No one is happy about how email works.
In 2017, Google added the ability to customise Gmail using “add-ons”, which work in the same spirit as browser extensions found in Chrome and Firefox, but are made for web- and Android-based versions of Gmail.
Living in that slim sidebar on the right side of your inbox, add-ons allow you to customise and your experience in new and exciting ways — especially if you already use a bunch of supported third-party services.
Most of these add-ons give you tools that make it easier to react when an email requires you to take action. Last week, though, Google doubled down and made it possible for developers to integrate add-ons directly into Gmail’s compose window, opening the door for developers to make more all-encompassing tools.
When launching add-ons, Google itself described email as “mission control” for your working life, and the best add-ons make Gmail feel more like a command centre than a simple (but towering) to-do list.
There aren’t a ton of things you can do just yet, but we’ve compiled a list of the best add-ons and explained how they may be able to help you out.
If you use Dropbox or Box for cloud storage, these add-ons are among the first to work in Gmail’s compose window. If you have the Dropbox add-on, for example, there will be a Dropbox button in the same toolbar as the attachments paperclip.
You can easily add Dropbox files to new emails you compose, and if you receive an email with attachments, it takes all of two clicks to dump them into your Dropbox. If, for some reason, you need to access your Dropbox, there’s a quick open option to get you there fast. All of this makes it much, much quicker to attach files stored on either of these services from Gmail.
There are no features in either add-on so strong that we’d recommend you switch storage services over this, but if you’re using either Dropbox or Box and Gmail, installing the add-on is a no-brainer.
If you aren’t familiar, Trello and Asana are project management web apps. They allow you to visualise and manage businesses and large-scale projects with many moving parts.
If you’re using either of these services, the interplay between your email and your management boards is effectively the same as the relationship between your email and your calendar — you find out important information via email, which needs to make its way onto the board as a new task or as part of an existing one.
These Gmail add-ons makes that process very simple. By clicking the Trello or Asana logos in the sidebar, you can import the contents of any email to the service, either as a new task to an existing one. You can edit the body of the email before you import, so you don’t need to bloat a task with a ton of text if your colleagues only need a small snippet.
As with Dropbox and Box, there isn’t anything here that’s going to sway you to use one service or the other. If your team is using either of these services, though, these do make them just a bit easier to use.
DocuSign, a service made to let you securely use a digital signature on legally binding documents, has a Gmail add-on that lets you send an attached document in an email over to DocuSign with only two clicks. It then opens the document in DocuSign, too, so you can take care of business right away. And just like that, a convenient service gets more convenient.
Using its Gmail add-on, corporate communications service Zoom allows its users to set up calls or video chat directly through Gmail, using contact info in an email or saved to Google. It also allows you schedule meetings for later and check for any scheduled calls you have coming up without opening Zoom or a calendar.
While useful, coordinating calls through Zoom always meant having to manually send invites or call-in numbers via email. This add-on seems as though it provides a few potential solutions to one of the service’s larger logistical issues by tying more closely to a utility you already use.
Whenever you click that easy 'Sign in With Google' button on a company's website, you're granting the app or service access to some of your information. While in some cases that might just be access to your name and email address, for others you're giving that company the ability to read your email as well.
As you may have noticed, these add-ons are getting increasingly niche. Hiver, a business-facing third-party service for Gmail, adds an extra layer of logistical features to help co-workers manage and respond to bucket email accounts made for groups rather than individuals: “Support” or “careers” addresses, for example.
Hiver adds a “notes” feature that lets you assign emails or discuss how to respond to a message, highlights when a co-worker has started to respond, and allows you to save and spread example or template messages. Basically, it allows you to do all the work around your group accounts directly in Gmail, rather than spreading it across apps such as Slack or Dropbox.
It’s worth pointing out that Hiver recommends you use its browser extension, which has more features, over the Gmail add-on. The Gmail add-on is still a boon for Android users, though, and may even be preferable on the web if you switch machines or browsers often.
I had to save the most important add-on for last.
Gfycat has a Gmail add-on that allows you to quickly search its library for the perfect reaction GIF and send it in a quick reply — because sometimes a GIF is all you really want (or have) to say.
Relative to some of the other add-ons, Gfycat feels somewhat... limited. The add-on only allows you to send GIFs as a reply to an existing email thread, so you can’t use it to randomly send an email as a GIF. Also, you have to make said reply through the add-on, so you can’t write an email and select an appropriate GIF afterwards.
Despite its limited effective usage, I retain a place in my heart for Gfycat. Of all the add-ons you can get for Gmail, it is by far the most fun.