While Google Glass appears to be in its death throes, Google is quietly if not systematically re-inventing the digital work horse many of us have a love hate relationship with (mostly hate these days)—E-mail. I've been spending some time with Google's recently released app simply called "Inbox" and after five minutes of use the only thing that kept popping up in my head was this:
Is it possible that Google is making e-mail enjoyable again?
That's a lofty goal because right now for many of us, e-mail has become a second and third full time job. We use it so much at work that we're often exhausted by the time it comes to dealing with our "personal" e-mail. SPAM management is one of the key culprits which has also taken the joy away from e-mail. And while e-mail is ultimately mobile friendly—it can become a mammoth effort to keep it all neatly organized, while trying to ensure you didn't miss anything.
Inbox works pretty hard at all of this, organizing messages in bundles (some are already created for you such as travel, purchases forums etc.) The design is highly visual, using photos of other gmail users or abbreviations of names so you can visually keep track of threads etc. It surfaces up media elements attached to e-mails like pictures and videos so you can preview them and know what's in an e-mail before you click on it.
In short—it makes e-mail more useful, usable, desirable and shareable.
Implications For Users
For the average user of digital technology, it's a great step forward in giving us a tool that we've needed for a while and optimizing it for the mobile experience. Sure it will mean that we may be toggling back and forth a little between our native e-mail program on our mobile devices, but we're already getting used to doing that with other apps. Given the time I've spent with it—I think it's designed to take on the challenges of e-mail that so many of us grapple with. It turns our inbox into more of what we are getting used to with social—a "newsfeed" in many regards.
Implications For Brands & Organizations
For many organizations—having a sophisticated CRM system in place in which e-mail is already a workhorse, this is great news as the app may get Gmail users more engaged with e-mail again. But there's also the added opportunity to make e-mail more compelling—more visual and media rich and more useful. If people start coming back to e-mail again, brands and organizations will have a window of opportunity to re-capture and keep their attention.
Google Inbox may be one of the great quiet innovations of our time despite the fact that we are still intrigued by flashier trends such as wearables. A return to e-mail beyond work could translate to new opportunities for brands and organizations to provide value in the value exchange they have with their consumers, customers and people who are important to them.