Sometimes the smallest features can add the most value.
Gmail has now been around for 18 years, and it’s the default email service for billions of people. That’s partly because it’s free, but also because it does a few things really well. Searching your email, for example, is something you’d expect Google to be pretty good at, and Gmail is definitely among the best.
Still, it can be a hassle if you’re trying to find an email with a tracking number, for example, because you’re expecting a package. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if your inbox let you keep track of packages without having to search through hundreds of emails?
Well, now Google has added exactly that. Google says that, over the next few weeks, it’s adding the ability to track your packages directly from your inbox.
Sometimes Google adds new features and it’s not clear who thought it was a good idea. For example, earlier this year Google integrated its Chat and Meet services into Gmail. I doubt most Gmail users care about Google Chat or Google Meet, or even know the difference. Still, it’s right there at the bottom of your inbox.
Occasionally, however, Google adds Gmail features that are actually useful. The latest example is one of those.
If Gmail detects that an email includes a tracking number, it will show a label on the message in your inbox that lets you know when to expect your delivery. In addition, Gmail will let you know when a package has shipped, and if it gets delayed, Google will surface the email and let you know. If you’ve ever changed your plans in order to be home when a package was supposed to arrive, you know how frustrating it can be to find out that the delivery has been delayed for some reason.
Google says the feature works with “most major U.S. shipping carriers.” It seems safe to assume this means FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service. Google did not say whether it will work with Amazon’s Prime Delivery service.
This isn’t a new idea. In fact, there are several email apps that do this already–most notably, Edison Email. In some ways, it’s a more useful feature in an email app since it works with any email address, not just Gmail. Also, I imagine there are some people who would prefer Google not be looking into their emails for tracking numbers to know where they’ve been shopping.
That’s fair, but the feature is opt-in, meaning you’ll be able to decide whether you want Gmail looking for tracking numbers in your email. Of all the ways your data is tracked online, including every time you use one of Google’s websites or services, this actually feels pretty low on the list, to be honest.
That’s at least in part because the more value a feature adds to your life, the more it’s worth letting Google know you’re expecting a package. As we approach the holidays, the idea that your inbox will simply let you know that a package is on its way, and when you can expect it to be delivered, seems especially useful.
This does seem like the type of feature that Gmail should have had all along. If you’re already indexing the contents of my inbox so that I can search, it doesn’t seem all that hard to train your machine learning to surface tracking numbers. It’s sort of the low-hanging fruit that adds a lot more value to the user than the effort it takes.
Those, it turns out, are the best types of new features. They might not seem like a big deal, but they add a lot of value by saving people time and giving them peace of mind. Google can’t make your packages show up on time for the holidays, but it can at least make it easier to keep track of them along the way.
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