A friend of mine at AOL emailed today to suggest I take a look at the new AOL email beta, called Cayman. An overview of the new features was published in late February on the AOL email blog, and the product itself was released last Friday. New and existing users can sign up for the beta at beta.webmail.aol.com.
Cayman is admittedly a huge step up from the previous (effectively unusable) AOL webmail product (click on the image below for a larger view). The interface has been redesigned, and includes useful Ajax components that significantly reduce the frequency of page refreshes. But drag and drop webmail applications have been around for years, now it is a far cry from being even remotely cutting edge compared to Gmail and Yahoo’s competing offerings.
To be more specific, AOL is effectively last in every category we used in our recent comparison of the Yahoo, Gmail and Live.com webmail clients. AOL does offer 2 GB of free storage, more than Yahoo and equal to Live Hotmail, but less than Gmail’s current 2.6 GB. Also, AOL does not support email tagging, does not integrate RSS feeds or IM, does not allow for message forwarding, or POP/IMAP of email into the service (although they do provide IMAP out). Search is so/so, and speed and reliability were very poor in my testing, with a service collapse at one point.
Readers of this blog will not be impressed. And while existing AOL webmail users will certainly be happy with the changes, I wonder why the team that built this didn’t try to create something a little more special than this.