The new Yahoo Mail interface went into public beta in September 2006, although Yahoo was testing it long before that. Tonight Yahoo takes the “beta” label off of the product and makes it the default interface for all new Yahoo mail accounts.
They are also releasing a few new features.
Shortcuts: Mail now has a number of intelligent shortcuts. Things like addresses, places, dates, contact information, etc. are underlined with blue dots. Click on the link and see a mashup with maps (for addresses), travel guides (for places), calendar (for dates), etc. New services are being added regularly.
SMS/Text Messaging: Yahoo wants you to use their mail application whenever you contact your friends, however you contact them. In addition to emailing or instant messaging clients, you can now send them a text message from the mail interface. Their responses also come in directly to Yahoo Mail. It currently works for U.S., India, Philippines and Canadian mobile numbers.
Is Yahoo Mail a better webmail application than GMail? In our comparisons GMail always comes out on top, although the main reason is tagging of messages and the fact that GMail gives free forwarding and POP access to the account. Yahoo still charges $20/year for forwarding or POP access. For users who still like their desktop mail clients, POP access is an important feature. Yahoo says they are considering making it a free option, but they have a lot of paying mail customers. If they make too many features free, they jeopardize that revenue stream. Offering unlimited free storage really pushed the limits, so I don’t expect them to move more features from paid to free any time soon.
The new interface is the final realization of Yahoo’s 2004 acquisition of Ajax pioneer Oddpost. The new mail product is based largely on ideas first launched by Oddpost in 2002.
Startups aren’t just sitting around as the big guys upgrade their webmail apps, though. Our favorite product in this space is Orgoo, which launches this fall and lets users pull in mail and IM accounts from any number of providers. Foldera is another promising product in this space (I was previously on their board of directors, but I do not own any stock in the company).