Google’s new Inbox goes beyond folders

Email seems to be getting a second wind, even while the world seems to be doubling down on smartphone messaging apps. Maybe this is in part a function of the growing impact of millennials, who seemingly want to use every communication channel, and face to face, too (see No surprise: Millennials are like everyone else, only more so). Or maybe it’s a function of what I am calling the failed promise of social collaboration — those tools that were intended to displace email, at least internally, in the enterprise — but which people seem to be migrating away from (see Next generation work tech has to build on the work graph, not just social networks).

Last week I wrote about the newly anointed Outlook for iOS, the former Accompli technology, acquired by Microsoft a few months ago, and I entitled that post The best Gmail client is Outlook? Really? I made the case that Outlook for iOS simply does a great job of segregating email into two piles: ‘focused’ email — which are those extremely relevant emails that come from people I talk with a lot, or contain important information — and ‘other’.

Google has released a new version of its Gmail client, called Inbox, which operates in a similar way. I got my invitation to the service last week, but only started using it this past weekend on my laptop in Chrome.

Here’s what it looks like:

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The defining characteristic of Inbox is how it organizes emails into groups that can be checked off and archived en mass. Each email can still be dealt with individually, but clusters — like ‘promos’, ‘updates’, and ‘social’ at the top — can be ‘swept’ as a group, in one click, or a sweep on a touchscreen device. Here’s the ‘updates’ cluster selected:

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Here’s a single email, expanded, and the ‘move to’ pull-down expanded:

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Inbox pulls emails with important info — like flight itineraries, or photos mailed — into so called ‘highlights’.  Here’s an image from Google, showing those on Android:

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One of the nifty features of Inbox is its built-in notifications tools. Here’s an email that I want to take action on at a later time, so I pull on the snooze icon, and I can pick one of the presets or pick a time and place to take action:

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Clicking on the big red plus icon at the right bottom of Inbox opens a dynamic menu of options:

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The top three are my wife, Sarah, David Card, and Laura McGowen, the three people I chat with the most through Google. Then three icons for creating reminders, inviting people to Inbox, and composing email.

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Creating reminders is intended to act like a lightweight todo capability, and perhaps not that lightweight. For example, if I type ‘call gregarious’ Inbox finds the contact info for Gregarious Narain and grabs his phone number, which I can click on to make the call, or I can snooze that reminder until later in the day.

Well, I’m sold. I have switched to Inbox on my laptop, but we’ll have to see if Inbox outdoes Outlook on my iPhone.