MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — A decade ago, Google took the wraps off Gmail, the popular e-mail service used by hundreds of millions the world over.
Now that e-mail is vibrating in pockets as often as it's pinging computers, the Internet giant is rethinking how your inbox should look and work.
The result is Inbox, a new product that Google says is a smarter way to sort e-mail. It's rolling out Wednesday by invitation only.
"We want this to be your inbox for the next 10 years," Alex Gawley, product director of Gmail and Inbox, said in an interview.
For a technology that everyone loves to hate, e-mail is stubbornly popular.
It was born in the 1970s and became the backbone of our digital lives in the 1990s.
It hasn't changed much over the decades, even as mobile devices and social media have modernized communications at home and in the workplace.
"E-mail may not be the new cool thing, but it's the workhorse that keeps performing," Forrester Research analyst Shar VanBoskirk said.
But coping with the daily deluge has gotten a lot tougher. People are getting more e-mail than ever before and often they are squinting at messages on small screens.
So Google set out two years ago to make e-mail easier to use whether on desktops, smartphones or tablets, Gawley said.
"We really want to do more of the work that our users are doing when they are trying to manage their lives through their inbox," he said.
The tech giant is not alone. Major e-mail providers as well as start-ups are working on bringing e-mail into the 21st century.
Google's new e-mail product, Inbox, on the iPhone.(Photo: Google)
Given how much time people still spend in their inboxes, "making e-mail better for e-mail users is a priority for Google," said Brian Blau, Gartner's research director of consumer technology and markets.
Gmail competes for people's time and attention with e-mail services from Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple. It's also working to lure business customers away from Microsoft Office.
"Google wants to make e-mail as compelling as possible," Blau said.
You log in with your Gmail credentials and you can switch back and forth between the two services.
Among the bells and whistles that Inbox has to offer: It helps users stay more organized by grouping together bank statements or receipts from purchases so they can be quickly reviewed then swiped away.
Inbox highlights important information from e-mails in the subject line, such as showing you the photos of a newborn or the document a co-worker has shared with you.
Inbox also displays useful information that wasn't in the e-mail: the real-time status of a flight you booked online or of a package being delivered to your home.
You can also add reminders to the top of your e-mail such as: pick out a present for your sister's birthday or get a gallon of milk at the store.
To help you finish a task, Inbox uses "assists." If you make a restaurant reservation online, Inbox adds a map to the confirmation e-mail. Book a flight online, Inbox gives you a link to check in.
You can also snooze e-mail and reminders and set them to return to your inbox later or when you arrive at a specific location, say the office or your house, Gawley said.
Inbox will be different from Gmail in another respect: It won't show any ads — at least not right away.
Google will be paying close attention to feedback, Gawley said.
"Maybe one day it is the replacement for Gmail," Gawley said. "I think that's something our users will tell us."
Inbox is available as of Wednesday on Android and iOS, and on desktop in Chrome.
Google is sending invitations to users and each new user will be able to invite friends. Or you can e-mail Google at email@example.com for an invitation.
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