09 November 2014

Utopia is still hiding in a Google Inbox.

In the past couple of years, Google has done a stunning impersonation of Microsoft. Not just in operating system market share but also in their lack of innovation. To be fair to Redmond, while the prodigies of Gates design a unique smart watch on top of their Azure cloud, it appeared that all of Google's brilliance got sucked into a giant glasshole in the center of Mountain View. Well. No more.

I could sing the hallelujah chorus of the new Google Drive and Docs but no praise is deserved on a product that was ripe for an overhaul. These cloud systems were, and still are, far more useful, productive and reliable than the competition but looked like the crap designs of 2007. Because they were designed in 2007. Now they are starting to actually resemble the quality that they represent. [slow clap]

Instead, it is Google Inbox that caught my imagination. While Gmail easily transformed the face of email and all but killed every other web-based competitor that existed when Gwen Stefani was a high school idol, those game changing days got stale not long after Taylor Swift dumped her sixth boyfriend oh those million men ago. Now that Outlook.com looks prettier and Yahoo Mail copied the Gmail structure, what is left is a Gmail that still functions a little better than the competition but is no longer that interesting.

Enter the Inbox. Suddenly your inbox is treated like the to-do list that it always has been and allows you to "bundle" like categories, treat incoming items as tasks, create follow-up, pin important mail and unclutter the entire mess into a clean interface. Overall I would stay these new concepts work really well and, depending on your tolerance for change, you can adjust to the interface in just a few minutes. Admittedly, it helped my handicapped brain cells that I could move my current key "labels" into "bundles" so I could start running immediately.

Still, I would not recommend it to everyone quite yet. It is still a beta product that requires continued use of Gmail if you are dealing with 50+ emails a day. Basics, like deleting an email, take additional clicks to accomplish which should never be the case on a clean system. (Would a trash icon really take that much extra space?) More damning is the lack of access to all of the settings that are available in Gmail: Signatures, accounts, filters, themes - the list goes on. Not all of that stuff is needed by everyone, but having nearly none of it will surely limit the potential audience. These are mostly functions that will not break up the tidy Inbox interface, either, so bringing them to the party is a needed step to acceptance as a Gmail (or Outlook.com) replacement.

Still. Nice first step, Google. It is good to see you trying something your competitors never considered and making us re-think what we expect from our software. Now if you could just stop imitating the hardware prices of your competition ($650 for a Nexus phone?!) you will really be flying again.