After over 10 years of using email through clients — from Outlook to Mail to Sparrow to Mailbox — I stopped. It was about two months ago. I switched, or began switching, from Sparrow to the Gmail site. On my phone, I deactivated iPhone Mail and switched to Gmail’s official app. Now Google doesn’t just host and operate my email service, it owns and controls my entire email experience.
I’m uneasy about this, but it was my choice. I made it, and I expect millions more will too. That’s because, starting with the introduction of a fast, app-like webmail service and followed by the release of native, Gmail-specific mobile apps, Google has been recreating — and taking control of — what had become the last piece of digital real estate users could legitimately feel like they controlled: their inboxes.
Gmail’s new tabbed inbox was what finally pulled me over: It accomplishes, using Gmail’s enormous data resources, what few, if any, personally designed email filter systems can. It organizes messages into categories — Primary, Promotions, Updates, etc. — with the same assertiveness and accuracy as it has categorized spam for years. “Our goal here was to give people context,” says Alex Gawley, the product manager for Gmail. “If you’re dealing with a whole bunch of messages within the context of other messages that have that same context, then you’re able to do that more efficiently. It’s a more useful experience, rather than having to continuously context-switch as you’re going through the messages in your inbox.”