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Google unveils Gmail alternative: 'Inbox'

Google revitalized webmail in 2004 when it debuted Gmail, and now it's trying to do it again with a new take on the old Web stalwart, called Inbox.

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Google Inbox is a free mobile app and Web service that may one day replace today's Gmail. Google

If you've been feeling overwhelmed by a mountain of email in Gmail, you may be glad to know that Google wants to help. But there's a twist: the help will come from Inbox, a free email app now available by invitation that promises to better organize messages.

Developed by the Gmail team, Inbox is intended to coexist with Google's flagship email product, not replace it. For example, it groups similar types of messages, and automatically highlights key information such as flight itineraries and event information. It comes as competitors, including Apple and file-sharing company Dropbox, have released or updated products aimed at making it easier to find online needles in a haystack.

A key Inbox feature called Assists will integrate real-time updates from the Web directly into email. An emailed flight itinerary will highlight the original itinerary but also show real-time status updates on your flights.

Other Inbox features are new twists on options that will sound familiar to Gmail users. The Bundles option automatically will group similar messages, such as receipts, and allow you to swipe them all away at once. You can also create custom message bundles.

Important factual details of a message -- think phone numbers, flight status, images and attachments -- will be available without having to open the message, much the way that you can see an email's subject line now without having to read the email itself.

Inbox also integrates Google Now reminders and lets you create your own reminders. You can snooze messages and set them to show up later, at a specific time or when you're in a specific location.

The app is available on smartphones running Google's Android operating system or Apple's iOS, and on the Web -- but only in Google's Chrome browser for now. While Google is sending out a limited number of invitations to try Inbox, curious Gmail users can request an invite through inbox@google.com.