Google announced two new tweaks to Gmail this week, including further integration with Google+.
Among other things, the changes bring Google profile photos of your friends and contacts to the top of your in-box under certain circumstances, and in a blog post, Product Manager Itamar Gilad said they were meant to "continue to bring people front and center in Gmail." Gilad spelled out the tweaks:
Quick access to contact details
When you search for an e-mail address [in Gmail], the search results will now show you contact details in addition to that person's [Google] profile photo [if he or she has one] and the e-mails sent from and to them. From here, you can start a chat, call their phone and more. Plus, if your contacts have a Google+ profile, this information will stay up to date automatically. You can get to these same results in a variety of ways including from the people widget, contacts, and the chat list search menu.
Improved circle integration and circle search
In addition to adding contact details to search results, we've made some improvements to the [Google+] circles integration announced in December. When you select a circle, you'll now see profile photos of people in that circle at the top right of the page. Plus, when you click on these images you'll be taken directly to search results with contact details.
Circles are also now supported in search and filters. Find messages from a specific circle by typing circle:[circle name] in the search box. You can also find mail from any of your circled contacts by searching with has:circle. You can refine your search even further with other criteria and create filters based on circles. This means you can now view all the unread e-mails from your "Friends" circle or automatically star every message that comes from your "VIP" circle.
Google juiced up Google+ notification e-mails in Gmail earlier this month, and before that had already started integrating Google+ into Gmail -- recent new features include being able to add people to circles directly from the desktop and viewing recent Google+ content in the people widget.
When Google first launched Google+ last June, the company said its goal was to move toward the integration of its products with its social network (presumably to get the hot breath of Facebook off its neck). In addition to the recent Gmail tie-ups, Google+ has been connected up with Google News and YouTube, moves not everyone has been happy about.