Written on May 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
In my job, I get to ask some of the biggest geeks in the world to explain the tools and features they build into the consumer electronics we all use. This helps me stay just an inch or two ahead of my teenagers when it comes to knowing how to use a smartphone, tablet or smart TV. After speaking to someone at Google, I introduced them—and my husband—to Google Now. It was on their phones, but they didn’t know about it. Since then, that app has become part of most conversations in our house.
Example: “Do you think that actor is an actual hillbilly?” my husband asks while we are watching Justified. “No, I think he’s a good actor,” I reply. Then I ask my Android phone, which can access Google Now via voice, “Okay, Google, who plays Dewey Crow in Justified?”
The answer: Damon Herriman, an Australian. We are extra impressed with his southern accent.
Another example: “Mom! I need to go to the mall now!” my daughter announces, bursting into the room at 8:45 p.m. “Okay, Google,” I say to my phone, “what time does the mall close?” I hold the phone up to show that her timing makes this impossible. She leaves quietly. And so it goes, throughout the day. Answers, instantly. We all do it. What did we do before?
This app also knows where we are, where we tend to go, what we are planning to do next and offers helpful on-screen info at the time of day or night you most need it: weather, traffic, transit, appointments, flight and hotel details, package shipment information, news articles, TV show reminders and more. It shows places and events nearby, interesting photo spots in case you’d like to check them out, and more. You don’t need an Android phone to use it. It’s free and available on both iPhone and Android (look for the Google Search app), though not all phones let you speak your questions so easily.
In keeping with the theme of making life convenient, I also asked my geeks at Google for their best advice on uncluttering your Gmail—the buildup of inbox messages can be overwhelming. (As you can tell, I like Google products.) Here’s what they came up with:
Gmail Tips from the Geeks
1. NEVER SEND AN ACCIDENTAL EMAIL AGAIN. “Even the best of us sometimes type someone’s name wrong or forget to include an important detail in an email. Undo Send is basically an email mulligan. I set mine to 30 seconds to make sure I have plenty of time to change my mind!” —Alex Gawley, product manager on Gmail
2. MUTE GROUP EMAILS. We’ve all been on an email thread that just keeps popping up (for example, your coworker just shared photos of her new baby and everyone keeps hitting “Reply all” to say “Congrats!”). You can mute the thread by clicking the drop-down arrow at the top of the thread and selecting “Mute.” Don’t worry—muting doesn’t delete, it simply automatically archives the message for you.
3. STOP EMAILING YOURSELF TO-DO LISTS. Be honest: A lot of the emails cluttering your inbox are from yourself, with subject lines like “Remember to turn on dishwasher” and “Buy birthday card for Jackie.” Instead of adding to your unread count, create a task list that appears as a minimizable window in your inbox. Simply click on “Mail” (right above the “Compose” button) and select “Tasks” to get started. Once you’ve created a list, you can email it by clicking the “Actions” button.
4. SKIP YOUR INBOX. Keep your Gmail spic-and-span by setting certain emails to automatically skip your inbox and/or go directly to an appropriate folder. For example, you can set any emails from say, your alma mater, to automatically go into your “Alma Mater” folder, where you can read them when you have time. Go to “Settings,” “Filters,” “Create new filter.” After filling in your filter details, hit “Create filter with this search” and mark “Skip the inbox.”
5. MOVE YOUR CHAT BOX. Did you know you can move your chat box to the right side of your inbox? To enable right side chat, go to “Settings,” “Labs,” “Right side chat” and hit “Enable.”
6. CREATE A CALENDAR EVENT RIGHT FROM AN EMAIL. The next time someone emails you about meeting for coffee, you may notice that the day or date in the email is lightly underlined. Click it to create an event in Google Calendar with the relevant details pre-filled. It will even link back to the original email in case you need it for context later.
7. CHECK INTO YOUR FLIGHT FROM GMAIL. Instead of opening emails and digging through them for important information, use Gmail’s quick action buttons to check into your flight, rate a restaurant, go straight to a doc and more. You’ll notice an “RSVP” or “WATCH VIDEO” or “OPEN FILE” when appropriate—just click!
8. DON’T STRESS IF YOU FORGET TO SIGN OUT. While you should always sign out of your Gmail account when accessing it on a public computer, if you ever forget, Gmail has got you covered. You can click “Sign out all other sessions” to sign out anywhere else you are logged into your account.
9. DE-CLUTTER WITHOUT DELETING. “It seems like a simple thing, but a lot of people never fully embrace the power of the ‘Archive’ button. I never file away or delete anything: I just hit ‘Archive.’ If I need to look something up, Search in Gmail always gets me what I need.” —Phil Sharp, product manager on Gmail
10. UNSUBSCRIBE TO UNWANTED EMAILS. “Every time you report spam, Gmail’s spam filter adapts to your definition of unwanted mail and does a better job of catching similar types of messages in the future for you. Plus Gmail will ask you if you want it to unsubscribe you at the same time. Two birds, one stone! So put that ‘Report spam’ button to good use!” —Vijay Eranti, engineer on Gmail’s spam team
11. LOOK AT CUTENESS ALL DAY. “I use Custom Themes to set my Gmail background to a photo of my teammate’s newborn Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Every day, I get to enjoy reading, writing and checking emails while staring into adorable puppy eyes.” —Anissa Mak, product marketing for Gmail