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Trying out the new Inbox by Gmail

December 7, 2015

gmail-inbox-logo

A flurry of reports over the weekend suggest that Google is beginning to slowly move Gmail users over to a new mail platform called Inbox. The clear implication being that Inbox is intended to replace the 11-year-old Gmail — Forbes even titled their piece on the migration: “Google ending?

So what is Inbox?

  1. The next generation Gmail.
  2. A higher tier Gmail service just for mobile users.
  3. A new UI/feature refresh for Gmail designed for mobile Android 5.0 devices.
  4. Google’s careful way of floating a radical redesign of Gmail.

Today “Inbox by Gmail” is definitely still what it was first described as a year ago — not an alternative service, but an alternative and augmented interface to Gmail.

But clearly Google would like Inbox to become the new face of not just Gmail on mobile devices but email period.

In addition to some fresh new organizational features and a very fresh Android 5.o look, Inbox can significantly manage other email accounts besides Gmail.

A clean web design that acts like an app, not a web page

inbox-web-screen

When I first read up on Inbox, I was left with the certain impression — largely due to Google’s own contradictory mobile-centric descriptions — that it was an upper-tier service of Gmail aimed only at mobile users.

For example,Google’s How to get Inbox begins by stating that “Inbox by Gmail is open to everyone with a Gmail address” but under Supported devices and browsers, Google provides the following instructions for using the web version of Inbox on a desktop computer:

  1. Go to inbox.google.com.
  2. If you don’t see your messages, make sure you downloaded the mobile app. Before you can use Inbox on a computer, you need to activate your account in the mobile app.

Inbox certaiinly is first and foremost an app for mobile phones and tablets (and smartwatches). It is a re-imagining of Gmail which visually follows the minimalist Material design of Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and uses machine learning, in order to “pre-chew” the incoming stream of a person’s email into a more manageable arrangement.

But Inbox is accessible on the web to anyone with a Gmail account and its clean, yncluttered design looked and functioned very enticingly on my laptop screen.

My initial difficulty connecting to the web version was due to the fact that Google saw my up-to-date Firefox-based Pale Moon web browser (version 25.7.3) as an obsolete, and therefore, unsupported version of Firefox.

Inbox opened fine on my laptop in Chrome and instantly looked better — and more comprehensible at a glance — than Gmail.

The main Inbox screen is simple and boxy and colourful — but in a good way, rather than a Windows 8 way.

Google has used a very responsive design which puts a plethora of commonly-used features at your fingertip (or mouse click) without putting them in your way. When clicked (or touched), icons instantly expand to expose features and close, without ever taking you away from whatever main Inbox screen you are on — this is so much better (and faster) than jumping around between pages.

I didn’t take the time to play with the features but in addition to automatically creating bite-sized summaries of email (suitable for smartwatch screens), Inbox adds on-the-fly “bundling” of incoming emails into default categories, such as, “promotions”, “purchases” and “trips”, as well as user-defined categories. It also allows users to create to-do lists and to put their email off the hook, as it were, by hitting “snooze” on specific messages and notifications for minutes or hours.

One of the least-discussed (but most compelling to me) features of the Inbox mobile app, which is missing from the web version, is called “All Inboxes” which allows users to manage Yahoo and Outlook email accounts through Inbox.

A mobile interface that works equally well on the desktop?

Inbox is clearly built on the interface guidelines of the Android 5.0 operating system, which is an interface optimized for a small touchscreen experience, yet Google’s mobile interface works to make Inbox very pleasant and functional on the desktop.

Apparently it’s not true that the same interface can’t work well across both touchscreen and keyboard-and-mouse devices — Google has done it with Inbox. It’s just true that Microsoft doesn’t know how to do it.

However, as much as I appreciate the interface of Google’s Inbox, I won’t hardly ever be using it. As it is, I never look at my actual Gmail account online. I pipe all my email accounts, including Gmail, into the Mozilla Thunderbird desktop mail application. Not only can I aggregate all my accounts in one place but I can easily move messages between online mailboxes and local mailboxes on my laptop, in order to access messages offline, if I need to.

Inbox is totally aimed at people who live most of their online life through a wireless device and I’m not one of those people, I have to say though, that I will be installing the app onto my Samsung tablet.

And even if the web version is principally some sort of convenience for mobile users forced to go slumming when their phone’s aren’t handy, it’s still an improvement (for me at least) over the Gmail web interface. Click the images to enlarge them.

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One Comment
  1. I for one will be happy to dance on Flash’s grave. I will still expect it to come lurching out and follow me around the web though. Even now it’s still a damned nuisance. I have the flashplugin-nonfree purged from my Debian setup, but when I go to view an embedded file from archive.org in Iceweasel I get a complaint. NO FLASH. Grr.

    I’ve taken the liberty of adding the XML from here to the feeds list over at dreamwidth.org, because that’s where I do my thing these days. I may get back to WordPress. My account is certainly still here. Another buried zombie ☺

    Cheers

    ~xtian

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