Google Gmail gets its own dedicated power user keypad. (April 25th, 2010)
The Gboard is touted as a keyboard "just for Gmail users." The marketing idea behind the Gboard’s development is quite powerful; take a program that has a cult following (Gmail) and build a 19-key keyboard around that makes the program faster and easier to use. This simple $20 device theoretically has a giant market, but does it add enough value to the Gmail user experience to be worthwhile?
Product Manufacturer: Gboard
- Works as advertised.
- Quick for rapidly flagging messages.
- Low-cost and simple.
- Multi-OS support.
- No real revolution in Gmail.
- Memorization seemingly defeats the point.
The Gboard is essentially a 19-key external number pad similar to what one would buy for a notebook to make numerical entry easier. The build quality, size, and weight of the Gboard are all what we would expect; nothing special, but certainly adequate. Each key on the Gboard is mapped to a letter or symbol that Gmail recognizes as a shortcut. Users must have shortcuts for Gmail enabled in the Gmail settings section for the Gboard to function. They keys are color coded into five different sections and labeled with both an icon and a name for the action the key triggers.
It should be noted that the keypad is platform-independent: it works with not only Macs and Windows PCs but also Linux, so you're not trapped using a particular OS if you get particularly comfortable with the Gboard in your daily routine.
Every function on the Gboard works exactly as advertised. Some of the functions were somewhat useful in sorting through volumes of email quickly, but using the Gboard didn’t revolutionize our Gmail user experience. Every action the Gboard does can be accomplished in a quick mouse click and using the Gboard instead of the mouse doesn’t seem to save much time. This issue is exacerbated by the learning curve of memorizing where each function is located on the Gboard, each time we had to look at the Gboard to execute function we felt that the task was accomplished much slower than when simply using the mouse. This might change with enough use, but it does somewhat defeat the point.
The one function we really liked the most was the ability to scroll up and down through threads while opening, closing, starring or deleting them. This task is one that just can't be done faster with a mouse and can be quite valuable for a Gmail power user with an affinity for typing and keyboards.
That said, while there are likely to be a few keyboard power users that fall in love with the Gboard, we simply don’t see it as a mainstream product. Too few people will get too little value out of the Gboard’s functions to justify paying extra, even at $20. The Gboard is very cool and could particularly suit the workflow of certain users, but it doesn’t make life practically easier for the average Gmail user.