It’s been quite a while since Google has been experimenting new structures and layouts to improve your email experience with Gmail. Because it’s a very trendy topic in the domain of personal productivity several stand-alone apps and dedicated services have bloomed in this segment. I spontaneously think about the outstanding Mailbox app and Sortd. For the later, I invite you to have to have a look at the Sortd review in MakeUseOf explaining how to turn Gmail into an innovative Trello-like task board.
Beyond its relooked and simplified interface, Gmail comes along with neat features helping you to categorize emails and manage reading priorities, backlog and email history. The time of endless lists as bulks is over.
Google recently moved one step forward with Inbox, a new concept of mailbox management. It does not come as a brand new email platform but as an application lying above your existing Gmail account. I’ve been testing it for a couple of weeks and I have to admit that I’m convinced although many improvements would be needful.
Inbox is still in an early beta testing period and requires a preliminary invitation request sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or an invitation from an acquaintance to be allowed to access it. Within a couple of days Google should reply positively. You are ready to start without installing and configuring anything. Indeed, it comes as a webapp for desktop and only requires your gmail credentials to get in. Therefore, no gmail account… no chocolate!
Android or iOS clients are also proposed if you prefer using the app on your mobile devices.
Inbox is designed as a simple, elegant but efficient flat design single page application with a lateral pane for options and information. I really like the turn taken by Google the last few years with their tool interfaces and the clear orientation to flat design.
You first notice a large central area reserved to the message thread sorted in a chronological order. The main visual difference with a standard email tool is that messages are grouped by categories according to Google criteria such as Travels, Social Networks, Finance, Forum, etc. You can enhance the category set to match your own use by creating additional categories.
This design decision prevents endless message threads and thus comes handy for people always struggling with their ever growing inbox. If you manage to clean up regularly your mailbox this main feature and possibly the tool itself won’t bring you much improvement in your way to manage your emails.
The messages in the thread are not only rendered with titles but also with well chosen abstracts especially if the messages have links, pictures or attachments. You get right to the important information and decide if you want to postpone the entire message reading.
Google provides the possibility to delay the reading for selected messages. You schedule the moment you expect Inbox presenting them to you again in the inbox queue. This is an efficient way to manage priorities.
You can create reminders on the fly. They will pop in at the top of the thread to behave as… reminders!
What could be improved?
- We miss the ability to influence message categorization for native categories.
- Email tags as in Gmail are not displayed and thus cannot be managed.
- Email abstracts are rather well conceived when attachments and links are embedded into the message. The abstract is however a bit awkward when the message is only made of text. We need to expand the message body to get the overall idea.
- The structure choice is rather efficient but it takes place and successive screens to scroll down to review large inboxes. In such a case, a more compact email list as an option would be more appropriate.
- There is no specific iPad version yet. You have to use the iPhone designed version with big ugly characters as rendered on an iPad. I have not had the opportunity to test on an Android tablet if we have the same ungainly interface.
Conclusion: Although improvable I find that Inbox is a smart move in the email manager arena. The novelties include innovative features and an efficient visual layout to help you reducing the natural visual clutter of big inboxes and enhance the user experience.
Let’s hope that the above-mentioned points will be corrected along with successive beta releases and ultimately in the final app version.
Questions: Have you already had the curiosity and the opportunity to play around with Inbox? What do you think about it?
Photo Credit: Google, Inc.