Google Starts User Evaluations of Redesigned Gmail Inbox App

Google adds folder management features to its new Inbox app for its popular cloud Gmail application. Inbox is also tuned for mobile devices, which poses a new challenge to Microsoft Exchange.

Google Inbox B

Google has started "invitation-only" user evaluations of its new Inbox email client for Gmail that's designed with mobile devices in mind to provide more tools for managing messages.

Instead of just displaying emails, Inbox sorts messages, flags important keywords and other elements and links up to additional helpful information such as phone numbers.

"Years in the making, Inbox is by the same people who brought you Gmail, but it's not Gmail: It's a completely different type of inbox, designed to focus on what really matters", Google stated on its blog site.

According to Google, similar messages are grouped in "bundles," which are a bit like mail folders in Outlook, but with the added ability to schedule when they appear on-screen along with the option to remove them and the emails they include with a single operation to enable speedy cleanup. Emails can be stored away individually until you're ready to read them, too, according to Google.

The blog also links to a demonstration of how users can tap into Google to gather data related to their email, such as contact information. Users can convert their email messages into reminders, with just a tap of the screen, and important email can be pinned in place.

All of these features are oriented to touch-screen interaction on mobile devices, and this reflects the mobile focus of the tool. As an example, according to the demonstration, it's possible to recognize flight-booking information and convert it to a flight status pop-up.

Google Inbox tool raises the stakes in the ongoing war for mobile email between Google and Microsoft. Recent statistics from a BitGlass survey show that Google is moving ahead of Microsoft with 16.3 percent of the 81,253 companies surveyed using Google Apps and just 7.7 percent using Microsoft's Office 365.

The survey suggests that Google is making most headway with companies with under 1,000 employees. For larger companies, the pair is in a dead heat, at 8.8 percent, the survey found.

With the new tool, users keep their current email addresses, and the old Gmail tool will remain available for people who don't want the extra bells and whistles. One issue that might disappoint some users is that, according to Google, the new Inbox features don't work retroactively on existing emails.

The new Inbox offers many sophisticated features, with the added benefit of Google search engine integration. It has the advantage of enhancing the mobile email experience, while avoiding the complexity of the Outlook interface, according to Google. However, there may be some downsides, in the view of some industry analysts.

"This is an interesting approach, but I'm not convinced inboxes are broken," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting. "If the new tool makes errors bundling emails, with the result that mail is lost or hidden for days, power users won't use it. This could be a solution in search of a problem," said Olds.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, echoed this. He said, "With integration with search and the ability to tune heuristically to user patterns, this is a very intelligent solution, but there could be a confidence issue if it hides mail erroneously."

Google's Inbox, he said, "could be a lever to move users from Outlook, but Google has to invest in marketing the concept and evolving the tool. In the past, Google's pattern has been to throw such tools into the arena and then leave them to fend for themselves."

Google is also completing work on tools to allow users to shift seamlessly among all their mobile devices as well as to products such as Chromecast, which would enable the use of big screens and projectors. This could redefine how a "mobile desktop" is put together, with everything communicating automatically, according to the company.