Gmail is getting a major makeover in Google's newest app, Inbox (iOS|Android). Announced today, the app and web service is completely separate from Gmail, and it seeks to change how your emails are organized. So far, I can say it absolutely succeeds.
It does this by categorizing every email you receive, as either an important message that deserves space in your inbox, or as less-important update that can be lumped into a label with other message like it. Google introduced this concept in the latest version of Gmail from 2013, with the tabbed inbox, where messages are automatically grouped into labels such as Promotions, Social, and Update. Inbox takes that further with a new approach and more labels, all in the name of helping remove clutter from your email.
Though I've only tested Inbox for a short time, I can already see myself ditching the regular Gmail app for it. Not only is it visually appealing, with every feature I want within easy reach, it's also full of features that let you completely tailor your email to your habits and personal organizational strategy.
Just a note that Inbox is invite-only for now, and you can email Google at firstname.lastname@example.org to request an invitation. Google said that current users can invite friends from the app or website, but so far that feature isn't available.
Your new inbox
The app's design is clean and simple, and seemingly influenced by Android Lollipop's new Material design. Your inbox is in chronological order, with messages from today at the top, followed by older emails. Any email that shows up in your priority inbox will appear there. For each email, Inbox will show a highlight from the message, including any attached images, documents, or videos, helping give you some context.
At the bottom of the screen, there's a new simple compose button, and when you tap it, it will show the three people you've emailed the most in recent memory. There's an option to add a new reminder (more on that later) and compose a new message.
If you're like me, you get a mixture of personal messages, promotional emails, account updates, and social alerts every day. Currently, Google is smart enough to recognize these emails and put them into corresponding tabs in my inbox. The Inbox app takes this idea a bit further with bundles.
Now similar emails are lumped together into a bundle, or a themed label. Then, you'll see a collapsed folder in your inbox of those messages, and you can tap it to expand and view the emails. This is designed to cut down on clutter, by keeping similar, likely less-important messages grouped together, so they don't get in the way of more important emails.
The pre-made bundles in Inbox are Travel, Purchases, Finance, Social, Promos, Updates, Forums and Promos. You can move emails in an out of these bundles to help Inbox learns what should go where for your account. You can choose to remove any bundle, but keep in mind that if you do, each individual message that would otherwise be bundled will now show up in your inbox.
You can create your own bundle by giving it a name and selecting what kind of messages you want included in that bundle. The setup process is very similar to creating a new Gmail filter, and it can be very helpful if you get many emails from a specific sender or with certain keywords.
Bundles are a very powerful part of Inbox, you can use them to organize your messages and control what emails show up in your inbox. Within each bundle, you can even choose what time of day a bundle appears, and choose if the bundle triggers a notification or not.
Swipe it all away
Inbox uses gestures to help you manage your mail faster, and they are dead-simple to use. You swipe right to mark a message as done, archiving it away, or swipe left to snooze it, which I'll explain below. Compared to other gesture-based email apps, Inbox is easy to use.
Tap and hold any message to bring up the bulk edit controls, where you can batch delete, archive or snooze messages. With those bulk edit controls, you can also pin a message to your inbox, which keeps it in your inbox and prevents it from getting cleared away accidentally. If you pin a message, you can also toggle the tiny switch at the top of the screen, with a pushpin icon on it, to view only your pinned emails and reminders.
Snooze for later
Taking a cue from apps like Mailbox, Inbox lets you clear out messages from your inbox and have them reappear later, when you're ready to deal with them. This is the Snooze feature, and it hides away a message in your Snoozed inbox and then puts in back in your main inbox at the time you designate. That could be tomorrow, next week, "someday," or you can pick a specific time or place for it to reappear.
I really like this feature for travel-related emails, such as a reservation confirmation. You can hide it away until you go to check into your hotel, and then the information you need is handy, instead of buried in your email account.
Reminders at the top
The reminders you create with Google Now can now coexist with your email inbox, and they show up at the top of the screen. If you scheduled a reminder for a specific time or place, it will appear when it's supposed to, while reminders that aren't time-sensitive will stay at the top at all times.
Within Inbox, you can create new reminders by tapping the compose button. Then, as you type your reminder, Inbox will suggest what it thinks you want. The suggestion feature is smart, as it can pull in phone numbers from your contacts, suggest bill reminders from your email, or find movie listings. There's also an option to create a new reminder when you're viewing any email, which is really useful.
Inbox by Gmail is a totally new take on email from Google, with tons of powerful features. While a lot of the backbone of Gmail is still here, such as archiving and labels, Inbox introduces a new way of thinking about organizing and dealing with your emails. You get the freedom to compartmentalize every single message, or let them all flow into a single inbox. You can control when emails show up in your inbox, letting you save social updates from the end of the day, or get all of your important work emails when they come in.
I've only scratched the surface here, but I can already see how powerful the app can be. For many, it will replace Gmail, either on Android or iOS. Gmail isn't going anywhere for the time being, but I look forward to using Inbox everywhere I go, on my phone, tablet, and computer.
Stay tuned for a full review and plenty of more coverage of Inbox.