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Gmail: now more indispensable than ever with new enhancements

Nobody would have expected Google to have had such an impact on our lives, but the truth remains that many people today will be gasping like a fish out from the water should we suddenly lose access to all of the search giant's online services. And apparently, even that is not enough for Google: the company has just announced two usability-related enhancements to its already indispensable Gmail service.

This may sound inane in a digital era where portable Internet devices such as smartphones and slate-like PCs are starting to experience widespread adoption, but there exists people today who have not been bitten by the mobile Internet bug yet. Needless to say, these are the kind of people who will still faithfully fire up their web browser on a desktop or notebook PC and use it to read their emails, just like how it was originally meant to be.

However, just because the smartphone and slate PCs have made traditional PCs redundant for certain tasks does not mean that some of their features cannot make their way back to the humble web browser. And to prove just how that can be done, Google has implemented two experimental features in its Gmail service that clearly have their roots in smartphone email services.

Desktop Notifications

Do you remember how some smartphones with custom user interfaces sport the ability to display a small notification message on their 'Home' screen when an email is received? Well, it appears that this very feature that is a staple on existing instant messenger clients has made its way to Gmail, as shown in the image below.

According to Google, the desktop notifications are written in HTML5: theoretically, this means that the feature is compatible with just about any browser which features built-in support for the HTML5 specification. However, this is not to be, at least in the early stages of the feature's implementation, as Google has confirmed in a blog post that Desktop Notifications are only available for its Chrome browser. The good news though, is that the search giant has confirmed that it plans to make it available as a standard web platform so that all users can enjoy the service.

The feature can be enabled by accessing the 'Settings' link in Gmail and selecting the plugin under the 'Labs' tab.

Unread Message Icon

Next up on Google's list of usability tweaks is an 'unread message counter', which shows itself as an icon that replaces the default Gmail logo on a tab. When activated, this plugin will immediately display to a user the number of unread messages currently sitting in his or her Gmail inbox, as shown in the image below.

Google claims that this plugin was developed with multi-taskers in mind. More specifically, this feature is aimed at users who tend to crowd their browser windows with so many tabs that the only thing left to identify the Gmail tab is that of its signature logo. In such situations, this Unread Message Icon plugin will help such users know instantly how the number of unread messages in their inbox without having to pull out the relevant tab just to display that bit of information.

Source: Gmail blog

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