It took years, but Google's GOOGL +0.85% email is finally designed to be accessed on your phone. Sure, users were always able to use Gmail on their phones, and did — often. That’s what Inbox, an email app Google announced Wednesday, hopes to fix. Instead of email sucking away all your time and attention through a tiny screen, Inbox wants to free you of needing to open your emails at all.
Among several new features, Inbox boasts of “Highlights,” which will pull out the most important parts of an email, like phone numbers, flight statuses, pictures and attachments. The rest of the features are cleaner ways to do the things we’ve naturally started to use Gmail for — reminders, information holders, and task lists. Users can “snooze” emails (a feature many people loved about other inbox apps like Mailbox) and set reminders for certain times or locations. It will also bundle similar emails together for easier sorting — similar to the “promotions” tab in Gmail.
Inbox may look like email, but it’s equal parts messages and Google Now. As users have started to rely on their inboxes as an information cache, Google wants to be one step ahead: it will pair your email tasks with the information you need to do them, like phone numbers and addresses, and will organize information in Google Now-esque cards. It seems mostly geared for personal use — email bills, online shopping updates, friends’ photos, flight information — but could probably be helpful in business uses as well.
As with Gmail itself back in the day, Google’s trying to drum up demand by making Inbox invite-only. People can wait for an invite from friends or email [email protected] to get added to a waitlist.
I got my hands on an invite, and after tooling around with it a bit, I can see the appeal. Inbox reduces your choice with each email to three simple things: snooze, “pin,” or “done.” For those used to old Gmail lingo, “pin” is like “star,” and “done” is essentially “archive.”
I’m an email deleter — I get a lot of joy out of permanently dumping emails — so I was disappointed to see that Inbox takes three touches to actually delete an email. But for most people, who just archive everything non-essential to get to inbox zero, this seems like a great way to sort through email. Don’t need? Done. Come back to this? Pin. Worry about it tomorrow? Snooze. You can even snooze for the nebulous setting “Someday.”
The bundling also makes the inbox easy on the eyes. I usually have to glance over a variety of email digests and promotions to see the emails I want to see. Here, they’re available for me to glance through when I have a minute, but they don’t take up as much real estate as they once did.
Inbox, which was codenamed Bigtop, has been in the works for years, said Sundar Pichai, head of Chrome, Android and Apps. “We get more email now than ever, important information is buried inside messages, and our most important tasks can slip through the cracks—especially when we’re working on our phones,” Pichai said.
After being parroted so often, “mobile first” is kind of a dead marketing phrase. But Inbox might live up to the idea and not just the words. Note that users don’t need a new username or account — it’s just built on top of your existing Gmail, and Gmail can still be accessed as usual if you’re a stickler for tradition.