Google Makes Gmail Contacts Easier to Use

Google Aug. 10 moved to improve Gmail Contacts, moving it to the top left corner of the Gmail inbox and adding keyboard shortcuts, custom labels, sort by name and other perks.

Google Aug. 10 moved to improve Gmail Contacts, a move based on constructive criticism from some of the Webmail application's roughly 200 million users.

Gmail Product Manager Benjamin Grol said users have asked Google to make Contacts easier to use and offer tools to make Contacts more efficient.

To wit, links to Gmail Contacts and Tasks now sit atop the left corner of a user's Gmail inbox under a new Mail link.

Those who don't want to access Contacts or Tasks can hide these links by clicking near the right edge of the Mail link to hide the mini menu.

Other improvements to Contacts include:

  • Keyboard shortcuts (users must go to Contacts and hit "?" for the full list)

  • Sort by last name (find it under "More actions")

  • Custom labels for phone numbers and other fields

  • Undo changes that have just been made

  • Automatic saving

  • Structured name fields

  • Manual and bulk contacts merge

"We've been working on overhauling Gmail Contacts to make it work more like the rest of Gmail, so if you know how to use Gmail, now you should automatically feel comfortable in Contacts, too," Grol said in a blog post.

However, the Gmail Contacts improvements won't be made available to Google Apps users. Grol said his team is working on "making domain-specific features work well in the new interface."

When that's done, Google will roll out the Contacts to Google Apps customers.

Google also made the Compose Mail option in Gmail a button instead of a link. Also, the Select All, None, Read, Unread and Starred links, which used to sit above messages, are now options in a drop-down menu next to the Archive button.

But the Contacts improvements should be especially well received.

Poor Contacts functionality was one of the problem areas for Serena Software IT Director Ron Brister, who shuttled his users over to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite after being frequently frustrated by Google Apps.

In addition to poor Contacts support, Brister cited poor synchronization and almost non-existent customer service as reasons for moving his 700 or so colleagues to BPOS.

The new Gmail Contacts come a week after Google began rolling out multiple sign-in access to users looking to access up to three Google accounts from the same Web browser.