One missed email and Google Inbox will be in trouble

Will users trust Google to prioritize their emails?

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People may feel overwhelmed by the deluge of email arriving in their inboxes, but will they trust Google to show them the most important messages?

Analysts are divided on how well Google can sort and prioritize users' emails as the company launches Inbox, an email application built without any reliance on the company's longstanding and popular Gmail service.

"Users are upset about the volume of email messages they're receiving, but a lot of people might be unconvinced that Google can decide for them what's important and what's not," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "Most people would be concerned about important emails dropping through the cracks, or even just interesting emails."

Google, in announcing Inbox on Wednesday, did not say it was closing Gmail, but was offering Inbox as an alternative.

"Years in the making, Inbox is by the same people who brought you Gmail, but it's not Gmail: it's a completely different type of inbox, designed to focus on what really matters," wrote Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome & Apps for Google, in a blog post . "We get more email now than ever, important information is buried inside messages, and our most important tasks can slip through the cracks -- especially when we're working on our phones."

To help users with that flood of messages, Inbox sorts through them and offers the most important messages, like information about an upcoming flight, events and photos or documents sent by colleagues and family.

Pichai noted that Inbox will display information from the web that wasn't included in the original email, such as the real-time status of flights and package deliveries.

Having an email app that shows you the messages you need to see first would be helpful, but only if it works perfectly, Olds said.

Jack Gold, an independent analyst, agreed. "We are all bombarded with communications of all types, and any service that can prioritize, or at least attempt to, would be attractive to users if they think it's an effective way to discriminate the 'I have to answer' from the 'it can wait' or even 'I can ignore this,' " he said. "Of course, the issue is, how does an overseer sort through all the communications and accurately predict what's important to the user? It's not an easy task."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said Google is setting up Inbox to learn from users' behavior and it will get better at sorting and prioritizing as people use it.

"It will learn which contacts are important to you and which topics you tend to actually read and respond to rather than delete, so it should be able to determine your interests," he said. "It does that anyway when it profiles you to advertisers so, at least in this case, they are returning some of the benefit to you."

If the app works, it could solve the biggest problem with email services, and could help enterprise users trying to wade through the onslaught of messages hitting their inboxes.

"Email needs to be fixed," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "We get too much of it and a lot of it has varying levels of importance. Email isn't going anywhere. It's still the top usage case for phones, tablets and PCs … but it is becoming less relevant for shorter and immediate communications."

If Inbox gets real traction, other email services will quickly follow suit with their own sorting services, the analysts said.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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