Google’s Inbox has officially been moved onto my smartphone home-screen, but there is just something off about the new mail app, which is billed as a supplement to Gmail. The first time I was asked what I thought of the new offering, my quick and passionate response was, “It sucks!” It didn’t actually suck, but I was resentful because I felt Google had let me down. Google let me down by being too big to be willing to fail.
I was an early invite to Google Inbox, getting it the first afternoon of launch thanks to contacts at Google. The app was downloaded onto my phone and awaiting my investigation when my fellows at the Fueled collective began to buzz their anticipation about the new app, as well as who had gotten an invite and who had not. I quickly read through the official Google blog’s introduction of Inbox, my excitement building for what I was beginning to believe would be a revolutionary move forward in email management.
I blame Facebook for the rapid ascent of my hopes for Googles Inbox. More specifically, I blame Creative Labs, the group within Facebook responsible for designing and launching the Paper app.
Just a few months earlier, I had warily opened up Paper, a standalone alternative to Facebook’s original mobile app. My expectations were incredibly low, having gone through multiple experiences of being tricked or forced into updating to a new, unwanted iteration of Facebook. It felt nice to be given the choice to investigate this new alternative to the original Facebook for mobile app, but, being jaded, I fully expected to delete the app after some cursory surfing (Facebook’s original app had long since been ditched off my phone).
Facebook, like Google, has gotten so big that, for all its talent, it isn’t able to uphold its own mantra, “move fast and break things” on a company-wide scale. Guiding a mammoth organization, or multi-billion-user product, in a brand new direction in one fell swoop is clumsy. The effect of this is, innovative revolutions in product become impossible. Facebook, though, has figured out a solution—Creative Labs.
Creative Labs is the within-Facebook initiative, whose mission it is to experiment with and improve the Facebook experience. It is kept small relative to the Facebook giant, allowing it to blaspheme against the gods of scale. Creative Labs is able to play, and get back to upholding the company’s mantra by moving very fast and breaking things to really find out what works, what doesn’t, and what should be.
Creative Labs is how Facebook gave us Paper, the answer to, at least, my personal Facebook fatigue. But where is Google’s Creative Labs? It seems that Google uses invite-only testing to launch new products on a small scale and make corrections as it grows to larger adoption, but this doesn’t seem to lead to true innovation, and this is why Inbox isn’t going to be all it could be (should be!) anytime soon.
If Google’s new Inbox app is attempting to become my virtual email assistant, it keeps bringing me my figurative orange mocha Frappuccino wrong.
Not all wrong, but just wrong enough.
Google Inbox has a great feature set, but it is missing some key abilities and its delivery in terms of design is off. Honestly, it feels like someone at Google is holding back. Inbox has not yet proved more useful to me than Apple’s standard Mail app, through which my personal Gmail is siphoned. At the same time, the app is haunted by its own potential.
Inbox is this close (holding up thumb and pointer mere millimeters apart) to being a product that revolutionizes our experience of email, but it feels like concern with making everyone happy, or at least not rocking the boat too much, is shackling the innovative minds at the big G. You’ve given us features we never knew we needed, but why not give us a brilliant new experience we never thought possible? Take notes from Creative Labs: move fast, break things, and deliver innovation that excites (yes, I realize that is a Nissan slogan).