Over the past two years, there have been plenty of rumors about something very hush hush at Google, specifically something involving the engineers and designers at Gmail. Periodically, there were sightings of something that became known as Project Bigtop. But everything revolved around a lot of speculation.
Until this afternoon, that is.
Google finally announced the end of Bigtop and the release of Inbox. According to Google, Inbox will ultimately be a replacement for Gmail, although this isn’t going to happen any time soon.
Inbox is a rethinking of the conundrum of overloaded inboxes and will, Google claims, offer a way to arrive at “inbox zero” — an inbox free of much of the rubbish that lands in your Gmail on any given day.
However, this is not just glorified spam control. It is a completely new way of managing Gmail messages, designed to help users organize what is important and get rid of the rest. It offers the Shangri-La of an organized and effective email inbox.
We've told you on many occasions in the past about the many problems with email, so most readers understand the issues Google wants to address.
Sundar Pichai, senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Apps, noted in a statement that Google views Inbox as a way of dealing with problems that were never envisaged when email originated.
Email started simply as a way to send digital notes around the office. But fast-forward 30 years and with just the phone in your pocket, you can use email to contact virtually anyone in the world.
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.
So what does the development team at Gmail plan to do? Think about everything that you have in Gmail now and you get the idea. For many people it is a calendar, a task list, a way of collaboration, a social media notifier and a way to connect with contacts, Google Drive, Google Plus and instant messaging.
Basically, it is a central work location. That means many people are seeing their inboxes turn into information swamps from which nothing useful escapes.
Enter Inbox. The first thing to say is that Google has no intention of replacing Gmail, at least in this decade. It will probably find it difficult to replace Gmail even in the next decade, so there is no need to start worrying about migrating contacts or useful content.
The other thing to say is that both Gmail and Inbox will be running simultaneously but that Google is not expecting people to use both. Rather, it envisions people using one or the other, depending on needs.
For now, Inbox is by invite only on iOS, Android and the web, although you can ask for an invite by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without actually having worked in it, the full reach of Inbox is far from clear. However, according to Pichai there are three major additions to email functionality that will set it apart from other services. They include:
Bundles: Bundles is an extension of the categories functionality that was introduced in Gmail last year and pulls similar types of emails together. It also allows users decide what kinds of email they want to group together, although Inbox can do that for you automatically.
Highlights: Inbox can highlight the key information from important messages like flight itineraries, event information, as well as photos and documents that have been emailed to you by contacts. It can also display useful information form the web that wasn’t in the original email, like flight updates in the case of travel information. Bundles and Highlights work together.
Reminders, Assists, and Snooze: These functions act like a super agenda that enable you add reminders to emails depending on how and when you want to manage those emails. No matter what you need to remember, your inbox becomes a centralized place to keep track of the things you need to get back to, or place on the long finger using the snooze button.
Google is marketing Inbox as a new kind of email service. So if it expects this to catch on, it really needs to have something that is genuinely new rather than something that simply sweeps the old problem of inbox overload under the carpet.