Email was supposed to make our lives easier. Instead it’s become a dumping ground for travel itineraries, receipts, social-media updates, work documents and invitations—to say nothing of actual spam. (According to , most professionals spend almost a third of their workweek just wading through email.) Technical companies have made a sport of vying to tackle data deluge—not just in email but in everything from your calendar to your to-do lists—as consumers increasingly complain about information overload.
The latest entrant: Google, which set the standard for streamlined email with Gmail a decade ago. On Oct. 22, the search giant unveiled Inbox, a free smartphone app that acts as a kind of intelligent filter for the unending tide of emails. The app automatically separates receipts, social updates and promotions into distinct categories that can be tackled separately (or ignored completely). Users can “snooze” emails to complete them at a set time or when the user arrives at a designated location—home, for instance—as indicated by the phone’s GPS.
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“People were trying to run their lives from this email inbox, but that was really a lot of work,” explains Alex Gawley, product director for both Inbox and Gmail. The resulting software is a lot like a cross between the old Gmail and Google Now, the company’s digital personal assistant.
Google’s new app is hardly the only option, though. Here’s a quick look at several others trying to become your digital assistant:
To tame email…
Google tries to streamline email—again. The app highlights information like flight-departure times and friends’ changes of phone numbers. It’s free but currently available by invite only.
Searching for emails on a phone can be a grindingly slow process. CloudMagic replaces built-in email apps to provide speedier search.
Boxer; iOS, Android
Boxer applies the interface of popular dating apps like Tinder to email, allowing users to run through messages using gesture-based controls. Swipe to delete messages or send automated responses.
To subdue your calendar…
Sunrise Calendar; ,
This app has an easy-to-use interface and allows users to add thousands of unique calendars, like sports teams’ schedules. It uses a three-day view rather than the typical weeklong span to cut down on clutter.
Tempo is aimed at people who have to attend a lot of business meetings. It automatically culls details from email threads and the Internet to provide briefings for upcoming rendezvous.
Switching among various digital calendars can be a hassle. UpTo allows users to easily choose the most pertinent events from the calendars of friends and brands (TV schedules, for instance) to add to their own schedules.
And for everything else…
This simple task manager lets users divide their days into small increments of focused work (30 minutes by default) punctuated by regular breaks.
Simple task lists can be accessed across devices with this service. The app encourages users to plan their day and set time or location-based reminders each morning.
A task manager built with collaboration in mind, this app allows up to 15 members to collaborate on projects, assigning specific tasks and due dates.