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Re/code's Excellent Google Inbox Adventure

Google just launched a new email app. Join the Re/code reviews team on their journey exploring Inbox.

Vjeran Pavic

Earlier today Google announced a new app for email, one that is meant to be an alternative to the existing Gmail app. We at Re/code have just gotten access to the new app, called simply “Inbox,” and as is often the case with our review process, we started chatting about our first impressions.

So, rather than go through a laundry list of features that many of you can’t even access yet, we thought we’d share our dialogue with you.

Lauren: Downloading new app on iPhone. New “Inbox” icon is nice. Sign-in page looks exactly the same, and two-step authentication (my choice) is exactly as annoying as before. Also, I still have around 10,000 unread emails, if anyone would like to help solve that.

Google says that the new app will work on both Android and iOS, and also in Chrome on the Web. No support for other browsers at the moment.

Bonnie: No support for Google business accounts yet.

You also have to request an invite to this new Inbox app, which I’m sure will add to the hype around it.

Vjeran Pavic

Bonnie: I hope this new app is better than the current Gmail app. Most of the time, it’s ridiculously slow fetching new emails across all categories.

Lauren: I agree. I actually reverted back to my phone’s native Mail app because the Gmail app was … just meh. How’s that for a scientific approach? It was meh.

Okay, I’m seeing much more white space, as well as primary colors, in this new app. Also, avatars and thumbnail images are attached to mail, so you can easily see who each message is from and the content within mail. That’s a nice touch. I see lots of Walt goatees. I should probably check those.

Bonnie: So, the new interface reminds me of something, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe Google+? But then again, I can’t remember the last time I used Google+, so maybe that’s not it.

Lauren: So you’re the person who has been using Google+!

Bonnie: Oh, I know what it is — Google Now! The new interface definitely takes some getting used to, but it’s clean and modern. I like the little icons that distinguish promotions, bank statements and purchases.

I also like that you get a preview of photo attachments and Word files, and other pertinent info like maps and Web articles. But still getting used to how everything is organized.

Lauren: One of the first things I’m seeing that’s new is the snooze option. When I swipe left on an email I can opt to have it pop up again later today, tomorrow, next week, or “someday.” What is someday? That’s kind of funny. Like if I said, Bonnie let’s grab lunch and you said, Sure, someday! I would think that meant never.

Also, snoozing away messages isn’t new, right? Aren’t there other apps that let you snooze your emails?

Bonnie: Yeah, snoozing messages has been done before. Mailbox does it. Acompli is another email app that I’ve tested. Acompli isn’t so much about deferring messages or reaching the elusive inbox zero. Rather, it’s about helping you do more right from your smartphone. I liked it.

Vjeran Pavic

But I do like the added snooze functionality in the Inbox app.

And Lauren, I’d love to have lunch with you! (Sets reminder to someday.)

Lauren: I feel like we’re going to be saying “Mailbox does that” a lot in this thread. What do you suppose the “Updates” are? Are you seeing those?

Bonnie: Hmm, I see an Update from you. I just clicked on it. It says, “Updates includes notifications from online accounts such as alerts and confirmations. It is bundled in your inbox.” Looks like you can disable bundling if you don’t like it.

Lauren: I’m all for the bundling if it lumps together Promotions emails. Which it seems to do in this new app. Right now, I’m seeing emails from people I actually care about or want to respond to, without dozens of marketing emails in between.

Oh yeah: It says “Promos, 20 new,” and when I tap on that I can see/delete them all at once. … I like how Google is now solving a problem that it sort of created when it introduced the Promotions tab.

Bonnie: It looks like Travel, Purchases, Finance, Social, Updates, Forums and Promos are all bundled into Inbox. But there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to hide some of these options on the mobile app. Am I missing something? I wonder if you have to do it through the desktop app.

Lauren: This little pin button up here is clearly for reminders. I have a few in here from the last time I used Google Now. (I still haven’t picked up those coffee filters at Safeway.) When I tap the pin again, it goes back to email.

Bonnie: It looks like you can also pin emails as a reminder. I just opened up a message from my ukulele instructor and pinned it with a note to remind me to sign up for new classes.

Lauren: Hold on. You play the ukulele?! That is awesome.

Bonnie: You wouldn’t think it’s awesome if you heard me.

