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April 16, 2018

It sure looks like Google is about to kill Inbox

by John_A

The age of AI-powered Google is causing its email clients to merge.

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It has been almost exactly three years since Google made its new email client available to the whole world.

Inbox by Gmail was sold as a “completely different type of inbox, designed to focus on what really matters,” and while I think this mission was a huge success, the client never really caught on the way Gmail itself did. Fast forward to today, Inbox has become stagnant and Gmail is being regularly updated to compete with modern email clients. In fact, with the recent revelation of an upcoming new Gmail design, including several features straight from Inbox, it’s not difficult to imagine this once futuristic-feeling email client being sunset before too long.

The big thing that sets Inbox apart from other email clients is automation. Inbox automatically sorts your email into themed piles, so you can sift through them as you see fit or archive whole stacks with a swipe. You can snooze emails, too, so they disappear from your main feed and arrive, magically, when and where you want them. That feature, which largely sets Inbox apart from Gmail, is now coming to Google’s primary email client. And that’s good because it’s incredibly useful worth having everywhere. But seeing it come to Gmail caused me to look at what else sets Inbox apart, and that list is quite slim these days.

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Google has been working on things like smart replies and several other features for Inbox and Gmail at the same time, but if you look at the Gmail blog, the last time Inbox got a solo update was way back in August, 2016. There’s been little momentum since then, something iPhone users have found especially frustrating as the iOS Inbox app is one of the few remaining Google apps without iPhone X support. Any way you look at it, the Inbox experience has been largely unchanged for quite some time now.

The biggest reason this frustrates me as an Inbox user is how it aligns with Google’s overall trend of focusing on automation products. The AI-powered revolution, the “Personal Google” experience powered by machine learning, is the kind of thing I expected would make Inbox even more capable over time. In reality, Inbox doesn’t feel any smarter to me now than it did two years ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since I already enjoy it for what it is, but it seemed likely that Google would sink some resources into making its predictive, intelligent email system a big part of its machine learning future. Instead, it feels more like successful parts of Inbox are being woven into Gmail.

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Its possible Google will never fully “sunset” Inbox, as it is mostly just a different front-end for the existing Gmail platform. Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the future of Inbox.

Soon enough, no doubt at Google I/O in less than a month, we’ll likely all have access to this new Gmail and everyone will be able to enjoy most of the things that make Inbox cool. But for now, I’m not quite ready to give up on an email system that pre-sorts my messages so I never have to look at a giant list of emails ever again.

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