Some of my coworkers here at Android Police are under the mistaken impression that I'm an organized person, but they're wrong. I'm actually very disorganized, but it's thanks to tools like Inbox that I'm able to pass as normal in this line of work — at least when it comes to email. So I'm taking its scheduled death pretty hard. Even with the redesign, Gmail doesn't have the features it needs to replace Inbox.
Google announced Inbox's death just earlier today, and it was defensively quick to direct people to this support document titled "Move from Inbox to Gmail," which lists equivalencies between the two services that should help the grieving transition back. Although plenty of Inbox's functionality has made its way to Gmail — like snoozing messages, follow-up nudges, and Smart Reply — even Google notes three features are still missing from Gmail: pinning emails, bundles, and reminders.
In the case of pinning and reminders, there are some "close-enough" equivalents. Starring messages will probably replace pinning for most of us — though I'll miss the way it treated my inbox as a productivity-enhancing to-do list — and Google thinks reminders can be handled in Google Tasks and Keep, though neither has the same functionality. But the defining feature of Inbox is still missing any parallel (Update: Though Google tells The Verge it's coming someday.)
That's 32 emails total, across 5 bundles in my general inbox, visible at a glance.
There's no replacement for bundles
In the last hour, my work account received 20 emails. I tend to get a large volume of low-priority messages that are easily filtered, and keeping them all together for regular review kept the important items visible. In Inbox, those would be easily bundled into categories for later assessment — by my count 16 would hit one bundle, three another, and one would be visible as a standalone, genuinely important message in my inbox.
Thanks to the magic of bundling, I could literally tell at a glance when that one important email came in. But although I have labels set in Gmail, the same convenience doesn't apply. That important message is effectively drowned out in the sheer volume of inbound communications.
"Important and unread" makes things a bit easier, but 90% of these emails aren't "Important," and in Inbox, this would still just be two bundles and five individual, separated messages.
Now, Gmail does have tabs, but they're not a replacement for Bundles. At max, you get five of them, and you can't customize how they work. I can't change "Updates" to make it contain something else no matter how much I really want a way to reproduce the behavior of a couple of exceptionally useful bundles.
Labels are Gmail's biggest failure as someone coming back from Inbox. They combine the utility of a single defining attribute for a category of message, sort of like a bundle in Inbox, but with precisely none of the functionality or convenience. I can tell based on the color of a bit of text what an email is, and I can click that label in the bar to the side to see just those messages, but I can't segregate them out from my general inbox while still knowing if one has come in.
Labels are Gmail's biggest failure as someone coming back from Inbox.
Gmail assumes on my behalf that every email which comes in fits into two categories: super important and run-of-the-mill important — with, perhaps, a not-important default if you set a filter to skip your inbox entirely. What it fails to understand is that I have labels which define a whole range of importance, down to really-not-important-outside-record-keeping. I do not want low-priority emails distracting me, but I still want to know when one comes in. Inbox could do that, Gmail can't.
One potential workaround is to use a search term to exclude those unimportant labels like "-has:userlabels" but that's not a replacement to Inbox's bundling, it's a half-assed attempt to duplicate Inbox's inbox — and it still doesn't have bundles. Plus, I'd have to bookmark the search term to use it easily. I can't set a custom inbox type outside the five equally useless views offered by default.
None of these fill the Inbox void.
I'm sure Google's argument in such cases is to unsubscribe, but that's just a failure to understand the range of importance I have to deal with. Some categories require once or twice daily review at best, so I want to know if something in those groups comes in, but I don't want it taking up 90% of my inbox if it ends up being a high-volume day.
Alright, so without bundling, Gmail can't replace Inbox for me when it comes to work, but surely my personal life can adapt? Considering how much I travel, I don't think so.
Inbox bundling is so useful, it's able to create bundles on demand based on messages that come in. Every time details for a new trip are delivered to my account, Inbox figures it out, and relevant emails get placed into the new, dynamically-created bundle as they're pulled out of my inbox. That means fast access to trip itineraries and reservations, without clogging up the lines of communication.
In Gmail to emulate something similar I'd have to make a new label for each trip, manually applying it to each applicable email as they come in, and snoozing them until the day they're needed, but that's a ridiculously tedious and manual process compared to literally doing nothing — the sum total of effort required in Inbox.
Google thinks Gmail can be one-size-fits-all, but it isn't. Anyone that's gotten used to Inbox's bundling is in for a rude awakening come March 2019, unless Google gets its shit together and duplicates the functionality millions of us have come to rely on.
Add bundles to Gmail before you kill Inbox, Google.