Inbox has proven itself to be an invaluable tool for people that haven't got the time or patience (or a crazy set of filters) to deal with a constant barrage of incoming mail. Not only that, but it has been progressively gaining features that make it reasonably competent as a to-do list and time management tool. In the latest update to Inbox, there's evidence that Google is about to take this another step in this direction by adding an "assistant" to help with keeping emails and tasks readily available.
The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk.
Inbox's main workflow currently centers around reading an email, then either marking it done or snoozing it for later. If the snooze function isn't quite right for the situation, emails can also be turned into reminders. All of this works well for a number of situations, especially when emails are directly actionable, but sometimes life demands that you be able to keep certain bits of information readily available. It looks like this gap is going to be filled by an upcoming feature Google is calling Assistant.
Assistant appears to be sort of a spiritual successor to Gmail's "Starred" feature. In essence, items can be added to a screen called the Assistant View where they will remain readily accessible when you need them. The big differentiator is that the assistant won't allow this area fill up with old items that you've forgotten, it automatically removes emails from the list after some amount of time has passed.
The evidence that helps explain Assistant is still a bit sparse. Right now, it's limited mostly to things that can be found in the Settings screens. The most telling piece is a new screen in Settings that will be accessible from a link directly below Signature Settings. It will be titled "Assistant View Settings" and will contain several sliders to control the time it takes an item in the Assistant View to fall off the list after certain events occur. All of the sliders can be set to as little as 1 hour or up to a maximum of 168 (exactly 7 days). The top of the screen will read "Hours before removing items from Assistant View" and will have these titles next to each slider:
- After explicitly added
- After pinned time
- After read time
- After reminder creation
- After snoozed bump time
- After delivery time
<string name="bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_title">Assistant View settings</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_category_title">Hours before removing items from Assistant View</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_summary">Developers only</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_after_delivery_time_title">After delivery time</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_after_explicitly_added_title">After explicitly added</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_after_pinned_time_title">After pinned time</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_after_read_time_title">After read time</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_after_reminder_creation_title">After reminder creation</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_after_snoozed_bump_time_title">After snoozed bump time</string>
Link in the main Settings screen:
<Preference android:title="@string/bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_key" android:summary="@string/bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_summary" android:fragment="com.google.android.apps.bigtop.fragments.AssistantViewPrefsFragment" />
Preferences file for Assistant View
<PreferenceCategory android:title="@string/bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_category_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_assistant_view_settings_category_key">
<com.google.android.apps.bigtop.widgets.SliderPreference android:title="@string/bt_preferences_after_explicitly_added_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_after_explicitly_added_key" android:dialogTitle="@string/bt_preferences_after_explicitly_added_title" bigtop:minValue="1" bigtop:maxValue="168" />
<com.google.android.apps.bigtop.widgets.SliderPreference android:title="@string/bt_preferences_after_pinned_time_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_after_pinned_time_key" android:dialogTitle="@string/bt_preferences_after_pinned_time_title" bigtop:minValue="1" bigtop:maxValue="168" />
<com.google.android.apps.bigtop.widgets.SliderPreference android:title="@string/bt_preferences_after_read_time_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_after_read_time_key" android:dialogTitle="@string/bt_preferences_after_read_time_title" bigtop:minValue="1" bigtop:maxValue="168" />
<com.google.android.apps.bigtop.widgets.SliderPreference android:title="@string/bt_preferences_after_reminder_creation_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_after_reminder_creation_key" android:dialogTitle="@string/bt_preferences_after_reminder_creation_title" bigtop:minValue="1" bigtop:maxValue="168" />
<com.google.android.apps.bigtop.widgets.SliderPreference android:title="@string/bt_preferences_after_snoozed_bump_time_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_after_snoozed_bump_time_key" android:dialogTitle="@string/bt_preferences_after_snoozed_bump_time_title" bigtop:minValue="1" bigtop:maxValue="168" />
<com.google.android.apps.bigtop.widgets.SliderPreference android:title="@string/bt_preferences_after_delivery_time_title" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_after_delivery_time_key" android:dialogTitle="@string/bt_preferences_after_delivery_time_title" bigtop:minValue="1" bigtop:maxValue="168" />
One thing that's not clear from the evidence is exactly how things end up in the Assistant View to begin with. One of the configurable durations listed above is named mentions items that are "explicitly added," which strongly implies items can be added automatically or manually. There's nothing yet to explain how an email will be selected automatically, but it's surely going to use many of the same well-trained algorithms that already handle sorting and grouping for Inbox.
Another element of the Assistant is that it will be able to post notifications, but it's still not clear what notifications are posted. This may include notifications about items automatically added to the list, warnings something is about to fall off, or perhaps something else. There will be a toggle to disable notifications from Assistant in the Settings screen, and it will be automatically disabled if notifications are turned off in Inbox.
<com.google.android.apps.bigtop.widgets.BigTopSwitchPreference android:enabled="true" android:selectable="true" android:orderingFromXml="true" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_assistant_notification_enabled_key" android:dependency="@string/bt_preferences_notification_enabled_key" android:shouldDisableView="true" bigtop:defaultProperty="ENABLE_ASSISTANT_NOTIFICATIONS" />
There are also a few icons currently associated with the Assistant, but they aren't very telling. These will be used to show which items are marked to appear in the list, including a couple that will be used for manually flagging emails.
So, when will we see the Assistant? I wouldn't bet on it coming right away. It looks like there's still a fair amount left to finish, and at least a few necessary layouts are missing, so it's a near certainty Assistant won't be turned on in the next few days with a server-side switch. Still, there's quite a bit here. Unless this is just the start of a much larger feature, which it very well could be, Assistant could probably launch within the next couple of updates. Even so, a few other Inbox features have turned up in teardowns and spent many months in hibernation or slowly growing, so this may not happen for quite a while.
Clear Search History
This one is too small to be worth much attention, but since we're already into teardown territory, I'll throw it in anyway. Inbox is going to get an option to clear search history in the Settings screen. This is going to be no different than the same command in YouTube and a handful of other apps. It's useful for clearing away potentially embarrassing or otherwise secret searches that you may not want others to see if they start poking around. I'm not sure why the feature wasn't enabled in this version along with the new string, but it's here to be seen, so I'm pointing it out.
<string name="bt_preferences_delete_search_history_title">Clear search history</string>
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.