I got an invite yesterday to try out Google’s new experimental email management system – almost unsearchably (besides on Google Search) named Inbox. Ok, it isn’t that unsearchable, it has a rank of 4 when searching for “Inbox” on Bing (not including Google search here for obvious reasons), and most people would search for something like “Inbox gmail” or “Google Inbox” or “Inbox by Gmail”.
Overall, I consider it to be an inferior email management service compared to Gmail, and the service I use, Microsoft’s Outlook.com which is part of the free Office Online suite. It has a few new features, but that’s about it. It lacks some of the most basic features I’ve come to expect from an email management service.
For starters, I cannot “select all” emails from a list. For those used to the standard process of choosing conversations individually, Inbox makes things confusing on the front page. Choosing an item will actually choose the entire category like “Updates” or “Social“.
Google has long been a supporter of the “Delete nothing” cult, and has exercised this stubbornness by completely removing (as far as I can see) the “delete” option. As someone who already uses nearly 20% of free space on gmail (everything neatly organised into folders until I switched to Outlook.com) with active, regular deletion, without even using it as my primary email service any longer, I am utterly horrified by this step. It’s not a positive step for someone who wants a clean and clutter-free inbox.
Many elements, both design-wise and functionality-wise, seem to have been inspired by Outlook.com. The “pinning” feature is basically the “flagging” feature of outlook.com, “sweeping” is inspired by the “sweeping” feature of Outlook.com, etc. The repositioning of many features like “Hangouts” in the top-bar, are also undoubtedly inspired by Outlook.com. This is not to mention the general concept of material design, which is of course inspired from Microsoft’s Metro/Flat/Modern design language.
The UI seems to violate Google’s own recommendation for material design. The entire inbox is built using cards, but the cards don’t satisfy the conditions that Google states in it’s own material design recommendations. This leads to the layout becoming distractive and cluttered.
Overall, the new UI is not productive for serious use, as you are more likely to miss out important notifications and emails. It seems to be intended more for the casual user, the so-called “neo-netizen” who only uses email to chat with its friends, etc. It also lacks customisablity, and the settings are weak, even when compared to Gmail. For instance, it’s a degradation over Gmail’s already-poor email forwarding options.
Talking about customisability, one feature I really love about Outlook.com is the slightly underrated Rules feature for automatically sending your emails into specific folders. Fine that Inbox has better (than most email services) automatic sorting categories (“Finance”, “Travel”, etc. are pretty good ones), but I’m still not comfortable with leaving the job of organising my emails to an AI – I prefer to do this myself. For instance, I may value a particular forum I contribute to over others, and would prefer if that forum had a separate category. On outlook.com, you can set specific conditions, like “if from email@example.com then send to folder XYZ, forward to firstname.lastname@example.org” and I need not rely on an AI sorting my emails for me.
Recommendations for Outlook.com
As I’ve already said, I’m now an outlook.com user, and for my own personal interest, it would be to my benefit if I provide outlook.com-specific recommendations, rather than recommendations for gmail or yahoo mail. What I’m saying is, while I don’t like Inbox on the whole, I really envy some of the nice features it has, and would like Microsoft to put them in outlook.com too : )
- To-do lists – This is a really good feature that Inbox presents – Microsoft has the advantage of being tied to a really full-featured note-taking program, that is OneNote. Why not let us display selected OneNote notes on a tab in our outlook.com inbox, or, optinally, on top of our onenote notes.
- Snoozing – This is another nice feature in Inbox that helps keep a more clutter-free inbox, probably taken from Dropbox’s email client for Android and iOS, that is Mailbox. I’d like Outlook.com to shamelessly steal this feature, and improve upon it. For instance, I’d like snoozing to work not only based on time, but also where I am (my geolocation). For instance, I’d like to be able to “snooze till I return to Bangalore” or “snooze till I’m at my workplace”. This sends the email to a “snoozed” category until the trigger (like “2 hours” or “till I’m at my workplace”) is activated, when it returns to the inbox.
- Updated version of “Rules” – As I’ve previously said, I love the “Rules” feature that helps me automate my email while still retaining complete control of it. However, I’d like it if it were slightly improved upon with inspiration from Inbox. I currently only use rules for emails which I don’t need to check. For instance, send emails from email@example.com to “Blablabla” folder and forward to “firstname.lastname@example.org”, since it’s mostly a mail intended for email@example.com, not me. If Outlook.com had an option along with “send emails from … to … folder and forward to …” that “BUT display in inbox till I read”, then I could use the feature much more powerfully. Basically what I’m proposing is, that there should be an option that some of these emails which are automatically sent to a folder or forwarded, should appear in my main inbox too until I read them.
In summary, Inbox is basically another standard google product. Does something someone else (Mailbox in this case) tried to do, taking inspiration from other products too (Outlook.com in this case), innovating in that, succeeding at that, but also acting a little oversmart. In this case, they’ve missed a number of features, but considering that it’s a pretty new product, I’d excuse it for now : ) That’s about it.