Last week, Google released a brand new email service called Inbox. If you're new to Inbox or just (rightfully) confused about what it does and how it works, here's what I've found after a few days of usage.
Notice: Inbox is invite-only for the moment, but invites are being sent out rather quickly.
Forget EVERYTHING You Know about E-Mail!
Before looking at all (I think) the features of Inbox, it helps to address what Inbox is.
The first problem most people are likely to have is that they don't know what buttons do. For Example, when one of my coworkers first signed up, he asked me "What does marking an email as 'Done' do? Mark it read? Archive it?"
The answer to that is rather easy: Inbox syncs directly to Gmail and has an effect on how email is handled there. However, the fact that many GMail users will find confusing is that terms like "marked as read", and "archived" are entirely gone. Inbox treats your emails like a to-do list. Google Inbox assumes that you need to do something with every email. Some are pieces of information you need to sort, keep or set aside, some really need to be replied to, and some inform you that you need to do something outside your inbox like pay a bill. In all of those cases, "reading" an email doesn't mean you're done with it, so... What did the Google engineers come up with? Google Inbox!
In my opinion, that's the distinction that makes everything else feel right. When you use Inbox, try to avoid thinking about the new functionality using the old terminology. I will explain what the buttons do to you GMail account (in case you ever go back to Gmail, you don't want to blow it apart, do you?), but the best way to dive into Inbox is... Well... Just start using it!
The Three Classes of Email: Pinned, Snoozed, or Done
With Inbox, you have a few options for dealing with email. The three primary actions you can take on emails are to pin them, snooze them, or mark them as done. Here's what those three functions do (as well as their counterparts in Gmail):
Pin: When you pin an email, it gets more prominent placement in your inbox. If it was part of a bundle (which I'll explain later), it will be given its own line so it's more visible. There's also a large switch at the top of the app on all platforms to show only pinned emails. If it's something you'll need to come back to like travel confirmation, reference documents, or an important conversation, pinning it is probably the right way to go. There is no Gmail counterpart to pinning.
Snooze: You may need an email but not necessarily right now. Inbox allows you to snooze it so it disappears from your inbox and comes back at a later time. You can specifiy a specific time, use vague presets like "tomorrow afternoon" or let Google decide with a "Someday" option for things you don't want to deal with now, but that aren't time-sensitive. If you view your inbox in Gmail, snoozed messages will be archived.
Done: This is for when you don't need a message anymore. Marking an email as "Done" removes it from your inbox or visible bundles. You can still search for it, but it won't be cluttering everything up. In Gmail this also archives your messages and the functionality is similar in Inbox.
There are other features of Inbox, but these are the three possible statuses of your emails. You either need it now, you need it later, or you don't need it. Simple, huh?
Staying Organized: Reminders and Bundles
Snoozing an email to remind you about it later will pop the message up only when you need it. Reminders also allow you to make notes to yourself. Get a promotional email with something you are unusually interested in? Set a reminder for "Christmas gift for [Insert whoever you want here]." The reminder will be included next to the email itself.
Of course, Google Now users will recognize Reminders. You can also use your phone, or tablet to set natural language reminders like "Remind me to [Whatever] when I get home." If you use those reminders, they now show up in your inbox as well. Since Inbox treats entries like a to-do, and your reminders to yourself are, presumably, things that also need to get done, they're put in line together.
Putting together reminders, emails, and the extra information cards Inbox adds can make it difficult to parse information. That's why Inbox introduces the concept of "Bundles". Bundles group related emails together in your inbox. For example, promotional emails from Amazon, NewEgg, and Apple would all be grouped together in one, collapsible bundle. You can also mark an entire bundle "done" with one button.
Bundles combine labels, filters, and Gmail's smart tabs all in one. Here's where things get a little wonky. Your old tabs, like Promos and Updates (as well as a few new ones), are Google-made bundles with their own special rules you can train or override. Your old labels do get imported, but they function much more like folders. Adding a message to one of your existing labels manually will remove it from the inbox entirely. All of these old labels are now in a category called "Unbundled" in the sidebar.
You can also create your own bundles out of existing labels, or by making new ones. Click the label in the sidebar and click "Settings" in the action bar at the top. Here, you can create rules for this label. When you do this, it turns it into a bundle for all future emails. Gmail filters and labels were separate things, here they are tied directly together.
From now on, any emails you get that fit these rules will behave the same as Google's own bundles in terms of grouping. Your inbox will automatically put any new emails you get that fit the filters into one, collapsible bundle. You can also access them from the sidebar. Unfortunately, one downside compared to labels is that you can't apply this to past emails.
What's DEFINITELY needed?
Well, it's difficult to define what can be done to make Inbox better, because it's SO different from the old GMail that just getting accustomed to it is something that takes time.
There is the dire need for the "Delete" and "This is SPAM" buttons directly in the email header, instead of clicking the "three points" icon, and the interface could be a little more dense (Now it's extremely clean, though).
Other negative points? I can't find any. I am not fully adjusted to Inbox, yet, but I'll keep using it. We'll see... :-)
- Rating: 7/10