Google announced a new feature for Gmail called “Quick Action buttons” in May 2013. These buttons are designed to allow you to easily perform repetitive or simple tasks without having to open email messages. Generally they fall under four categories:
- Event responses
- Replies for email-based tasks such as confirming a registration message
- Reviewing services/products
- Following links to external sites to perform an action like flight check-in or viewing a Youtube video
Google will slowly release these Quick Action buttons in the near future, so while you may not have them available just yet, it’s a good idea to know how these operate in advance.
An event response Quick Action button will let you reply to event invitations directly from your inbox by hovering over the item and selecting the appropriate response. (Figure A)
A flight check-in, for example, would appear as shown in Figure B.
(Fellow “Lost” fans will appreciate that reference to “Oceanic Airlines,” by the way!)
If you receive a notification about an uploaded YouTube video, a new Quick Action button will appear to allow you to “View video.” (Figure C)
I’ve heard a similar button allows users to “Listen on Spotify” in reference to audio files, so these can be played directly in Gmail.
The “Post Review” Quick Action button will be useful for those who enjoy providing feedback on businesses. (Figure D)
Google has also taken advantage of the opportunity to promote its own services (“Naturally,” Google’s detractors might add). A Google Wallet Quick Action button allows users to pay other people (using their Google Wallet account, of course) by using an “Attach money” feature. (Figure E)
Quick Action buttons are created via schemas, which are created using Microdata or JSON-LD markup as outlined on the Google Apps Developer Blog. Here is a sample schema (Figure F), which could be used to add a movie to your Netflix queue.
A cited example on the blog describes a hypothetical Quick Action button which would allow a user to be contacted again after a missed call. Of course, the floor is open to people with ideas. See the Google Developers page on “Schemas for emails” for further information.
Will this feature work on smartphones? At the moment I have found no indication that anything other than Gmail will support Quick Action buttons but it’s probably that browser-based access to Gmail on a smartphone (or other device with Internet capability) will provide the functionality – though it might be necessary to zoom in a bit to take advantage of the buttons. I think smartphones may have the disadvantage here however as more people use email clients rather than browsers to access to their mailboxes. It will be interesting to see how (and if) this can be approached.
New ways for users improve their productivity are always well-received, of course, and this move is clearly designed to help keep Gmail relevant and competitive against alternate email clients such as Outlook or Thunderbird, which can interface with Google Apps. The Google Apps Developer blog indicates that Quick Action buttons will be part of an ongoing trend, so expect a wide array of these to become available in Gmail soon!