Friday, October 24, 2014

Inbox by Gmail: the only place your email feels home

The tweet above means something like: “email will never die.” But I actually wasn’t sure about that. I replied to myself (which I do way too often): “Save this and prove me wrong in 10 years.” 10 years is a long time, but after using Inbox by Gmail I’m sure email will still exist in 10 years.

Email is weird. Its a modern postcard, but it’s also one of the oldest ways to communicate in the digital world. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with someone over email and it just felt unnatural.

I have thousands of emails in my inbox, most of which are unopened. I know I’m not the only one. There are a lot of apps that promise a better email experience and some of them are really good, but I never replaced the default Gmail app. First of all because I didn’t think it was worth my time to try out all of these apps to find one I like, email is just not that important to me, but also because I really like the tabs that were introduced by Google not long ago. Personal messages end up in my primary inbox, all the Google+, Facebook and Twitter stuff lives in “Social”. Newsletters and things like Google alerts are in “Updates”. “Promotions” is for all the commercial stuff and very rarely I find an email in “Forum”. This happens all automatically when you turn these tabs on. I only see a notification on my phone when a personal mail comes in and manually checking the rest of my mails once every day would be enough.

But still, there was this inbox full of unread mails. Why? Let me give you an example. When I receive a mail that tells me MKBHD uploaded a new video on YouTube, I always open the YouTube app where the video is on top of the list instead of opening the mail and clicking the link. Also, the Google alerts are not always interesting. Sure, I could clean up my inbox, but that is actually a pain in Gmail. There isn’t really an easy way to do this. It is possible, but I had to Google it. So then I would have this empty inbox, that refills itself. It’s not a pleasure to keep it empty, unless you’re constantly in your mail app archiving every mail right after you received and read it.

Then there was Inbox

With Inbox, I reached inbox zero in a few minutes. It not only looks really nice, but it’s also easy to keep it that way. Inbox isn't a Gmail replacement; it relies on it, but I find myself hardly using the Gmail app and site anymore. It bundles your mails like the tabs do in Gmail, but there are more bundles this time. You can also create them yourself. You could split up YouTube and Google+ mails for example. The best part about these bundles is that you can easily click the checkmark button to show you’re done with that bundle. Want to check that mail about super sale from your favorite webstore at a later point? Just swipe it to the left and snooze it until a preferred day and time or location. You can pin the most important mails to your inbox, so they will stay there until you're done with them. You can attach a reminder to a mail so you won’t forget to… print it or whatever.

But this is only the beginning. If you use Google Now, you know Google is able to extract useful data from mails. It also does that in Inbox. YouTube links are clickable right away. You can open attachments without opening the mail. If you made a reservation for a restaurant, the link to Google Maps is right there. Booked a flight? Real time updates will show up. As you can tell, this is not just an inbox. It feels like a personal central hub. It's about order. You might even email files to yourself again, just to have them in a central place. It handles emails like to do lists. Speaking of to do lists, you can set reminders right within the Inbox app or site and have them pop up in your inbox at a given time or location.

There is room for improvements however.

While these reminders are great, they're also confusing. Google now has multiple places where you can create reminders, but they don't seem to be connected to each other. Reminders you set in Inbox won't show up in Keep and vice versa. And then there still is Google Tasks, which isn't even a full product. There also is no way to add an attachment that lives in your Google Drive. These things are no deal breakers of course.

Inbox is the place your mail deserves. It's a place you want to keep clean (because of that background) and it's easy to do so. Email isn't only not dead, it’s immortal.