Often enough, I happen to be somewhere with a poor cell signal. Seems difficult to comprehend these days that not every square foot of America has at least a 12 MPBS signal. However, these places exist. Those places can be beautiful northern Michigan or, well, a University of Michigan home game. Because these places exist, I have a bevy of podcasts at the ready.
One of these was a rambling conversation amongst tech acolytes. They had gotten a few early invites to try Inbox by Gmail. One of the guys on the show gets hundreds of emails a day and doesn’t ever seem to find enough time to check his personal email…much less read any of it. To this I can relate. They all seemed pretty geeked about it, so I requested an invite.
That invite just showed up yesterday—oh my gosh—Christmas came early! Yippee, yippee, yippee! I was probably just as excited about getting a chance to use Inbox as I was when my Gmail invite showed up over a decade ago. Shiny new toys from Google don’t come around often. Sometimes, they are like Gmail; other times, they are Google Wave or Google Buzz. So, which would it be? A Vanquish or an Edsel?
The first thing Google asks you to do is to download an app to your phone. There are a few confirmation items and then, there you are: in a very odd, unfamiliar world. You know that there are email messages in here somewhere, and now you just have to find them. What does that button do? Uh…oops. Now, how do I undo that?
The rationale behind developing Inbox is that you don’t have a good way to manage all of the emails that you get on a daily or weekly basis. After awhile, you just ignore them. I know you know at least one person with over 10,000 messages in his or her mailbox. Gmail’s Priority Inbox was a first step to address this, and this is even a huge improvement on that.
Instead of merely sorting messages into two buckets, you can create and group types of messages into several buckets. The improvement here is that Google gives you a great start by automatically putting them into groups like Social (updates from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ <snicker>), Promos (90% of that marketing-related mail that arrives) and Travel (to help you manage all of the confirmations, and then archive them once you make it back home). There’s also a Low Priority bucket, which you can archive in one fell swoop. You can also create groups of your own. Presumably, Google uses their existing filter mechanisms to begin piling future emails into the right buckets.
You can even pin messages that are important and might require a follow-up to help you keep an eye on them. I found this pretty interesting. You pin items that you want to get to when you get a moment, and keep them separated from everything else. By clicking a switch at the top of the screen, you can quickly switch views between all of your unsorted emails and those which have been set aside.
There is an option to snooze messages so they show at the top of the list tomorrow, next week or any time of your choosing. One of the swankiest features related to Snooze is that you can also choose to have them pop to the top of your list when you get home. So, the reminder is either based on the time or your location. It is convenient and a neat feature.
Google knows that Inbox is overwhelming and difficult to navigate at the first pass. The little things they’ve done to address this are incredible. As soon as you download the app and sign in, Google sends you an email. Within that email is a link to an unlisted video on YouTube. That video is under two minutes long and walks you through some of the major features. So, that’s great!
In addition to the follow-up email and video, they’ve added a bunch of experiences within the app to make sure you know exactly what each button does. For example, when you snooze an item for the first time, you get an attention-grabbing screen takeover that tells you what you’ve done and zooms in on key buttons. That’s throughout the app related to many interactions. Also, great.
The user experience itself is very solid and well thought out. There are a whole bunch of features that I haven’t even found yet, but I’ve gotten more or less comfortable with it after only an hour, so that’s good news. What’s even greater is that the experience is uniquely tailored to whichever device you are on. Things are easy to learn and repeat. After a short while, it becomes less difficult to navigate.
I really like what I’ve seen so far. Frankly, it’s phenomenal. I am hopeful that, one day, they may have a true enterprise solution as work e-mail is equally unmanageable for a great many people. It would also be swell if it was tied to regular old text messages. Maybe that’ll be the next big idea from Google? We shall see.
If you’re interested in trying out Inbox from Google, please tweet us @regroupinc and use the hashtag #inbox. If I get lucky enough to get some invites, I’d love to share them with you. Or, alternatively, you can get on the waiting list at inbox.google.com.