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What is Google Inbox?


Email is dead. Long live email. Google is worried that email is taking up too much of our time, so it’s built a new app dubbed Inbox to make managing messages easier. Google says Inbox is “built on everything we’ve learned from Gmail”, although it isn’t yet clear if that means Gmail’s days are numbered.

So Inbox is email from Google. Isn’t that what Gmail is? Inbox is an app that sits on top of Gmail, filtering and organising your messages, and letting you turn emails into quick to-do reminders. You need Gmail to use it, and it works either in your browser or on Android or iOS via an app.

What does Inbox do that Gmail doesn’t? Rather than merely marking an email as read – which means you’ve seen it, but haven’t necessarily addressed it – Inbox lets you mark it as “done”. It’s then shuffled into the Done folder, where you can find it later if you need it, and removed from your main Inbox view, to help you focus on the emails that still need to be dealt with. You can “snooze” certain messages to pop back up to the top later, if you don’t want to deal with them right away, and set yourself reminders in a quick to-do list at the top of your inbox.

That’s it? Anyone who gets dozens of emails a day will appreciate the helping hand. Plus, Inbox organises your incoming messages: orders from online retailers are “bundled”, for example, acknowledging the fact that most of us don’t need to pore over our Amazon order confirmations, but want them to be easy to find if a delivery goes astray. If you’re planning a trip, your flights, hotel reservations and car-rental receipts will automatically be gathered in another bundle – you no longer need to make your own folders and drag messages over manually.

Does it look cleaner than Gmail’s ugly interface? It does, and it’s particularly designed to look good on mobile devices. What’s more, Inbox doesn’t only show the sender and subject line for emails, it pulls out key details – such as reservation times or photos – so you don’t need to click through to the full email to find them.

Why doesn’t Google just make Gmail better? That’s an excellent question: it’s not entirely clear why this isn’t being rolled out as an integrated upgrade to the Gmail interface. Having seen the backlash that follows whenever a web service is redesigned, Google may simply have decided to make the Inbox approach optional – a wise move, as those using Gmail for business in particular may not want to suddenly switch to a new way of working.

However, we wouldn’t be surprised if Inbox eventually becomes the default way of accessing Gmail. My inbox needs  Inbox. How do I get it? Perhaps not surprisingly, given how long Gmail was in beta, Inbox hasn’t officially been launched yet. Go to google.com/inbox to request an invitation to the beta, or ask around. Those already using Inbox should see an “Invite to Inbox” option when they click to compose a new message, allowing them to bring three friends onboard.