Google Inbox: The future of email?

Although email has long since given up the limelight to instant messaging and social media, the reality is we still spend most of our time online dealing with email. Google's new Inbox app radically re-imagines email, and the result is amazing, frictionless productivity. This is the future of email.

It's important to note that Inbox is just for Gmail, so you can't use it for your other email accounts (unless you forward them though Gmail). It's available for both iOS and Android, as well as on the desktop via a web version in your Chrome browser. And right now, it's in beta and available by invitation. That's not a big deal though; Google is sending invites fairly quickly to those who request them, and you can also snag an invitation from another Inbox user. You can request an invite at the Inbox site.

So what makes Inbox so different? First and foremost, it treats your mail as action items, meant to be acted up. Or, put another way, a to-do list. You can perform a number of simple actions on emails in addition to the obvious ones of replying and forwarding. You can snooze a message, for example, which removes it from the inbox until the time you specify. Don't want to deal with a message until next week? Send it a week into the future.

Even better: Inbox is location-aware, so you can snooze email until you reach a particular location, like home, work or any address you enter. And while you're snoozing email, you can add reminders to them, so you can make notes only you can see about what you want to do with the email. Want to make an email more prominent? Pin it -- that keeps it locked to the inbox.

New emails are automatically categorized -- bundled, as Google calls it -- using labels like Travel, Purchases, Updates, Social and Finance. The app is smart enough to automatically categorize email pretty well, and they behave sort of like folders. You'll see an entry for Purchases in the inbox, for example, and opening it shows you all the messages, new and old, that are so labeled. This makes it easy to keep your inbox organized and find what you need when you need it.

You can use the bundles that Google has provided, or make new ones and teach Inbox what to automatically sweep into your new label -- by recipient, subject line and more.

Like many new email clients, Inbox uses gestures. Slide a message to the left to snooze, or to the right to mark it as done. It's also worth noting that new messages are easy to send from an ever-present red button in the bottom of the screen -- tap it, and you get a fly-out list of your most recent recipients.

Most of Inbox's interface is concerned with these new ways of manipulating email, but you can still get to "traditional" Gmail elements like the Drafts and Spam folders, legacy labels that aren't treated as bundles, and settings from a fly-out panel on the left of the app. But the new way of working with email is so elegant that you won't miss the old artifacts of Gmail for long.

Indeed, give Inbox a try and you just might consider setting up Gmail to receive your ordinary IMAP or POP email just so you can make these features the way you handle all of your email.

Image courtesy of Google