You’ve probably read a similar story to this somewhere on the internet by now, but if you haven’t, the quick and easy version is this: Google’s shutting down Inbox in March now that Gmail finally got an update, visual overhaul, and many of Inbox’s previously-unique features.
It took me a few days to get to writing this one because, to be honest, I’ve been greiving in my tech soul a little bit. I was an early hater of Inbox, shunning change and never truly giving it the chance it so richly deserved. I felt like it changed too much, did too much, and looked too different to be my daily driver and I decided early on that it wasn’t the email solution so many around me were touting it as.
About 6 months ago, however, I was researching email options for a friend who really wants to be a Chromebook guy but has a very deep reliance on Microsoft Outlook for his daily workflow. I won’t get into exactly how he uses it, but I was searching for something he could adopt and get a decently similar experience from.
After all, his reliance wasn’t on all the calendar and connection features in the Outlook universe: it was a functional way the inbox could be sorted.
I searched and tried quite a few options and, after exhausting them all, I thought I should look into Inbox one more time. I couldn’t really remember all the tricks it employed, so I was hopeful something in the way it sorted your inbox could help get him over the hump.
And it was in that search for a deeper understanding of Inbox that my eyes lit up.
Inbox’s Killer Feature
Inbox does a lot, but under the hood it really is just a different take on the Gmail ecosystem. Sure, you hit a “done” checkmark to dismiss and archive email, but it is essentially the same. You can put things in folders just the same while knowing those are really just labels. The inbox gets auto-sorted into things like Updates, Promos, and Social without you needing to do anything, just like Gmail.
For all those things, it is really the WAY Inbox shows them that is the difference. Ditching the tabs and generously spacing out items really gives the overall UI a freeing, airy feel. I’ll miss that a lot.
However, the things above are all doable in Gmail. Swap out “archive” for “done” and get used to the tabs being up top instead of inline and we’re back to a good spot functionally.
Except one thing. And for me, this is the one thing that made Inbox worth the switch
Bundles, as Inbox dubs them, are simply folders that are allowed a place in your inbox. Sounds deceptively simple, and it is: but this slight change was a game-changing difference for my workflow.
In email, especially with multiple threads from multiple people around the same idea, it is easy to lose track of what a single message is talking about. Imagine you and 5 other people are messaging about a single client. You may have a conversation thread with 2 of those people, a single message to 2 others, and then a thread with everyone involved.
When any of those messages hit your Gmail inbox, though you’ve labeled and archived (“done” in Inbox) the message thread, only that message thread will show up in your inbox. Apart from the label you’ve made for that group of messages, if it has been a bit of time, you may have no understanding or context for what the person is talking about.
With Inbox’s Bundles, this is handled quite differently. With Inbox, if I tell a folder/label I’d like it “bundled” in the Inbox, any message that hits that folder gets sent to my inbox with all its other labeled messages. So, instead of dropping a single email out of context into my inbox, I see the folder/label and all the messages with it. Upon archiving it, I’ll see that whole bundle again in my inbox when a response comes. And, if I want to keep that bundle in my inbox, I can leave it as long as I like and then archive it just like a message when I’m ready to pack it away.
This simple change revolutionized my workflow. I used to be a little worried to archive things until they were tucked away and dealt with, leaving my Gmail inbox bloated and full of dangling tasks all the time. With Inbox, I put the message into a bundle, hit done (“archive” in Gmail) and forget about it until the reply I need comes in.
Google Has confirmed Bundles Are Coming to Gmail!
As I’ve stated above, all the existing features of Inbox are in Gmail except this. Sure, pinning emails was unique to Inbox, but now that Gmail fully leverages Google Tasks, that is a workflow change that works just fine.
The other feature many loved was the fact that your Google Reminders would show up in your email inbox. It was a handy feature, for sure, but with the Google Calendar integration right there in the sidebar on Inbox, there are likely some interesting ways Google can bring those to Gmail moving forward.
There’s no firm timeline on Bundles coming to Gmail at this point, but it would make sense that Google would roll that out before March of 2019 when they plan on shutting down Inbox.
Google Needs To Do This Well
My hope is Google treats this transition well. Inbox users are among the most passionate Google fans and, as history has shown, Google makes a habit of making cool new things only to shut the door on them far too soon. Just look at the current state of Google messaging platforms for reference.
I know Google is big and they are offering all these services free of monetary fee, but people can only get burned so many times before they stop coming back. If Google can make sure all the features that made Inbox great can be accommodated in Gmail by March, that can show the more passionate fanbase that Google can be trusted. Sure, things may shift, but Google has the opportunity to show they don’t completely take their userbase for granted. They can show that, though they may be flaky when it comes to introducing and killing services, they are considerate of users’ trust and work habits.
That’s my hope, anyway. Messaging is a personal thing, but email is professional. And in a time when Google is really trying to win corporate and enterprise customers, this sort of flakiness won’t be tolerated by those users. Making the transition seamless and easy for everyone involved could really land Google a lot of goodwill, and when it comes to messaging services overall, Google could use some of that.