Lauren: Kara’s going to make you play at the next company off-site.

Bonnie: Just unpinned reminder to sign up for more uke lessons.

Lauren: How do you suppose you delete mail? Right now when I swipe left I only see the option, highlighted in yellow, to snooze; not archive or delete.

Vjeran Pavic

Bonnie: Well, that’s annoying. The only way I’ve found so far is to tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner and then select Trash. But that just moved all my messages into Trash. Undo! Undo!

Lauren: No, that was a Freudian slip. Your subconscious actually wanted you to do that. Be free, Inbox, be free!

But you’re right, so far that seems to be the only way to delete emails. (Readers, if we’re missing something, tell us.)

Lauren: Looks like when you tap the red “+” button to compose a new email, it recognizes … your favorites? Your recently-emailed contacts? In either case, my significant other and two friends are appearing as quick email options.

Bonnie: I’m also getting a couple of my favorites or most recently emailed contacts, as well as Reminders. I wonder if that’s the default or if it changes depending on the last function you used.

Lauren: A note we just received from fellow Re/code reporter Eric Johnson: “Funny how the UI for archiving/snoozing (swipe right, green background to archive; swipe left, yellow background to snooze) are identical to Mailbox’s.”

Bonnie: He’s right.

Lauren: And another note from Katie Boehret: “The ‘sweep’ concept was really first integrated by Hotmail a couple years ago, when MS totally revamped Hotmail to become”

Bonnie: Should we run a couple search tests?

Lauren: Yeah, let’s search for old or obscure emails in both Gmail and Inbox.

Just searched for “wine country cottage” to pull up an old reservation and the email I was looking for came up fourth in the Gmail app. It was the 16th search result in the new app, buried beneath a bunch of Houzz and Dot&Bo marketing emails. Interesting. Let me search for my former boss’s name. Yup, the Gmail app wins again.

Bonnie: Okay, I’m switching over to the Web version.

Holy moly … that’s different. So much white space! But I think I like it. The new format is a lot more digestible on the desktop version than the mobile app. It’s easier to see the previews for things like restaurant reservations and party invites where I can see the time and date without having to actually open up the email.

Lauren: I’ll join you as soon as I get my PIN code for two-factor auth. Again.

Bonnie: (Side note: Lauren is doing weird voices and making funny noises. It’s quite amusing, but I’m also scared.)

Lauren: Trying on my “Inbox Zero” Halloween costume.

Lauren: Okay, checking out Inbox on Chrome now. More white space on the sides of the inbox. I’m not seeing avatars of the message senders like I see on mobile, but I can still see things like photo attachments without having to open the email. And things are “bundled” the way they are on mobile.

I have to say, I’m optimistic overall about the way this is organized, but I’m missing the simple check-delete option. Where is that?

Bonnie: Oh, I found it. Just hover your cursor over a person’s avatar or icon and the check option shows up. But then it looks like you have to go to the right-hand corner, click the three dots and then Move to Trash. Seems like a lot of work, no?

Lauren: Too much work. I think Google has done a lot to improve mass deletion with this new inbox, but single-message deletion is more complicated.

Bonnie: I feel like we’re missing some simple ways to do common things. In general, there seems to be quite a learning curve with the new Inbox app. I’m sure I’ll get used to it over time, but it’s kind of frustrating and problematic right now.

Lauren: Speaking of, my inbox is suddenly down to 4,578, from around 10,000 earlier. I must have mass deleted … stuff.

Bonnie: I’m a zero inbox kind of girl, so that number just gave me some massive anxiety.

Lauren: I somehow deleted all emails prior to Oct. 8. How did that happen? Okay. Time to troubleshoot.

But first — Bonnie, your first impression?

Bonnie: Like you, I’m optimistic. I like the new Snooze controls. It makes email a lot more actionable, and not just a receptacle for messages, if that makes sense. The previews or highlights also make it easier to see things without having to open up the full email.

But as I said before, there’s a learning curve, and I feel like it’s going to take me a while to figure out everything.

What about you, LG?

Lauren: I agree with you on snooze, message previews, etc., but I want to see a clearer way to archive and delete, not just snooze.

Otherwise, I bet this is something that users will get accustomed to in a few weeks. And if Google eventually makes this the primary mail app, we’ll soon forget what the current Gmail app even looks like — which is often the case.

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