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What’s Up With Google Inbox?

What’s Up With Google Inbox?

by Jessica Jones

I recently received an invitation to Google’s Inbox, the new email organization system for Gmail. If that introductory sentence causes a cartoon bubble with a question mark inside to pop up over your head, you’re not alone! Let’s break it down.

If your Gmail is starting to feel like this, you're the target market for Inbox!
If your Gmail is starting to feel like this, you’re the target market for Inbox!

Is Inbox a replacement for Gmail?

Inbox works with your existing Gmail account, giving you a different way to organize messages sent to that address. Using Inbox does not take away your access to the original Gmail interface; you can give Inbox a try and choose to go back to Gmail if it doesn’t end up meeting your needs. The Inbox website – http://inbox.google.com – or the Inbox app can be used to replace http://www.gmail.com and the Gmail app, but you can also use them side by side – using Inbox for some purposes and Gmail for others.

It does not sound as though Google has any plans to do away with the existing Gmail system, and while things with Google are always subject to change, it’s likely that if they ever did decide to use Inbox exclusively and replace Gmail completely, they would roll that change out gradually, with plenty of warning. Gmail has hundreds of millions of users, many of whom are very used to the Gmail system and wouldn’t appreciate being forcibly moved to a different platform. While Google is sometimes known to make unpopular changes to its lesser used services (or cancel them entirely), Gmail is hardly in the same ballpark as Google Reader, and Google won’t want to alienate the users of its most popular offering. So while I’d recommend keeping an eye out for changes as they happen, I wouldn’t be too worried about your Gmail account becoming unrecognizable overnight.

In fact, the massive popularity of Gmail – and the level of attachment many people have to their email systems – is probably a big part of the reason why Google is launching Inbox as a completely separate, and optional, feature. Google thinks that they can improve on Gmail, or at least create a system that will be more efficient and useful for many people, but they know that not everyone is going to want to make the change.

What does Inbox do exactly? How is it different?

While most email systems have the ability to create folders and filter certain types of messages (automatically sending all email from your bank into a folder called Financial, etc.), Gmail has been taking this concept a little further for a while now. If you’re a regular Gmail user you’re already familiar with the various tabs that you can use to keep certain types of email separate – automatically sorting promotional emails, emails generated by social media outlets, etc.

Inbox takes that idea and runs with it. One of Inbox’s primary features is “bundling” email, grouping similar types of messages together and letting you choose whether those groups show up in your inbox, and how often. The pre-defined labels include Promos, Social and Updates, similar to the tabs used within Gmail. You can easily view and dismiss the bundled messages as a group, and best of all you can define bundles of your own – something you couldn’t do within Gmail’s tab system. If you get frequent messages from one particular person or group of people you can create a bundle for them and specify how you want those emails to be handled. You can be notified of those messages immediately or on a schedule.

Not only is Inbox attempting to make organizing your email simpler, it also includes tools to help you stay on top of your daily tasks. Inbox allows you to set yourself reminders, enabling your inbox to also work as a to-do list. Emails themselves can also be used as reminders – they can be “pinned” to prioritize them, or “snoozed” if you would like to be reminded of them at a certain time or (if you’re using your phone with GPS enabled) when you’re at a certain place. An email or reminder can be set to pop up when your phone detects that you’ve arrived at home, for example, or in any location you designate. You could set yourself a reminder to buy stamps that triggers when you arrive at the post office. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t you need an invitation to try Inbox?

Ready to give Inbox a try but deterred by your lack of the all-important invite? Never fear. Inbox is still in development and so Google is limiting access to it, but they’re not limiting it particularly harshly. I requested an invite at http://inbox.google.com and was sent one just a few days later.

If the invitation protocol puts you off or you’re just not interested in using something that isn’t a finished product (anything in a beta stage has the potential to be rough around the edges, although Google products are generally going to be more polished than most) you can always bide your time. When Google has determined that Inbox is ready for a full release it will be made completely open to the public and anyone will be able to sign up for immediate access.

So this is going to solve all of my email organization problems?

Everyone’s organizational style is different – and of course everyone has individual preferences when dealing with something as personal as email. Inbox isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and Google knows that. For those of us that take to it, though (after a short period of time I’m completely sold), it could be an extremely useful tool.

Will you want to make the switch? There’s one way to find out – give it a try, and give it some time. I found it a little disorienting at first, but after spending some time setting it up and learning the potential, I was hooked. Maybe it won’t be for you, but if you’re curious about it, make sure to give it a fair shake before deciding. If you’re not a fan then good ol’ Gmail will still be there waiting for you after the experiment.