Google Inbox was the Gmail we desperately needed — but now it’s dead

Google Inbox, the much-loved, experimental email client launched by the search giant in 2014 is officially dead and I am officially heartbroken.

I knew this was going to happen. We all did. It still hurts.

Google announced Inbox’s time was up on Sept. 12, 2018, writing in a blog post the company was shutting it down and “planning to focus solely on Gmail.” Over the past two weeks, incessant warnings have popped up on the desktop and across my phone screen whenever I opened the app.

“This app will be going away in 5 days” it would tell me like a passive-aggressive Doomsday Clock. Each time, it would ask me to switch to Gmail and I’d wave it away with a push: “Not now.”

But it’s all over. This morning, I got this message:

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Screenshot by Jackson Ryan/CNET via Google

Gmail was unleashed on the world on April 1, 15 years ago and is now used by around 1.5 billion people every day. It allowed the search engine provider to reach lofty new heights, giving it the confidence to take over the world. When it rolled into town in 2004, it slowly began swallowing up every email client in its path.

AOL Mail? More like LOL Mail. Hotmail? More like… cold mail. Yahoo? Bye.

Slowly we all became engulfed by the email version of The Blob. Email became monotonous, slinking into the shadows, filling up with spam and social media blasts. It gradually became normal. It became boring.

Then in 2014, Google announced Inbox and email was Great Again. It Marie Kondo’d my online life before I even knew who Marie Kondo was. When Sarah Mitroff reviewed Inbox in October 2014, she laid all manner of compliments on the app: “Visually appealing”, “equal parts colorful, clean and cheerful” and “fresh”. Gmail felt like a harsh, sterile hospital next to Inbox’s bright, buoyant Happy-Time-Fun-Land.

Now Inbox is dead, Google has said it will be bringing some of the service’s most popular features over to Gmail. As I’ve finally been forced to switch over, there’s a hole in my heart. Gmail still lacks many of the features that made Inbox so powerful — and so beloved.

There’s work to do to make email Great Again, Again. What can Gmail do to ease the pain?

(Nothing, but let’s pretend we can answer that question anyway.)

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CNET

Bundle of joy

When you read about Inbox’s premature demise, you will no doubt read plenty about “bundles”. Inbox’s clever bundling system was the best thing to ever happen to me, a nearly 30-year-old unmarried man with zero children in a stable, loving relationship.

Inbox had that galaxy-brain energy. The real BDE. Supported by Google’s powerful algorithms, Inbox was able to sort your life out for you. It saw what was dropping in your Inbox and automatically filed it away in its own category via the voodoo magic of machine learning.

It was powerful for bundling all your receipts, purchases, holidays and business trips, placing all that information in easy-to-navigate, simple-to-find locations. I never even had to think about manually labeling or filing emails with Inbox — it just worked, from Day One. And it continued to work until it was dead.

Finding details about a trip home took seconds in Inbox, a one-click process that returned my booking, accommodation, the car I’d hired and any tours I’d booked while I was away. In Gmail, I have to sift through a torrent of banking statements, receipts, a regretful order I made for Thai food when I was sloshed three nights ago and a random PR email about their genius April Fools’ Day stunt.

There have been rumblings that Google will also be bringing bundles across to Gmail, though a timeline for that update is currently unknown so, thanks, big G — my life is now a living hell.

This is how you remind me

Besides bundles, Inbox quickly became the place where I started my day because it centralized my to-do list.

Email is, essentially, just a place where tasks get filed and Inbox’s “Reminders” feature was critical to this. In the same way you would compose an email, you could set yourself a reminder that would jump to the top of your Inbox. At the end of a busy day, I’d whip a few little reminders in for the following morning.

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The Church of Inbox is open. We’re holding memorial services all month.

Screenshot by Jackson Ryan/CNET

And sure, I can do this with Gmail’s “Tasks” integration but this opens an entirely new window on the side of my desktop. That’s a game of hide-and-seek that I don’t want to play. Because reminders were able to be pinned or snoozed, they were unobtrusive, nesting neatly within the inbox like a digital post-it note.

I don’t know why Gmail doesn’t have reminders. I can’t tell you why. They exist in other G suite services, like Calendar and Keep, but not in Gmail.

Inbox is like the Carly Rae Jepsen of email. It swept in and took the world by surprise with its spark and smarts and brightness and now, every waking moment without it is torture. Gmail, in contrast, is the Nickelback of modern email clients. It’s the homogenized radio-rock version of email.

In fact, maybe it’s worse. Maybe it’s Smash Mouth.

G’mourning

Attention spans are being obliterated by the internet and my apartment is a disorganized mess.

I mean, it’s tidy — but there’s no rhyme or reason to how I file away important tax documents, receipts or mementos. Invoking the holy name of Kondo, I tried to improve my systems a month ago. That amounted to buying more boxes and storing more things in those boxes.

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Inbox Marie Kondo’d my email experience.

Denise Crew/Netflix

I couldn’t organize myself in the real world, but with the power of machine learning and AI, Google Inbox made sure I could do it when I was inside the internet.

And I wasn’t alone.

Search for Google Inbox on Twitter and you’ll find tales of woe and misery. You’ll find users decrying the switch to Gmail. You’ll find them celebrating the life of an email service as if it were their own flesh and blood. Like the untimely deaths at Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding, we’re all watching on in horror at the injustice.

No one is celebrating. Everybody’s mourning.

New world order

But it’s all over.

Inbox was so good because it was so easy. It was clean. It was smart. It bundled emails together long before Gmail was doing anything of the sort. It felt like it was made for me and only me. I didn’t have to spend mornings sifting through mountains of internet text. I could get what I needed and get on with life.

It was also a calming, soft blue rather than an alarming, CHECK-YOUR-EMAIL-NOW red. That’s a fact that gets lost in this funeral. Even the logo is an open letter with a positive, life-affirming tick, rather than the closed, menacing red “M” made famous in Gmail.

I could go on and on, but I digress.

Google has slowly integrated some of Inbox’s best features into Gmail. Snoozing emails, smart replies and nudges to remind you to follow up on your to-do list were all pioneered in Inbox. On Gmail’s 15th birthday, it even brought in a host of new features, like enabling emails to be scheduled and sent at a later time and improving its Smart Compose feature, which offers suggestions to make writing email a lot faster.

I’m holding on as long as possible. The mobile version of Inbox is now six feet under, taking its place in the Google Graveyard next to Reader, Hangouts, Google Plus and Allo, but the desktop version of Inbox lives on (at least, for now). Inbox clones are popping up, aiming to make the transition period easier, but its fate is sealed.

I can do without Hangouts or Plus. Somehow, I even survived after the transition away from Reader.

But this one really stings.

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