From today, Google is rolling out a new inbox design for Gmail which automatically sorts your email into five categories. I've been playing with a preview version for the last week ahead of the official launch. Here are the key features.
Gmail already includes options for trying to sort your email, most notably Priority Inbox, which identifies the messages most important to you. The new inbox revamp extends on that idea by offering you the option to automatically sort your email into five categories: primary (vital messages), social (social networking updates), promotions (marketing messages), updates (newsletters and the like) and forums. That kind of categorisation is an option which already occurs in Microsoft's Outlook.com, and which is a frequent request for Gmail, so it's not surprising to see a related option added to Gmail.
These options only work immediately if you are using the standard inbox; if you've chosen the Priority option or to only show starred email, it won't appear by default. If you disable all the new inboxes, Gmail will continue to operate the way it did before. You can switch off specific inbox views if you wish.
The categorisation is efficient but not perfect. In my inbox, it identified messages from Twitter and Facebook easily, but did less well with work-related messages. I largely use Gmail as a backup service; if it's your main email inbox and you have a full set of contacts, I suspect it will work better in categorising messages. If you want to reclassify a message, you can drag it to the relevant inbox. You can also choose to have all starred messages appear in your main inbox, or set individual senders to appear in a given inbox.
If you have enabled the new inboxes, you can navigate between them using the ~ and ` keys. Other standard keyboard shortcuts continue to work.
As with most Google features, this update will be rolled out gradually over the coming weeks. If you can see a 'Configure inbox' option on your Settings menu, it's available. It is also being added to the Android and iOS Gmail apps.