Inbox by Google: The future of email?

Have you heard about Inbox by Google? If it’s not already on your radar you’re going to be hearing lots more about it in the coming weeks.

So what is it? It’s a new email service from the team at Google.

Don’t they already have Gmail?

They most certainly do. In a world where most people have long discarded Hotmail accounts, Google’s Gmail service is widely recognised as “the” solution for an access-anywhere email service. Many small to medium sized businesses are even using Gmail as a replacement for traditional POP based email.

Gmail has been going for years now, and as an early adopter I was a big fan from the get-go. Gmail is feature-rich, incorporating Google’s own search algorithms into email searches, a great labelling system, complex rules that can be applied on-the-fly to emails as they arrive, and visual themes to change the look of your Gmail. And this is only a brief overview of the features available.

Why make the change?

Now that I’ve been using Inbox for just over a week, I feel that I understand Google’s reasoning for creating a new service instead of simply updating Gmail. It signifies a sea change in the way we use email – but that might not be for everyone!

I genuinely think that the changes implemented with Inbox are so drastic that incorporating them as an update with Gmail could have stopped some people using Gmail altogether. As much as I’m now seeing the benefits of Inbox over a traditional email system, it definitely took a few days of getting used to.

Google inbox

The look

The first thing you’ll notice, in comparison to Gmail, is that Inbox is very minimal. There are no longer options to visually customise the background or layout. Bolder colours are present, font sizes are increased, and lots of whitespace is introduced to give every element room to breathe. Menus and Settings are squirrelled away behind icons to make even more room on screen. Even the composition of new emails is initiated via a small icon in the bottom right of your screen.

This is all part of an approach that Google are taking to design going forward with all of their products. I’ve already noticed elements of it seeping out into Google Docs since I started using Inbox. They call it Material Design. It’s a way to describe their intentions regarding the use of colour, layout, animation and how they can combine these factors to establish a visual hierarchy. It aims to serve end users with an experience that feels intuitive and comfortable, regardless of your level of technical ability.

If you’re interested to find out more about Material Design specifically, you can read the full specifications right from the horse’s mouth over at Google.

Bundles

For those of you already familiar with Gmail, I would equate Bundles to Labels in Gmail, although they’re more like “Smart Labels”

Bundles are automatically present in Inbox from the moment you log in. They organise your emails into similar groupings as they arrive, for example “Finance”, “Promos” and “Social”

Inbox bundles

Initially I was put off by this, since I didn’t like the idea of Google deciding which of my emails should be related to which Bundle. However, I gave it a try for a few days and I must admit I found it really useful. As with Google Now Cards on mobile (and in Chrome) Google are getting rather clever at automating this sort of thing. I haven’t found a single email being bundled incorrectly yet.

You can also set up your own Bundles, just as you did beforehand with Labels. As of right now there is no way to assign a colour/icon to your custom Bundles, but I would be very surprised if this is not introduced at a later date.

One of the biggest benefits I’ve found from Bundles is that I waste less time looking at my emails. Beforehand I could often see that I had 4 or 5 new emails, and find myself obligated to open them all up and have a look. With Bundles I’m finding that I notice I have new emails, but I notice they’re all Promos and get back to what I was doing. For me, it’s definitely proving to be a time saving feature.

Pinning

Pinning is the equivalent of “Starring” inbox items in Gmail. It allows you to assign a “Pin” to any email sitting in Inbox. The handy thing about Pins is that you can apply a filter to show only Pinned emails. A little slider sits at the top of your Inbox, allowing you to swap between seeing all the items in your Inbox or just the Pinned items. Another handy one.

Reminders

Do you use your inbox as a To-do list? Ever email yourself with a list of things you need to take care of when you get home, or over the weekend? I know I do!

Inbox reminders

Inbox has also introduced Reminders. Composed as simply as an email, you hover over the Compose icon followed by clicking Reminder. You’ll be presented with a very simple modal window which lets you set a title for what you need to remember, along with setting a time for the reminder and setting whether or not it is Pinned.

Snooze

Along with Reminders comes Snoozing. This feature is not restricted to Reminders however, and can also be applied to emails. Don’t have time to deal with bill payments right now? Just click to snooze it until you’re home later this evening. Apparently this feature is already available in other mail services like Mailbox, so it’s not a game-changer, but it is most welcome.

Inbox Snooze

Overview

As geeky as it might sound, Inbox is quite an exciting proposition. I feel like it really will usher in a change in the way people use email. Even if it isn’t a hit, I can certainly see a number of features from Inbox being introduced to many other freely available email services. Whether or not it will replace Gmail in the long-run, time will tell. In the meantime, if you can get your hands on an invite it’s worth a try.

After all, Inbox links with your existing Gmail account and syncs content across both platforms. This means that you’re not starting from scratch when you try out Inbox; you can use your existing email address, and all of your Gmail inbox content will be available for you to access.

Try it for yourself

Right now Inbox is available by invite only. Invites have been sent out to a select few, with more invites being drip fed out as the last few weeks pass. If you know someone who is already set up with Inbox, maybe they will be kind enough to gift you with an invitation, after all Google gave all members 3 invites last weekend!

If you don’t know anyone who is currently using Inbox, you can register your interest by visiting http://www.google.com/inbox/

by Paul Devine on 14/11/2014