If you go down to your Gmail today, you're in for a big surprise: the new Gmail interface is no longer opt-in, so it's rolling out to everybody. It may not have arrived on your personal Gmail just yet, but it's incoming and you can expect it to arrive within days or weeks.
The new interface brings in more of Google's Material You design language, and it puts Google Meet, Google Chat and Google Spaces in a little sidebar to the left of the display. You can customise that if you like, and you can also go into Quick Settings to switch back to the old interface if you don't like the new one.
The new design is coming to Google Workspace and personal Gmail, but it's really there because of Workspace: Google is focused on Workspace as a direct rival to Microsoft Office, and the new interface is designed to streamline tasks such as meetings and chats by enabling you to focus on one thing at a time rather than have everything on screen at once.
It's all about Office
Google Workspace has evolved into quite the Office competitor in recent years, and the new UI is part of that ongoing improvement. Both Workspace and Office provide business email and shared calendars, online storage and collaboration, and apps for creating and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. They also include extensive chat and messaging features. But now Google is investing heavily in adding new features to make its option much more powerful and flexible. I've already noticed the difference in the apps: I've been a Google Docs user since day one but I've always found it rather simplistic compared to other options, but in the last wee while it's become noticeably smarter and more useful.
The new Gmail UI is part of a drive to connect every bit of Workspace to every other bit, so for example you'll be able to quickly share your Docs document in your Meet call or start a Meet video to discuss the Doc you're working on. That's useful for users, of course, but it has the added benefit for Google of reducing the likelihood of people turning to rival conferencing platforms such as Zoom. And it's great news for Chromebook users too, because of course Google apps are at the core of the Chromebook experience.