How to Disable Gmail’s Annoying New “Smart Compose” Predictive Typing Feature

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UPDATE (October 6, 2018): It appears that at least some Gmail users are now getting an (apparently one-time) pop-up box giving the option to turn off “Smart Compose” when it first becomes active for them. This is definitely an improvement. However, if someone accepts that default (“Got it”) to try it out, there’s no clue provided to help the user turn it off again at some future time, without digging around in the user interface as I describe below. Many users report regretting accepting it in the first place, since they didn’t know how to turn it off afterwards.

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I had sort of hoped that Google would step up to the bat on this one themselves, but my inbox is still full of queries about this — all day, every day.

Google recently deployed a feature in Gmail that tries to guess what you’re about to type, and “helpfully” fills it in for you. They activated it by default, with no information provided to users (not even a one-time pop-up information bubble) explaining how to turn it off. (Please see update above regarding this aspect.)

I’ve seen this “Smart Compose” feature described publicly with a range of adjectives, including intrusive, wonderful, invasive, creepy, accurate, loony, mistaken, helpful, misguided — well, you get the point, opinions are all over the map.

In my case, I’d say that “annoying” is the descriptor I’d sort to the top of the heap. 

With the understanding that Google has great AI and is itching to use it whenever and wherever possible, I don’t really need it analyzing my email drafts as I type them. At least in my case, its proposed wordings are nearly always — what’s the technical term? — oh yes, WRONG. Not what I intend or want to write. 

And the predictions intrusively and continuously interrupt my flow of typing as each one needs to be individually bypassed. 

More Google-enhanced “dumbing-down” I really don’t need. Luckily, like the silly little “smart reply” labels that Gmail pops up by default these days (also useless for me, but far less annoying than Smart Compose”) this feature CAN be disabled.

Of course, you have to go on the usual Google user interface scavenger hunt to figure out how to turn this new feature off, because as I noted above, Google sprung it on everyone without information about opting out from its tender mercies. (Please see update above regarding this aspect).

I would not assert that “Smart Compose” is useless. For users who do find it helpful that’s excellent, fine, and dandy. More power to them, as the saying goes. Smart Compose generally seem more acceptable and helpful for mobile use — though Google mobile voice input is so good that voice is my own preferred method to input text on mobile.

My foundational complaint here isn’t that Google deployed Smart Compose, but rather that they enabled it by default without providing users even basic related information, including the all important “How the hell do I turn this damned thing off?” — the very question filling my inbox of late! (Please see update above regarding this aspect.)

So here’s how you turn it off. It’s easy, IF you know how.

Click the desktop Gmail gear icon at the upper right. Then click Settings. You should already be on the General tab at this point. Scroll down until you find “Smart Compose” and click the “Writing suggestions off” choice. Many users assume that their changes have taken effect at this point. Nope, not yet. You next must scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click “Save Changes” to actually cause any changes to take place.

By the way, you can also turn off the “Smart Reply” feature I mentioned above, via this same settings page. 

There are many better ways that Google could have deployed Smart Compose. Instead of enabling it by default, they could have popped an invitation to try it. Or if it had to be enabled by default, they could have popped a little box saying something like “Can be disabled on the General tab in Gmail settings” — or something along these lines. (Please see update above regarding this aspect.)

Unfortunately, the way that Google chose to launch Smart Compose is rather emblematic of continuing blind spots in Google’s attitudes toward user interface design and the needs of their very wide community of users. 

Google can easily do better, if they choose to do so by considering the needs of ALL users in these user interface decisions and designs.

–Lauren–