Two months ago, a productivity executive stood before a small group of users and promised a new email inbox app that would, in his words, deliver “all of the wheat and none of the chaff.”
No, that executive wasn’t from Google, and the product wasn’t called Inbox. Instead, it was known as Inbox Insights, and it was scheduled to be released by a much tinier online productivity company, Zoho.
Zoho executives told a user conference in late August that the company was awaiting approval from Apple, and that it planned to have an Android app as well. The Inbox Insight app would work in conjunction with Zoho Mail, a freemium service for businesses and consumers. “We know customers' tastes differ; we know that one solution does not fit all of us,” a Zoho executive said then.
That sounds a lot like Google Inbox, an invitation-only app that Google launched on Tuesday. Google Inbox will work with Gmail, stripping down the inbox to its essential items.
With Inbox Insight, for example, the highest-priority email was pulled out to the lock screen as a notification. Users could configure similar high-priority emails by setting up their own parameters, and keeping them as saved searches. And while traditional inboxes prioritized email, Inbox Insight kept an eye out for messages from contacts you knew.
Inbox Insights almost certainly didn’t do everything that Google’s own Inbox does. For example, Inbox’s Assists allow you to set a reminder to call a store—and then Google would let you know the number and whether the store was open. There’s no indication that Inbox Insights is going to offer more than sophisticated email sorting and prioritization.
Zoho's Inbox Insights is still on track, though. "It is not available yet," Raju Vegesna, an evangelist for the company, said in an email. "It is still in the works and should be available in few weeks. No firm date yet."
Collectively, what Inbox and Inbox Insights seem to be addressing is a need to whittle the inbox down to its essentials, and make communications much more manageable. Google’s Gmail has already tried this, with its tabs that separate social updates, promotions, and forum post notifications. Microsoft’s Outlook has also launched similar features.
What Zoho appears to have done, in any case, is launch some of those features as part of Zoho Mail, an app for Android and iOS that was made available in early September.
Even if Inbox Insights had been first to market, however, chances are it would have flown under the radar. What Zoho can hope for, however, is that there is indeed a market for these sorts of inbox-slimming apps—and if so, it has that card in its hand, ready to be played.