The Gmail team put artificial intelligence to task with Inbox. Its usefulness as an email client is punctuated by how effective it is at organizing and determining the importance of incoming mail. Of course, there's always room to add more clever features, whether they are designed to cut down cognitive load or just save a couple taps. A teardown of the latest Inbox update reveals two more features are coming soon to do exactly that. The first is a simple button to sort your messages, and the second is an option that uses a little computer intelligence to pick the best text from each message to show in previews.
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.
The first upcoming change is pretty simple, it's just a new button in the task bar that can be used to sort messages. The specifics about the available sorting options aren't available yet, but it's likely there will at least be options to sort by date and by sender name.
from bt_inbox_actions.xml and bt_inbox_actions_accessibility.xml
<item android:icon="@drawable/quantum_ic_sort_white_24" android:id="@id/sort" android:title="" android:showAsAction="always" />
This can definitely be a handy feature, especially for sorting bundles that might have multiple similar emails arriving throughout the day, like those "did you forget something" emails some sites send if you closed a browser tab while something was still in a shopping cart, or Amazon's assorted promotional emails.
The "perfect" snippet
The second item on the list is a bit more interesting. It looks like Inbox is going to offer to intelligently pick the "most important part of [a] message" to show in the brief line of text below the subject and sender in the email list. This segment normally contains the first few words of an email, which are often filled with greetings, advice about what to do if an email doesn't look right, or other openers that don't really do anything for us.
Replacing the otherwise useless line of text with meaningful content of the message could make it easier to visually skim through messages and filter the ones that are truly important from those with lower priority. It may also make it easier to look through already read messages to find familiar phrases and topics.
The evidence for this comes in the form of a toggle that will appear in account-specific settings at the bottom of the General heading with the title "Snippet." Disabling the option will default to showing the beginning of the text for each message like it does now. Enabling the option will apply some algorithm to find the most important text to show in that location.
<string name="bt_preferences_disable_perfect_snippet_text">Show beginning of message</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_enable_perfect_snippet_text">Show most important part of message</string>
<string name="bt_preferences_perfect_snippet_change_warning">This change will only apply to new messages.</string>
<ListPreference android:enabled="true" android:entries="@array/bt_preferences_perfect_snippet_entries" android:title="@string/bt_preferences_snippet_title" android:selectable="true" android:orderingFromXml="true" android:key="@string/bt_preferences_perfect_snippet_key" android:defaultValue="@string/bt_preferences_enable_perfect_snippet" android:shouldDisableView="false" android:entryValues="@array/bt_preferences_perfect_snippet_values" />
As one string points out, there is a catch to this feature: It can only be applied to new messages. This makes some sense because the server will be responsible for picking the "perfect" text, and it's probably going to be fairly processor intensive – surely too expensive to run on the backlog of email for every user.
This certainly looks like a pretty cool way to put artificial intelligence to work. We'll have to wait until it's live to see how good it is at actually finding the best text to represent a message. Even if the algorithm has to go through some fine tuning, it should be better than the current method of pulling the first few words, regardless of their value.
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.