozen themes – including those that were solid colors only – the new catalog will increase Gmail’s selection by hundreds, including more high-res options. Some of these include photographs taken by Google staff, the company says.
Users will also be able to upload their own themes, as well as use built-in editing tools like blur, vignette and text background to customize them further.
While themes are ultimately about personalizing your Gmail experience and having a little fun, they can serve a practical purpose, too – those Gmail users who maintain multiple accounts can take advantage of the feature as a way to make it immediately obvious at a glance which email account they’re currently signed into and using.
In addition, Gmail is adding better emoji to its web-based email, which includes a set of smiley faces, as well as other categories, like food, nature, holidays and more – similar to what you’d find on mobile texting apps, or, as it turns out, Google’s own Hangouts app. This selection will likely replace the current selection of emoji, which are basically a holdover from an earlier era and resemble chat emoticons. (Frankly, they’ve been due for an update for some time.)
Though seemingly a minor upgrade, emoji have become a popular way of quickly communicating on mobile devices where typing on smaller screens can be more cumbersome. Meanwhile, users today are often turning to mobile messaging apps instead of email apps to send short notes to friends, which could impact Gmail adoption among the younger demographic further down the road.
Gmail today is heavily used on mobile, however. The company said in May that Gmail now has a total of 900 million users, up from 425 million in 2012, and 75 percent would access the service from mobile devices.
In other words, Google needs to keep its email service mobile-friendly, and that means supporting modern emoji.
The new themes and emoji will begin to arrive today on the web, says Google, but the rollout will take a few days to complete. Google didn’t note if mobile support for the new emoji was also included, but it would be bizarre if that weren’t on the roadmap.