Google rethinks webmail with Inbox, raising questions about Gmail's future

Google is taking another crack at email overload, but this time around it's resorting to drastic measures, developing a new product apparently built from scratch without relying on Gmail

Google is taking another crack at email overload, but this time around it's resorting to drastic measures, developing a new product apparently built from scratch without relying on Gmail

Google is taking another crack at email overload, but this time around it's resorting to drastic measures, developing a new product apparently built from scratch without relying on Gmail.

The new email application out of the Googleplex is simply called Inbox, and, according to a blog post from Google Android and Apps head Sundar Pichai "it's not Gmail: it's a completely different type of inbox, designed to focus on what really matters."

Restating a common complaint heard around the industry for many years, Pichai, the senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Apps, railed against email as an application that was useful three decades ago but that has evolved into productivity-destroying beast.

We get too much email, inboxes are time-consuming to manage and the truly important information often gets overlooked in the clutter, particularly when accessing email from smartphones. Google is coming to the rescue, but will it succeed?

The first Inbox innovation mentioned by Pichai doesn't sound very innovative, and, despite the pledge that Inbox "isn't Gmail" it's based on an email categorizing feature introduced last year in Gmail. Pichai calls it "Bundles." "For example, all your purchase receipts or bank statements are neatly grouped together," he wrote.

The other big Inbox feature is called Highlights, which, in keeping with the stating-the-obvious meme of the announcement, highlights what it deems to be important information from messages, such as such as flight itineraries and event information. The feature will also complement important email information with data found on the web, like real time flight status.

While Highlights sounds useful on paper, it will be challenging for Google to get the user interface equation right, so as to not create a confusing mess of information snippets grabbed from multiple messages.

Pichai then trumpets an Inbox feature that lets people set reminders that are triggered at pre-determined times, a feature that sounds decidedly vintage. A related and more innovative-sounding capability is Assists, which proactively supplies users with relevant information related to the reminders, such as the phone number of the store a user has been reminded to call, or a map to the restaurant where they have dinner reservations. And if you can't deal with a reminder or message when it appears, a feature called Snooze lets users set a time for them to resurface.

Google is testing Inbox with hand-picked users. Although Inbox is a separate product, testers will use their Gmail username, and all their messages, labels and contacts from Gmail will populate Inbox, according to a Google spokeswoman.

Considering this, it seems Inbox will at some point replace Gmail.

If you want to be considered for an invitation, email Google at inbox@google.com. Hopefully your message won't get lost in the clutter of that account.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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