Inbox by Google : Great and Annoying

I like many aspects of Inbox on iOS. It is Google’s own app so it can presumably harness the email data in ways that third party apps cannot, or at least the direct access it has to email data must give it a reliability and speed edge. Snooze to location is good. Built in actionable reminders. Google’s summary cards for standard emails. These are all great things, however the app does has some very annoying limitations.
1. No text formatting options. Five years ago this wouldn’t have been problem as most people would have been happy to be able to email whilst mobile. But these days it should be possible to add bold, italics and underline to your emails. This is all the more problematic given that even WhatsApp and Slack allow for some formatting – WhatsApp only handles bold but Slack has a range of options. If instant messengers can offer text formatting an email app absolutely should be able to do so. At times Inbox has had support for text formatting, but it is there one update and gone the next. Presently it is available, but who knows for how long?

2. No file attachments outside of Photos / Drive. Sure you can browse your file storage app and attach from there, but is it really too hard for Google to add a proper file picker? Furthermore this is no good for replying to emails; you have to start a new thread (not helpful).

3. Lack of draft saving from share sheet. When sharing files from other apps to email from Inbox, if the email fails to send or you stop composing the email you lose the email. Whereas when sharing into other apps (i.e. Spark or Outlook) the file is opened in the email app itself and attached to a new email. If you then stop composing the email you are given the option to save a draft. Inbox’s behaviour is nice in that it doesn’t switch you into the Inbox app; it overlays Inbox’s interface into the app you are sharing from. But as outlined above it is annoying if you start and email and aren’t able to complete it in one go as you’ll lose the entire email. A common problem here is that if you start composing from the share window and then need to check something in the document you’re trying to share (or another document in the same app for that matter) then there is no way to open the document without closing and losing your email. 

4. No printing! If you want to print emails you’ll need a different app. Even attachments can’t be printed unless they are a PDF. I don’t often need to print emails but when I occasionally do this is a major limitation. More often it is the need to turn an email into a PDF that I notice this lack of feature. In iOS you can turn any document / file into a PDF if it can be printed (find out how here). So the fact that I cannot print an email means that I cannot turn it into a PDF.
I hope that these lack of features will be addressed soon. Does anyone have thoughts about their favourite email app?

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Swipes, snoozes, services and pdf export : Welcome to Spark.

When Dropbox announced that it was closing down Mailbox I thought that was the end of email efficiency for me.  Parallel to use of Mailbox I had played around with Inbox, Boxer and Cloudmagic but never found them up to the mark for how I did email.  Part of that was certainly due to the fact that I had setup my email accounts to work well with Mailbox but there was still a significant part that was down to core features of those apps.
So I was over the moon to discover Spark.  It is an email app that incorporates all of Mailbox’s best features but then does even more on top.  In Spark you can swipe emails in your inbox to archive, delete, snooze, move or several other options.  You see that’s a particularly great thing about Spark: it is so customisable.  Swiping emails makes it super easy to process your inbox.  In the same way that Mailbox offered a short or long swipe (to the left and right) Spark does that too.

Boxer and Cloudmagic have always allowed users to hook other services directly into their email, services such as Evernote, Dropbox, Drive.  Mailbox didn’t offer that, which was a slight source of frustration to me.  Sure I could use IFTTT to hack the service in but that meant having to label emails especially for that service but that’s not necessarily the best way to actually handle your emails.  Spark offers those third party service connections too.  That doesn’t give it the edge over Boxer or Cloudmagic but it does nudge it over Mailbox and Inbox.  So now in Spark I can long swipe left and send my emails direct to Evernote.  I send shed loads of emails to Evernote so the process just got a lot faster and made more awesome by Spark.

