An email inbox is a long chronological archive of messages. Messages are either read or unread, and after reading you can keep them in your archive or delete them.
Over the years, our email experience has improved as providers have added features like folders and full-text search, but that core idea of what email is has remained.
Perhaps all of that is starting to change.
Google Inbox, which launched in October 2014 and has started to pick up steam recently, is not just Gmail spruced up with some new bells and whistles.
Instead, it’s an entirely new way to think about email. Inbox offers a smarter system where messages are automatically organized and grouped together and can disappear and re-appear when you need them.
Think of it as a productivity app that works with email, not an entirely new email service (it integrates seamlessly with your Gmail account).
For this installment of Social Web Q and A’s How I Use It series, I’ll detail a few specific ways Inbox has been useful in my experience.
Helpful Features of Google Inbox: My Review
One of the major benefits of Inbox is its ability to automatically group emails into particular categories. Gmail itself started to go this route with Social and Promotions tabs, but Inbox takes it much further and allows you to easily teach it which emails to automatically group together (called “bundling into labels”).
Inbox starts you off with quite a few default labels with your messages already grouped accordingly. You can also easily batch archive particular labels, which helps cut down clutter when you get lots of social notifications, for example.
I subscribe to quite a few email newsletters and promotions, but I don’t want them to distract me throughout the day. So I bundle all of those emails into the Promotions label, and then tell Inbox to only show me that label once a day, at 8:00am.
I take a quick sweep through those messages in the morning and then I won’t see any promotions for the rest of the day.
You can also set up labels to skip your inbox, so they remain in the sidebar for you to check but won’t pop up as unread. Personally, I use this for news sources, as I subscribe to a number of daily updates for world news, politics, finance, and the like.
I like the convenience of having the news come to me in my email instead of having to hunt around all over the web, but I don’t want to risk checking my email for work and suddenly getting sucked into an hour of reading because a news story catches my eye. So I have that label skip my inbox, and once or twice a day–when I decide I want to–I go there to read the news.
Another source of email frustration is those messages you know you’ll need later but don’t need to address right now, which build up and make your inbox more cluttered. Google Inbox allows you to Snooze emails for them to re-appear at any time you choose.
Any email you are finished with can be marked as “Done,” which will make it disappear from your Inbox but stay easily retrievable from Inbox’s robust full-text search. I’ve found this to have a strong psychological effect that helps me stay focused on the emails that do need my immediate attention.
You can also pin particular messages to the top of your Inbox, as well as set Tasks and Reminders to appear alongside your messages. I personally haven’t gotten into the Tasks, Reminders or Pinning yet, but Snoozing emails has been extremely useful.
Shortcomings of Inbox: Missing Features
There are several things that Inbox doesn’t do (yet). For one, I have multiple email accounts for different websites I operate. I can get the messages to appear in one Inbox, but I have to manage all of that from Gmail. I also like to do a lot with signatures and canned replies, but this isn’t yet possible in Inbox.
Another common Google feature that’s noticeably absent at the moment is ads, but that will likely change over time.
Is Google Phasing out Gmail?
So far, Google has no official plans to get rid of Gmail in favor of Inbox or to force people to switch over. But it’s clear they are making a bet that the future of email will look a lot different than the past, and that Inbox is a better model moving forward.
The Inbox mobile app is very similar to the web experience, and this unification should help the service grow. (It’s also a big improvement on the Android Gmail app which was completely different from Gmail on the web.)
We’ll have to wait and see if Google changes its tune in the future and decides to move away from Gmail–it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve changed course and killed a popular offering in the interest of long-term strategy.
Have you tried Google Inbox? If so, has it worked for you?