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Google Debuts Gmail Alternative 'Inbox'

What's Inbox, And Does It Rock? 

Despite its long-term reputation as the company at the forefront of almost all of Silicon Valley's tech advancements, Google has gone pretty cold lately. This is unusual in and of itself, but becomes even more strange when you consider how proactive its competition has suddenly become.

Facebook seems to have debuted more new features in the last few months than at any other time in its entire existence, and Twitter has entered a creative purple patch of its own. Google, however, has been strangely absent from the party, popping up only occasionally to tinker with YouTube or host the odd debate about net neutrality.

So why have the guys who run two of the three most visited websites on the internet recently gone dark - have they decided to give up on the whole internet thing and call it a day? 

Not quite; they just seem to be taking an unusually quiet, under-the-radar approach to their work this year. 

In the last few days, for example, news of quite a large change to Google's search algorithm came to light. The update, which will have serious implications on the page rank of smaller companies, received no fanfare and no press release - it wasn't even officially named, until internet commentators began referring to it as Pigeon and the title stuck.

Another update has just been unveiled in a similar manner: Inbox. Much like Pigeon, Google ushered Inbox through the door with relatively little pomp and circumstance; news of its existence filtered gradually throughout the tech world, as opposed to blasting us all in the face like an unsubtle news-fist. Inbox has been designed as a standalone addition to Gmail, Google's eternally popular email service.

Currently in invite-only beta, the service will eventually become a fully-fledged app for Android and iPhone. Its main claim to fame is that it automatically filters through your inbox and groups your emails into different categories. This means the social media notifications and dirty monthly newsletters you accidentally signed up for when the internet was new to you will no longer be seen in the same list as an angry message from your boss or the daily email from your grandma, allowing you to focus on what's important (you'll just have to wait, Grandma; dirty newsletters come first).

Although Google claim the service is designed to be used with mobile, reports have confirmed that it works just as well on the PC. This is important, as email clients are one of the few services which people still tend to prefer to use on their PC instead of their phones.

While this is a brand new idea from Google, it's clearly been inspired by other services such as Boomerang and Mailbox. These apps are proof that email services are finally starting to evolve, and are entering a new phase which will appeal to a generation of phone users who demand ease-of-use, speed and the ability to swipe. With its latest beta, Google are trying to make Inbox the go-to app for this. If they succeed, we'll picture them when we think of a modern email client.

The most intriguing thing is whether Inbox will coexist with Gmail for its entire lifespan, or if the latter will slowly be phased out. It's been a trusty servant, but Gmail is starting to show its wrinkles; if Google want to remain at the top of the pile (and avoid the fall from grace seen by companies who left it too late before trying to adapt), they'll need to ruthlessly update their services, just like Facebook has always done, and Twitter are beginning to.

Whether Inbox will have any bearing on Google's advertising remains to be seen, but their history with ads is chequered at best (and full-on shady at worst). With Facebook recently ramping up their advertising aggression levels to 11, it's not unfair to assume that Google will use Inbox's 'automatic scanning' as a marketing tool designed to tempt marketers back to their service, privacy be damned!

But that's conjecture. Maybe I'm just paranoid.

To learn more about Inbox, check out TechRadar's hands-on preview



Emile is a postgrad from the University of Saint Mark and Saint John. He’s hoping to break into journalism or publishing, and won’t stop blogging until he’s managed it! Follow him @EmileAtSMF.

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Google Debuts Gmail Alternative 'Inbox' Reviewed by Emile Cole on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 Rating: 5
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