When Google killed the Gmail alternative Inbox in 2018, it promised that many of its ideas would eventually come to Gmail. Although some have come in, most of what made Inbox successful, like “packages”, never worked. Instead, in the following years, Google dedicated its entire Gmail productivity suite to getting people to use the rest of its workspace services. It’s about to get worse As Google prepares to roll out a major update to Gmail This is more crowded than ever.
Gmail’s sophisticated interface works for those who have invested in the Google ecosystem, but does little to save people from the drudgery of sifting through messy inboxes every day. It’s easy to see why: it still throws you a list of emails with no real structure that bypasses an unexpected set of filters to block promotional messages, spam, and social media updates.
Email apps that offer Gmail bug fixes have been equally disappointing to me: Newton Mail Can’t keep your moneyNor my trust. Spark had a lot of features that I didn’t need. Superhuman, a $30 per month email app that wants to make you “feel like you have superpowers,” and promises to overdo it and deliver. But after years of switching between apps, my search for a successor to Google Inbox may finally come to an end, thanks to a simple and refreshing new Gmail client called short wave.
Shortwave was designed by a group of former Google employees, including Andrew Lee, who previously founded and sold Firebase, an app development platform, to Google. Shortwave—at $9 a month unless you’re OK with just three months of email history—makes no bones about its ambitions to get into Inbox. It even looks and works just like it with a blue accented theme, but it’s more of a copy. It builds on effective design choices that have powered Inbox some of its own, and in the two weeks I’ve been with it has made me more productive managing my email.
When I turn on Shortwave – available on the web, iOS and Android – it doesn’t flood me with emails. Instead, non-essentials, like updates from social media and automated confirmations like those from Amazon, are sorted together, and threads you named earlier, for example, are sorted into another project by default. This all happens in the same inbox, not under different tabs like Gmail does, which allows me to monitor it and prevent junk mail from accumulating.
Since most of my inbox is already organized when I jump in, there are far fewer emails that require my immediate attention. It feels like my work has been cut in half: I know that messages within packages like ‘newsletters’ can wait, and I can quickly get to important emails without confirming the unread count (which is something shortwave doesn’t have anyway) .
However, what stood out most for Shortwave for me was how it forced me to rethink how I handle my email inbox. Before, I’d dive headfirst into it without a plan – dealing with whatever was at the top first and likely missing out on what was at the bottom.
Now when I log in there is a certain routine for it. I first archive all spam at once using the Clear button, and decrypt my inbox immediately. Next, I check if there are any unread messages in the Favorites section, which includes emails from frequently contacted people, to see if I have any updates from my editors and respond to those if there are, As it usually is a top priority, and I can now find it without manually going through endless piles of other messages.
Then I can comfortably sort the rest: I pin the most urgent items to the top of my inbox, put off what can wait, and drag and drop related emails onto each other to throw them into a new package that I can revisit later. Aside from actually answering my emails, it doesn’t take me more than a few minutes, and you can do just about everything with keyboard shortcuts.
Like a lot of people, I have an anxious tendency to go to my phone and check my emails first thing in the morning, but Shortwave’s Do Not Disturb mode now keeps all my emails until later and keeps my anxious email brain in check. The app also lets me choose the type of emails I want to be notified of and completely clears my notification panel of junk like deals and marketing updates.
And unlike many newer email clients, Shortwave seems to strike the right balance when it comes to information density. Its interface is wide enough that my inbox displays a lot of emails at once, doesn’t appear like a giant, messy ball of text, and is easy to navigate — unlike Inbox, whose design was Criticize Low information density. I also find it much better for busy threads, which shows up when there’s a new recipient in an email thread or when someone is sending me directly instead of everyone by splitting Reply-All into a substring.
To bring these kinds of conveniences to Gmail, I had to trust Shortwave wouldn’t sell or read my emails, which it can technically do. Although handing over the reins to new companies is more difficult for me than ever, Shortwave makes a compelling case. In addition to the clear policies that Shortwave does not monetize personal data, it says it has passed an annual audit commissioned by Google – which can cost third parties more than $75,000 and includes stress testing to protect their security. It also helps its cause that its business model is based on premium subscription, not advertising or data brokerage.
(Google and the company that conducted the Shortwave audit, NCC Group, declined to comment.)
Even though Shortwave is now my default inbox, I still have to go back to Gmail every now and then because emails can’t be scheduled yet and it lacks some standard folders, like spam. The lack of a delete option was also a disappointment. Lee claims that all of these are “high on the priority list”, but he can’t comment on when these updates will arrive.
Another thing that could throw a wrench into the Shortwave experience for me is the startup’s big ambitions to replace apps like Slack with email. In Shortwave, organizations can create “workspaces” where employees can chat in real time as they would in a messaging service. Except in the case of Shortwave, all messages are emails. For now, these enterprise tools live in their separate section and don’t get in the way, but whether that changes (and clutters the clean inbox in Shortwave the same way Google did with Gmail) remains to be seen.
I’m skeptical of Shortwave’s plan to turn email into the silver solution for all work communication, but if my squeaky clean inbox is any indication, it can certainly restore calm to your messy relationship with emails and patch up your inbox size. the scientist.
Shortwave doesn’t try to reinvent or complicate email, and its smart inbox is simple and functional. So much so that while using it, all I was wondering was why Google never brought all the features of Inbox to Gmail. Many of its features may seem like simple additions to Gmail — but taken together, they add up to a less frustrating, more effective email experience.
“Friendly food geek. Communicator. Hipster-friendly creator. Bacon evangelist. Zombie nerd. Pop culture advocate. Beer aficionado.”