This week, Google was busy quietly making a series of interface- and layout-related changes and improvements to its home page as well as applications like Gmail. While the changes on the home page are there for all to see, the ones in the Gmail are not so universal.

On Google India’s opening page, for instance, if you were earlier making a search then the search categories—Web, Image, Maps, News, et, al—would be displayed vertically as a left sidebar format. 

Now, the search categories appear horizontally, just under the search box, after you make a search. This has two obvious advantages. One, it could allow more options to be visible without the need to scroll vertically, though Google has chosen not to display only three discrete categories—Web, Images and Maps—while the others are clustered under “More.” A new menu also appears as “Search Tools” and once you click on that it reveals further categories for refining the search. Many of these categories were, in the earlier scheme of vertical layout, displayed as default. Examples are search by past day, week or month, among others.

As such, the earlier vertical layout tended to create a bit of too many elements (read clutter) in the left sidebar space. The new horizontal layout helps collapse many elements into fewer menus and leads to a cleaner page, which is a Google hallmark. The vacated space in the left sidebar, of course, has not been taken up by other elements, not even the search results. I felt, however, that if search-result blocks were extended to take up that area it would still look fine, given that it won’t increase the number of elements on the page.

Nevertheless, it takes a bit of retraining of the eyes to look for the menus in the new position and also the hand to move the mouse cursor accordingly.

Gmail changes

Google has introduced the new “compose,” “reply” and “forward” optional interfaces that work without moving away from the existing page or view. When you click the existing compose button, a new message “Try out the new compose experience” becomes visible to the right of the “send” and “discard” buttons. Users are free to stick to the existing “compose” interface or try the new one but switch back to the old one at any point in time.

Again, the technique of collapsing multiple items into one has been applied here too. For example, the various text formatting options are not shown under the new compose window and become visible only when the formatting icon shown as “A” is clicked at.

Compared to the changes on the Google home page, the new interface option in Gmail take more than getting used to. In fact, I found it less intuitive than the existing interface. And it actually took me much time before I could discover that the “discard” option was represented by the same icon that Gmail uses for deleting mails.  

The Gmail new interface option will certainly need a good deal of ironing out to become intuitive and simple enough to attract users. 
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