Why is Google Reinventing Email ... Again?

Why is Google Reinventing Email ... Again?

Inbox is like an inbox for your inbox

Google on Tuesday made an unexpected announcement: It will soon offer a new email service called Inbox that "works for you." Or maybe it's just a front-end to Gmail, the email service Google launched 10 years ago. It's not clear. Because, well, Google.

"Inbox is the inbox that works for you," Google notes on the Inbox web site in a characteristically confusing way. "Built on everything we learned from Gmail, Inbox is a fresh start that goes beyond email to help you get back to what matters."

So that's unclear. Not helping matters, you can't just use Inbox on the web, or download a mobile app. You need to apply for an invite. And wait. And wonder.

"[Email] promotions are now neatly organized," the Inbox web site offers helpfully, neglecting to mention that Google allegedly solved this problem with the Promotions tab in Gmail. "Purchases are in one place. All your trips are together. And [you can] create your own bundles for anything you like."

There's a message preview mode, something that isn't exactly a new concept. "See order updates, flight status, reservation details, and pictures without having to open the message," the Inbox site champions.

There is even a single feature that goes a bit beyond email: You can set reminders, typically a task one would throw at a calendar or dedicated reminder service. And you can "snooze" reminders (and, oddly, email).

So what the heck is this thing?

You have to really slog through a lot of explanation before you arrive at the bottom line. Indeed, you also need to get past some deception. In the blog post announcing this new product, for example, Google states very clearly that "Inbox is by the same people who brought you Gmail, but it's not Gmail. Inbox is something new."

Except of course that it isn't something new. Inbox is Gmail.

Or, a front-end for Gmail, Google's existing email service. "Everything from your Gmail is automagically ready for you in Inbox," the Inbox site admits waaaay down at the bottom. Which means, of course, that everything from your Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, or other email service is not automagically ready for you in your inbox, somewhat dampening the excitement.

Why Google needs to separate the Inbox user experience from that of Gmail is unclear. And since many people actually pay for Gmail through Google Apps, this announcement also begs the question: Why aren't they getting instant access to this new service? Or front-end. Or mobile app. Whatever it is.

Once you get past the new language—bundles are simply rules that combine like emails together, for example—it appears that Inbox is ultimately nothing more than a way to combine email and reminders functionality in a single experience. But I'm not sure many Gmail users were upset with the performance of the existing service, and certainly few were looking for a reason for Google to read more of their emails. Was a Gmail service called Privacy a bit too obvious?

If Inbox is just Gmail, though, and I think it is, then this should just be Gmail. If Google intends to support non-Google email services, maybe that could be communicated. Either way, I'm tired of "reimagining" things. Especially when they just work as-is.

If this kind of thing excites you—it should send shivers down the collective spines of those at competing Gmail front-ends like Mailbox—then send an email to [email protected] and request an invitation. Hopefully, Google is using Inbox on the other end of that to bundle those requests and won't snooze yours.

I can't wait for the Windows Phone version.

Yes, I'm joking.

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