Inbox is Google's latest attempt at a next-generation email platform. Google announced the invite-only product on October 22, 2014. I do not have access to the product yet, but I'll be sure to post some updates when I do.
So what exactly is it that Google is rolling out?
Next generation email. The concept is centered around the idea of creating a truly useful inbox. All those unimportant receipts for Internet purchases should disappear, conversations will be grouped, and to-do and calendar items can be created based on messages.
It also looks like tighter Google Now card integration.
A lot of these features are available (although sometimes not well implemented) inside Gmail now. Google Keep already creates to-do items with reminders that can be based on location or time (pick up milk the next time you are near a grocery store or go to tap dance class every third Tuesday).
How do you get an Inbox invite?
If you have a friend with an invite, ask them. This is now a pretty typical roll-out strategy for new Internet apps of all stripes, but it was used very effectively when Google rolled out Gmail. Invited users had a limited number of invitations they could offer to their friends, who then could invite their friends, and so on. The same thing will apply with Inbox.
Google is also seeding invites from a list of people who write them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't expect an immediate invite using this method, but at least you don't have to know a friend to get an invite. Google's only promise is that they'll send "new invites every week."
A few things you need before you can use Inbox:
Inbox (as of this writing) appears to only work for Android and iPhone users. You have to have a phone or tablet in order to activate your invite. Once you download the Inbox app and activate it on your phone, you can use it on Chrome on a desktop or laptop computer.
It only works on personal Gmail accounts. No Google Apps accounts, student emails, corporate accounts, etc. Just your plain old vanilla Gmail.
A cautionary tale about next-generation email replacement tools
I started by saying this was Google's latest attempt at a next-generation email tool. Email replacement is hard. Email itself has been around for longer than many of the engineers at Google have been alive.
Google Wave was originally billed as a next generation communication program and email replacement. It failed.
Google Wave was also massively overhyped. The product was demonstrated during the Google developer conference to a standing ovation crowd, and well, it wasn't quite ready for all that attention. There were features that seemed like good ideas at the time, like the ability to see other people typing, that turned out to be not all that useful after all.
That wasn't all that was wrong with Google Wave. The interface was weird and didn't match other Google products. A lot of the features in the demo were not ready for release when the beta rolled out.
Google Wave ultimately joined other dead products in the Google graveyard.
Inbox already looks more poised for success than Google Wave, but it may still be a long time before Inbox replaces your Gmail inbox. That doesn't mean it would hurt to ask if your friends have an invite.
Update: As of October 24th, Google offered the first wave of invite codes to early users, and some users who emailed email@example.com reported getting sent an invite - including me. I'll let you know how the experiment goes.