Google has long been known as the leader in email, but it hasn’t always been that way.
In 1997, AOL was the world’s largest email provider with around ten million subscribers, but other providers were making headway. Hotmail, now part of Microsoft Outlook, launched in 1996, Yahoo Mail launched in 1997 and Gmail followed in 2004, becoming the most popular email provider in the world, with more than 1.5 billion active users as of October 2019.
Despite Google’s stronghold on the email market, other competitors have emerged over the years. Most recently, we’ve seen paid email products like Superhuman and Hey emerge. In light of new competitors to the space, as well as Google’s latest version of Gmail that more deeply integrates with Meet, Chat and Rooms, we asked Gmail Design Lead Jeroen Jillissen about what makes good email, how he and the team think about product design and more.
Here’s a lightly edited Q&A we had with Jillissen over Gmail.
Google has been at email since at least 2004. What does good email look like these days?
Generally speaking, a good email experience is not that different today than it was in 2004. It should be straightforward to use and should support the basic tasks like reading, writing, replying to and triaging emails. That said, nowadays there is a lot more email, in terms of volume, than there was in 2004, so we find that Gmail has many more opportunities to assist users in ways it didn’t before. For example, tabbed inboxes, which sorts your email into helpful categories like Primary, Social, Promotions, etc. in a simple, organized way so you can focus on what’s important to you. Also, we’ve introduced assistive features like Smart Compose and Smart Reply and nudges, plus robust security and spam protection to keep users safe. And lastly, we’ve made deeper integrations a priority: both across G Suite apps like Calendar, Keep, Tasks and most recently Chat and Meet, as well as with third-party services via the G Suite Marketplace.
How has Google’s hypothesis about email evolved over the years?
We see email as a very strong communication channel and the primary means of digital communication for many of our users and customers for many years to come. Most people still start their workday in email, which is still used for important use cases, such as more formal or external communications (i.e., with clients/customers), for record-keeping or easy access/reference, and for communications that need a little more thoughtfulness or consideration.