Google sets out to reinvent email and make it useful again with Inbox

23 Oct 2014

Google Inbox

Ten years after the advent of Gmail, Google wants to once again disrupt email as we know it with Inbox, a fusion of Gmail and Google Now that only presents you with the information you need right away.

Currently part of an invite-only beta programme, Inbox is Google’s effort to tackle the reality that email has become too onerous to manage.

The app works across Android and iOS and within Google’s Chrome browser.

Whether we like to admit it or not, email is still a central hub of our digital lives. But it is hard to manage.

So rather than have users work to manage their inboxes, Inbox will attempt to do the work for you.

“Email started simply as a way to send digital notes around the office,” explained Sundar Pichai, senior vice-president of Android, Chrome and Apps at Google.

“But fast forward 30 years and with just the phone in your pocket, you can use email to contact virtually anyone in the world … from your best friend to the owner of that bagel shop you discovered last week.

“With this evolution comes new challenges: we get more email now than ever, important information is buried inside messages, and our most important tasks can slip through the cracks — especially when we’re working on our phones. For many of us, dealing with email has become a daily chore that distracts from what we really need to do — rather than helping us get those things done,” Pichai said.

How Inbox works

The best clue to understanding how Inbox works is to look at the latest version of Gmail and note how it groups together things such as primary email, social interactions, purchase receipts, promotions, updates and forums, for example.

Google Inbox on mobile

The magic begins when Inbox highlights key information from important messages in an at-a-glance fashion, including documents, flight itineraries and event information.

“Inbox will even display useful information from the web that wasn’t in the original email, such as the real-time status of your flights and package deliveries. Highlights and Bundles work together to give you just the information you need at a glance,” Pichai explained.

Assists is a kind of digital assistant that pulls together additional useful information for your to-do list. For example, if you set a reminder to meet someone at a restaurant, Assist will ensure that phone numbers and a map to the venue appear just at the right time. The power of Google Now will be evident in a new Reminders function that lets users set their own priorities and have them flash up at the right time.

Google is sending out invites to users to trial Inbox, but if you can’t wait email Google at to get your invite.

The development comes hot on the heels of news that Gmail for Android is soon to undergo one of its biggest overhauls with the release of the Android Lollipop operating system, which will give users the ability to manage multiple email services.

This not only applies to multiple Gmail accounts, but also lets users manage their Outlook and Yahoo! email accounts by simply swiping their profile box.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years