Upon news of Mailbox’s demise I decided to set up shop in Inbox.  My most important email accounts are Gmail accounts.  Gmail is awesome.  Ever since the release of Inbox I have subconsciously willed it to be great and I do like it.  But there are some things that really irritate me about it.  Firstly, it doesn’t have a unified inbox.  Why not?  I do not know, but Google have for some reason forced us to keep our inboxes separate and made checking email across multiple accounts that much more tedious.  Secondly, if you want to check a bundle once a day Google have decided that you may only check it at the time they decide.  Well I’m sorry Google but that time does not suit me.  Thirdly, due to the non-unified inbox fiasco described above you can’t have a badge for how many emails are in your inbox.  I like to maintain inbox zero, but Inbox won’t remind me if I have emails to process.  Related to that point is that reminders are pretty much useless if I am in another account’s inbox – oops.  Fourthly, this point I understand but it is there so it should be stated: Inbox only works with Gmail accounts.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon for the obvious reason that I can’t imagine an app made by Google support Yahoo or any other mail.  I do have email accounts with other providers so this situation forces me to use multiple email apps which is undesirable.
A major persuading factor for me switching to Inbox from Mailbox was the ability to snooze emails.  I find that so useful.  (A doff of the cap to the Mailbox team for introducing this feature.)  Well Spark allows me to snooze emails too so a big tick to Spark.
After coming across news about Spark a few days ago I decided to investigate further.  I was impressed by the inclusion of features I had come to love and rely upon in Mailbox and there was more on top: Save emails as PDF, send full attachments, hook third party services directly into the app etc.  Here is a list of Spark’s killer features that have won me over:
  • Spark supports Gmail, iCloud, Exchange, Yahoo!, Outlook and other email providers.
  • With Spark you can send full file attachments not photos or links only.  Attachments are created from cloud storage services (e.g. Drive and Dropbox).  The attachment process gives you the option of sending a link to a file or sending ac copy of the file itself.
  • The services that can be hooked into your email include: Evernote, Dropbox, Drive, Box, Pocket and more.
  • Snooze your emails easily with a swipe and tap.  The list of snooze times is customisable to keep things snappy and convenient.
  • Emails can be exported as a PDF straight to any relevant services you’ve connected.
  • Spark has a smart inbox (which is optional).  It lists all your new/unread emails at the top.  As you read them they move down to a separate section for read emails.  From either section you can process emails by swiping them.
    If you want to pin an email to your inbox you can do that too.  Pinned emails are kept in their own section.
  • Want to find an attachment?  You can view a list of just attachments from your email accounts in Spark.
  • You can customise so much within Spark: which accounts contribute toward the app badge, how the sidebar is laid out, what your swipes do, what widgets are shown on the home screen of the app, you can change which actions are available in your email viewer toolbar (archive, delete or both) and more!
  • Quick replies.  Wow these are good.  At the bottom of an email you can tap an icon to send a reply such as “👍🏻 Like”, “✅ Thanks”, or “😀 Great idea”.  As you can imagine even these are customisable.  You can change the order of the list and create your own quick replies.
  • Respond to calendar invitations from emails.
Mailbox did have one feature that I found useful and that is not available in Spark, which is the ability to auto-swipe emails.  I used this to auto swipe emails from mailing lists to a Gmail label called either “Updates” or “Promotions”.  Then I had an IFTTT recipe to send me an email digest daily for Updates and weekly for Promotions.  Whilst using Inbox I had hoped the bundles would serve as the same thing, but the inability to change the time of day each bundle would be shown prevented it working for me.   So even though Spark doesn’t offer something like this Inbox doesn’t have a useful equivalent for me.
Version 1.5 was released today which allows you to change the notification actions and assign default signatures to specific email accounts.  Spark is on fire.  It is an incredibly well thought through app that is going from strength to strength.  Currently Spark is only available on iPhone, but an iPad app is slated for release in the future.  I cannot wait!

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How does Google’s Inbox stack up against some competition?

Inbox is certainly a decent offering from Google, but there are a lot of other good email apps out there.  So how does it stack up against some competition?  I primarily use Mailbox on iOS and on my Mac, so I thought I’d do a quick run down of the key features – Mailbox v. Inbox.

Mailbox v. Inbox infographic

I’d say that as things stand Mailbox is more functional and efficient.  In the long run Inbox will become a stronger contender but it is almost certain that no other email providers will be supported!  What are your thoughts?  Add them here or on Google+.

Inbox: A new approach to email

Google have announced more than a revamped Gmail app, a restructured approach to email. Inbox brings a personal assistant, Google Now, right into the email infrastructure.

Inbox - iPhone               Inbox -Android

Google have also incorporated snoozes into the app.  I’ve found snoozes to be incredibly useful with Mailbox.  Google also has an inherent advantage of being an email provider with Gmail.  That means they can access Gmail data directly and fully, which means they can use that data in ways other email clients are unable to.  I would say that I am pretty good at staying on top of my inbox but I wonder if this novel approach could aid me further?

Anyone interested in using the new app has to request an invitation, the aim here being good marketing rather than needing a steady roll out!  The app is available for iPhone, Android smartphones and Chrome.  Note that it is not compatible with Google Apps domains.

So although I’m not a big user of Google Now, the inclusion of snoozes and this new approach have kindled my interest, invite requested!  Are you interested in trialling this new app?  If so, send an email to inbox@google.com.

Mailbox public beta for Mac has begun

Mailbox is a superb email client for iOS and Android and today the much anticipated OS X version went into public beta.

I have tried many email apps on iOS but Mailbox is the one that I have stuck with.  The app won me over with an excellent implementation of swipes, which make it supremely easy to archive / delete / file emails, and its snooze feature.  To begin with I was extremely skeptical of the idea of snoozing emails but as time progressed they became so obvious.  Emails arrive in my inbox not at a time which is convenient for me to deal with them but at a time convenient for the sender.  Snoozing the email to a convenient time for me to handle it just makes sense!

Another great feature of Mailbox on iOS is its Dropbox integration.  The integration allows users to attach files to emails from their Dropbox directories.  In order to send a file as an attachment on an iPhone ordinarily users have to send them one at a time from the app that can handle the files.  Mailbox allows multiple attachments.  Some other clients offer similar integrations but often they include just a link to the file in the email.  

Given my keenness for the iOS app I have been anticipating the OS X version for a long time.  I am glad to see the beta arrive and am now waiting on the “betacoin” needed to open the app,

Interested in the beta?  If so head over to www.mailboxapp.com and download / sign up yourself.