This post aims to explore some of the features of Inbox by Google and how, in a Google Apps for Education environment (G Suite), it may come across as a better mail solution than the standard Gmail app.
I have been using Inbox for around a year or two now for my personal email address and while I have found the web interface rather clunky and trying to catch up, the app has always been lovely to use with nice, big, simple UI with increased functionality as opposed to its rather stale older brother.
I have recently been testing out Inbox on a GAfE tenancy to check what works and what doesn’t.
Out of Office Replies
It must be said that Gmail still allows many more features than Inbox; features which would be needed if an education or corporate tenancy were looking to switch over. An important one, for school staff, would be the introduction of Out of Office replies. This functionality has been available on email accounts for many years, even MS Outlook 2003 had the functionality for Exchange accounts, so it strikes me as odd that Inbox doesn’t allow for it.
In Settings it lets the user configure an email signature – which accepts rich text pasted in, so this is one thing needed for tenancy use but the Out of Office replies really need to be added by Google.
Templates tend to be irrelevant on a personal email account – but in an education tenancy they can increase efficiency and cohesiveness across multiple sites by standardising email types which might be common across the tenancy.
What would be a good feature is if administrators on the GAfE tenancy could define templates and roll them out to specific Organisational Units on the Admin Console. This way, for example, all admin staff across the tenancy could receive administrative templates whereas teaching staff could receive their own set of templates.
This would instill best practice in cohesive collaboration across the network of sites and consistency in contacting external stakeholders and parents.
In my opinion, the most powerful aspect of Inbox is the bundles. By default, Inbox will bundle similar emails together to de-clutter your main inbox. The defaults, which are great for personal use, are:
Scanning your emails and presenting information ,very cleverly, in cards like the Google Now app this puts the user experience of Inbox above all its competitors.
For example, see below. This was a trip to London I had last weekend and had used my email address when booking train, hotel, travel insurance and dinner reservation:
This is really handy for personal use, and somewhat good for educational use too (staff do sometimes need to make business trips/school trips) but what is really good for an education tenancy is the ability to create custom bundles.
From the menu on Inbox, one can choose to create a new bundle with just a few steps.
Custom bundles are a brilliant resource and I am already using it in a limited capacity on an education tenancy but I feel there are 2 changes Google would have to make in order for this to be a viable alternative which education establishments would start switching to:
- The ability for the GAfE administrators to roll out custom Bundles to Organisational Units within the Admin Console. This way groupings of staff and/or Groups would be able to receive appropriate pre-defined bundles.
- Allow more bulk options within the criteria when creating a custom Bundle. If I want to create a bundle for, say, Head Office. I would go and add all Head Office staff manually in the From field. It would be better to be able to add a Google Group (therefore not having to worry about maintaining membership of the bundle’s criteria when Head Office staff leave/join) or to be able to add entire domains in this field, such as *@testgafe.com
There are some features which have carried over from Gmail which prove useful, such as integration with Google Hangouts:
But some of the newer functionality on Inbox, which is pretty cool, is the ability to Snooze emails (perfect for the teacher with a September to-do list rivaling Chilcot’s report length.) You can snooze by Date and Time, as is most conventional, or even by geographical location if you have the Inbox app on your phone. Such as snoozing until you get to work.
Another feature is the ability to pin emails to the inbox. If several emails are pinned, then when the pin toggle is selected it will remove all non-pinned emails showing only those you have marked. This is a great feature which I use as a sort of “outstanding work” list making sure to unpin an item when complete.
In summation – I believe Inbox has a lot to offer Google Apps for Education and, with some work put in by the Google team as opposed to the odd feature here and there suited to personal use, this could be a great alternative to Gmail. If more granular control is given to the tenancy administrator, then staff and students could receive a consistent mail client tailored to them and their role within the education establishment.