Google is bowing to the inevitable and shutting down the Inbox email app, though users will have until March to switch over to Gmail. It’s a little sad for fans of the app, but it’s also not a very big surprise.
Almost exactly four years ago, Google launched Inbox as an innovative new email app that lived alongside Gmail. It brought a ton of new ideas to how email could work, including old standbys like snoozing and newer ideas like bundling. Over those four years, Inbox gained a small number of adherents who suffered through too-rare updates so they could have a better (or at least different) email experience.
A lot of the features in Inbox were well-loved, mainly because they were so obviously lacking in Gmail without dealing with hacky third-party solutions. Inbox provided a way to manage the onslaught of email with gestures that made it easy to process messages on the go. It was also generally seen as a potential incubator for new email features that could come to Gmail — though, in practice, Inbox didn’t see enough updates to justify its reputation as a testing ground.
I will mostly miss that Inbox did such a nice job of integrating tasks with emails. Being able to create reminders that appeared inline with emails and could be managed with exactly the same set of snoozing and archiving tools was super useful.
In April of this year, Google released a complete redesign of Gmail that incorporated nearly all of the key features of Inbox: snoozing, connected tasks lists (albeit in a sidebar), and more. If users didn’t see the writing on the wall with that release, the long delay of Inbox’s iPhone X compatibility was another sign.
Google says that there are still a few features due to make the migration from Inbox, specifically the “bundles” that group similar emails together into a single block, like those related to a single trip. That’s coming to Gmail, but there’s no word yet on the timeline for it.
Overall, it’s probably good that Google is focusing on one app for email: Gmail. I’m told no employees will be laid off from the Inbox team, which was already well-integrated into the Gmail team. Still, the unsurprising ending is a little bittersweet. As an app experience, Inbox implemented great ideas about how to make email less of a database-like chore by giving the app a more playful and interesting UI. Email will always be a chore. Sorry.