Last October, Google announced the biggest piece of email-related news it’s had in years–and part of what made it so big was that it didn’t involve any new Gmail features. Instead, it was an all-new way to access Gmail called Inbox.
You can access Inbox from any web browser, but its streamlined interface was designed with apps for iOS and Android phones and tablets in mind. It took bolder steps than Gmail to help you whack clutter, such as clustering various sorts of mass mailings together and letting you delete them in bulk. And like Android Lollipop and other up-to-date Google offerings, it sported the company’s new Material Design look and feel.
Scratching an itch akin to that of Dropbox’s Mailbox app, Inbox is basically what Gmail might have been if it had been launched in 2014 instead of 2004. But by making it an all-new app, Google avoided disorienting or annoying anyone who was happy with Gmail the way it was. It also released Inbox in private test form, which meant that even those who found it alluring had to rustle up an invite to try it.
After months of testing, Google is comfortable enough with how Inbox has shaped up to end the invitation-only mode. At its Google I/O conference, it’s announcing that Inbox will be available to anyone who wants to use it. (Unlike many a newish Google product–and even some oldish ones–it won’t be labeled as a beta.)
Along with opening up Inbox’s floodgates, Google is adding a few new features:
Trip bundles. When Inbox spots travel-related emails such as flight and hotel confirmations, it assembles a smart itinerary for you–along the lines of TripIt, but stuck at the top of your inbox where you can’t miss it. It also pulls in relevant information from the web, such as live updates on flight status, and updates everything on the fly.
Undo Send. For years, a Gmail Labs feature has let you withdraw a message right after you send it, in case you wish to edit it or had second thoughts about sending it at all. Now you can pull back an outgoing Inbox message up to 10 seconds after pressing send–the first time that bacon-saving option has been available in a Google mobile email app.
To-do scanning. Inbox will scan your messages looking for text that sounds like a task–such as someone asking you to call a doctor–and will bubble it up to assure it gets your attention.
Deep linking. Open a HotelTonight reservation or Eat24 order in an email, and instead of launching it in a browser, Inbox will open the appropriate app. It’s done using an open standard that any developer can support for its own apps.
Google Apps support. People who use Gmail’s business-oriented incarnation will be able to use Inbox to access their mail.
A few other things. You can configure Inbox to delete messages rather than archive them when you swipe, and reminders are now integrated with Google’s Evernote-like Keep app.
Meanwhile, back at Gmail, the big I/O news is not a new feature, but a number: 900 million. That’s how many active users the service has, and it’s more than double the figure that Google quoted the last time it talked hard numbers back in 2012. The company says that three-quarters of those 900 million folks use Gmail on mobile devices at least part of the time.
Unlike Microsoft, which migrated hundreds of millions of Hotmail users to the more modern Outlook.com in 2013, Google has no plans to phase out Gmail or otherwise push anyone into Inbox against their will. It also hasn’t done anything yet to monetize Inbox, something that Gmail has always done–not without controversy–by displaying ads tied to keywords in message text.
Alex Gawley, Google’s product director for Gmail and Inbox, told me that the two services will coexist indefinitely, with Gmail skewing towards the traditional and Inbox continuing to rethink email for the mobile era. “People have workflows ingrained in how they use email,” he says. “It’s really hard to change that. People will change when it’s right for them–when their existing workflow fails. We want to be there in that moment, and are hopeful we can help them.”