There are only a few tabs I consistently keep open all day on my computer - Gmail, Google Calendar, Hacker News, and New Relic. Out of these, Gmail is the most important with my entire day running through it. The value of having a presence in the inbox hasn’t been lost on companies and there are a ton of third party apps that make Gmail more useful - Rapportive, YesWare, ToutApp, and Boomerang. Even Google itself has been providing “Lab features” to augment the default inbox behavior.
One thing that bothers me is that this additional functionality is only provided via browser extensions. The only time I recall seeing an interactive behavior is when a form is embedded in an email and even then it’s at the mercy of the email client’s implementation. I’d love to see a new inbox standard adopted that allowed email messages to be richer and more interactive rather than having to rely on a separate browser extension. Imagine being able to send out surveys that can be completed without leaving an email, emails that are able to show whether a product is available in real time (I know this can be done via server side rendered images but it’s a hack), or being able to change the content text based on the time the email is viewed. These are trivial examples but this would open up potential for uses that we can’t even imagine. Of course, we’d have to be even more wary of smarter spam and inbox trickery but the potential value is worth that cost.