Complicate Your Inbox with Inbox by Gmail

23 October 2014 #Thoughts

Another day, another tech company product launch, another overly happy launch video. Today it’s Inbox by Gmail. An attempt by Google to rethink your inbox in a way that seems to idealise the way we could use email, not the way most people currently are. Here’s the idea in Google’s own words.

Alarm bells went off when that line is uttered at the beginning of the video. Who loves email? I don’t think anyone does. Most people are at war with email. I am engaged in a daily battle against the inbox, a war I’ve only begun winning recently thanks to the amazing Mailbox app. Most people I know have lost this war and stare hopelessly at 100’s of unread emails, never to be opened let alone snoozed, archived, marked as spam or deleted.

Email is the ever present, immortal pipeline of the internet. It is not to be enjoyed, or loved, it is utilitarian. It is the plumbing that makes the internet work. Need to do anything on the internet? You’re going to interact with email. It powers the hand basin of online shopping, the shower of communication from colleagues, and the toilet of social media.

So while it’s great to see someone trying to re-think it from the top down, it seems foolish to do so without actually acknowledging how people use email. In the idealised scenarios of the launch video, fresh 20-30-somethings are shopping online, booking holidays and sharing photos with friends.

The majority of my inbox are work related emails. I may buy something once a week online, which counts for a few emails (shopping and billing confirmations), but I never look at them again. Passbook does a better job of handling airline tickets than any email will do, and I don’t book many of them a year either. As for photos, that’s what Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and pretty much any other social media is for.

Inbox by Gmail looks like a faster horse. A Dribbble-inspired ‘slap a new UI on an existing app’ idea. The problems it is trying to solve — at least for me — don’t exist or have already been solved by other apps or services.

I’m fine with email just being email.