Show How Busy You Are with Smoke Signal for Gmail

Are you constantly bombarded with email after email, on a daily basis? Somedays you may appreciate the more socially-oriented emails from your coworkers, but other days, an onslaught of work-related communications may prevent your indulgence, even if the less important emails keep coming.

Instant messaging clients have long had a feature to alert contacts of their current availability through a number of statuses like “available” and “busy”. However, email has never been able to enjoy the same benefits – until now. Smoke Signal brings similar functionality to Gmail, allowing you to indicate your current availability in your email signature, based on the current level of unread items in your inbox.

Getting Started

Getting started with Smoke Signal is a really simple process that requires little effort. You don’t need a separate account, only your Google one.

When you head to the Smoke Signal website, you simply need to click on the red “sign up here” button to start the process to connect with Google. Once you’ve granted access to your email inbox to Smoke Signal, you’re all set to start sharing your level of unread mail. To do so, it’s only a matter of adding an image to your Gmail signature. Said image is located at a custom URL that you will be provided with after logging into Google.

How it Works

Smoke Signal will rate your inbox’s potential to accommodate more email every minute by checking out how many unread emails you have in your inbox. This number is then put in one of three ranges, pleasant, tolerable or unbearable, which is displayed in your email signature.

The email boundaries of Smoke Signal

Room for Improvement

There is definite room for improvement in Smoke Signal, even though it does do what it says on the tin. Firstly, it’d be great to actually have the current unread count in the image. I feel that that’s just a basic omission that should be added in as part of a future release.

Secondly, Smoke Signal doesn’t have a great level of customisability, unfortunately. There is only the three, single-themed images in play within Smoke Signal, none of which can be customised. I’d like to be able to modify different parts of the status image, such as colour, size and font to better fit in with the style of my email signature, or just for personal preference. Not everyone really wants a massive image in their signature, but would be okay with something smaller.

Everyone’s inbox is different and the time required to respond sufficiently to a single email will different between people. Therefore, it’d be good to be able to manipulate the levels in which the indicator changes so, should you have fairly short, simple correspondence, you can increase the number of unread emails needed to trigger the “unbearable” level, and vice versa. While the default levels are certainly not short of suitable, they’re not perfect, and a degree of customisability would help better suit the service to each individual user.

A Smoke Signal image in a Gmail signature

The most obvious improvement is, however, the exclusivity to Gmail. Smoke Signal can only be used with Google’s email service right now, although the wording on their website suggests more clients will be able to interface with Smoke Signal in the future. This is something I’m definitely looking forward, being primarily a native app-using iCloud user. I should note, however, that the service theoretically works even if you use Gmail with a native client, since the image is not an app and can still interface with Google even if you’re not using their website.

Final Thoughts

I have focused a large part of this review on negativity but only because I can see a lot of potential in the service. Ultimately, I think Smoke Signal is an excellent service that does the job and I encourage all Gmail users to try it out. Unfortunately, however, I don’t use Gmail anymore so there’s not going to be much use of this service for me after this review. However, if I were still using Google for email, I’d be adding this to my signature immediately.

There are still those points for improvement, which shouldn’t be shunned even though I do like the app overall. It does it’s job as you’d expect, but I’d like it to do so in a form that I prefer since I’m not completely keen on the designs that Smoke Signal has by default. Also, as I previously mentioned, the ability to tweak the boundaries for escalating levels of busyness would be very preferential.

However, most people will appreciate what Smoke Signal provides: exactly what it says it will, a simple indicator to allow your email recipients to know when to email you and when to hold back on them. Plus, it’s free and it’s always hard to criticize something that you don’t have to pay for. If Smoke Signal later expands to more email services, I’ll definitely use the app.


A simple indicator image that can be added to your Gmail email signature to share the level of your inbox with recipients.