Today, Google officially announced
Gmail Blue Inbox, a service we posted about just last night. Previously codenamed Bigtop, Inbox by Gmail is a full reimagining of how an email product should work, and how users should interact with their email.
It is really rare for a product to come out that actually reimagines something rather than just claiming it does, but Inbox is really a fresh take on... the inbox. Though the product is just in its first release (and doesn't handle all your email services as we thought it would - a feature that ended up in Gmail), it already looks promising.
The gist of it - which we enumerated in our post last night - is that Google wants to make your inbox super smart, and transform it into sort of a to-do list. Emails can be pinned, snoozed (until a user-specified time), or marked "done" (which corresponds to "archive" in Gmail). Inbox also gives users all sorts of smart treats like reminders, suggestions for who you need to contact, and bundles which group certain types of messages together for mass management.
More than anything, Inbox requires a shift in the user's state of mind - it doesn't work like Gmail. You can't color-code labels or create labels within folders, or do a lot of things power users like to do with Gmail. It's a new product, a new system, and a special set of features that - in some ways - marries the intelligence of Google Now with Google's new vision for email management.
Got all of that? Let's move on to the actual app. The Inbox app looks a lot like what we posted, and what Geek.com posted many months ago. The first-run makes it clear what you should expect from Inbox right off the bat.
Once inside the interface (assuming you got an invite), you'll see your messages grouped out by day or month, going backward in time. As stated before there are three things you can do with emails: Pin, Snooze, or mark Done. This is something Google internally calls "triaging" the messages.
Pinning emails keeps them around and bubbles them to the top of the category when other emails are dealt with. Snoozing puts the emails into a special section of the app, to return in your inbox later (kind of like Boomerang for Gmail, a tool I personally use all the time). Marking an email "Done" functionally eliminates it from view, as you've presumably dealt with it and no longer need to see it.
Bundles are just like Gmail's tabs, but there are a lot more of them, and you can even create your own. The default bundles include Travel, Purchases, Finance, Social, Updates, Forums, and Promos. Users can turn these off or create more if they want to. The way Inbox handles bundles (and emails that should be bundled is really smart - take purchases for example. If you recently purchased, say, a Nexus 9 from Google Play, Inbox will show the confirmation email but will also show a small card for the product itself to explain what you actually bought.
As discussed in our previous post, Inbox will also do this for things like travel arrangements etc. Updates like package shipping notifications also generate helpful cards.
Something great about Inbox (or not great, depending on what you're used to) is the ability to deal with bundles all at once. If, for example, I'm tired of all the various social emails sitting around in the social bundle, I can hit the "sweep" button to
sweep them under the rug mark all of them done, eliminating the need to go through and select all messages and archive them. Functionally the same goal is achieved, but it's much simpler in Inbox.
The FAB in Inbox is interesting. Inbox is the first Google app to expand the FAB into a series of baby FABs (which is allowed according to spec), but it also does something else - besides allowing you to compose a regular email, the FAB can create reminders and suggests who you should email based on who you've frequently or recently contacted.
So far I'm liking Inbox. I've switched off Gmail notifications for my personal account so I can focus on Inbox for a while and see how I adapt to the experience, but my initial impressions are positive. Google's new email product seems smart, helpful, and quick.
That said, it's still early. Inbox doesn't have a tablet layout yet (though we've seen what might be Google's vision for a tablet email layout in the material design reel), there's no love for Google Apps accounts, and there are still some strange interaction quirks, but already the product seems polished and thoughtful, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here.
Note: I do not have any invites to give out, and to my knowledge no one does yet outside of Google. Please do not post your email address in the comments section, or you're gonna have a bad time.