Google’s Two Email Applications
In mid-2017, there are dozens of email applications available on the Google Play Store. Google has two Android applications to access your Gmail account: in one corner there’s the Gmail application and in the other, there’s the Google Inbox application. These two applications provide access to your Gmail account, but are different in their approach. Let’s take a look at these two apps and why you might prefer one over the other, but before we do we’ll take a quick trip through history.
Google originally developed the Gmail and Email applications for Android. Gmail was designed exclusively for Gmail, or Google, accounts and the Email application was to be used for everything else.
In late 2014, Google introduced the “Inbox by Gmail” application and service. This is billed as a “completely different type of inbox, designed to focus on what really matters.” In use, the Inbox application and service is designed to make Gmail far more accessible than before by automagically bundling up emails into various Inbox-designed categories and similar.
Around the same time, the Gmail application started gaining new features. Customers could add other email accounts into the Gmail app, including corporate email. Suddenly, Gmail was not just for Gmail but also for Hotmail, Yahoo, GMS and your work accounts. For a while, the Gmail and Email applications seemed to compete with one another until in mid-2015, coinciding with Android Lollipop, Google killed the standalone Email application. Customers were forced to either pick up another email application or migrate their accounts into Gmail.
Since 2015, both Gmail and Inbox have evolved. Let’s take a look at the two applications.
The stock Gmail application is the one that comes with all Android devices that are able to use the Google Play Store. At the time of writing, the Gmail application can handle pretty much any email account you might have. Gmail provides the core essential functionality that you might want from a mobile email application, but there’s nothing too fancy. Non-Gmail accounts can have a number of synchronisation options setup from push through to hourly, including a “never” option. All accounts set up into the Gmail application can be used by the Google Feed (the new name for Google Now) and this means that the Google Now screen can interact with all of your email accounts.
Gmail has also gained the ability to send smart and quick replies to incoming messages, something borrowed from the Inbox service. There are different ways to set up a Gmail account including providing a variety of top-down labels to categorise email, which include the Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums categories. Customers can also opt into a “priority email” account option, which aims to separate the important messages from those that are less important. These features can help organise a busy Gmail account, and Google does learn how you use these categories using the web browser but not on the Android platform.
This underpins the Gmail Android application: it’s impossible to change how your Gmail behaves in your account, instead you need to open Gmail in a browser window. From here, you can set up rules and filters to suit.
The Inbox by Gmail service has a different look and feel compared with the Gmail application. Although we’ve covered the Inbox service before, as a quick recap where Gmail is staid and boring, Inbox is fresh and interesting. Inbox smartly collates your email into different categories. You can swipe email away to have it received a set time in the future, and the service learns how you use it on the device in order to organise itself.
There are a couple of caveats. One is that Inbox is not compatible with all of the rules and filters that you might set up in your Gmail account. Another is that the Inbox application only works with a Gmail account.
In testing, I’ve also found the Inbox by Gmail application sometimes fails to send email with an attachment, despite there being a solid Internet connection. However, the Inbox application does not warn me that it is unable to send my email, instead it keeps it in the Outbox and does not keep retrying to send.
It’s difficult for me to recommend the Inbox application because the product still feels unfinished, and because I need multiple email accounts on at least one of my devices. Perhaps I’ve been unlucky, but the sending email glitch has been present for some time now.
This written, Inbox contains some great, thoughtful and useful ways to manage Gmail. Over time some of these features have made their way into the stock Gmail application and perhaps Google will merge the two email clients at some point in the future. I would love to see Gmail gaining the ability to learn customer preferences when it comes to managing labels. Nevertheless, I still drop into the Inbox service from time to time to see what’s new.