Yahoo has launched a mobile mail beta. When I logged into Yahoo Mail using Opera Mini there was a Try New Mobile Beta link at the top of the start page. Naturally, I checked it out immediately. Yahoo Mobile Mail has always had a simple appearance, almost entirely text with the only color being a small logo at the top and beige bar at the bottom of the page. The beta is almost as simple but looks less sparse with most text elements now enclosed in what look like table cells but are actually div's with css borders. There is also more color with header elements like folder titles having a pale yellow or lavender background. I do find it more attractive than the rather sparse old Yahoo mail page. Another difference is that the beta wraps the message header rather than requiring horizontal scrolling to see the full header. Unlike Gmail, there is no support for viewing attachments in the mobile Y! Mail beta. The first two images show the Inbox in the Beta (top image) and Classic versions of Y! Mail.
In terms of new features, the biggest is search. As with mobile Gmail, you can now search your mail folders for a text string (third image). Search returns a list of emails containing the string. You can then read any of the emails found by the search. However, you can't search the body of an individual email to find where a particular word or phrase occurs. Also new is the ability to flag a message as Spam which helps train Yahoo's rather good Spam filter. In addition. there's a new Quick Reply feature (bottom image) which is a text-field at the bottom of each email body where you can type a reply to the current email.
While there is nothing ground breaking about the Yahoo beta, I like that a major focus of the beta seems to be on reducing the number of clicks and page loads needed to read, manage and reply to multiple emails. For example, with the old Yahoo mobile mail, when you do almost anything to an email like delete it, move it to another folder or reply, you're taken back to the folder list where you have to choose Inbox or whatever folder you were in and then chose the next message. That gets tedious if you have a lot of mail. The beta takes you back to the current folder after any of these operations - one less click and one less page load and it brings Yahoo up to parity with the way Gmail and MS Live Mail work. The Quick Reply also saves a number of clicks. I think efficiency would be improved even more, if after a delete, reply or move, Yahoo would take you to the next unread message in the current folder, but the new behavior is a worthwhile improvement.
One area where I always found Yahoo mobile mail a little lacking was address book integration. This has not changed in the beta, at least not yet. When composing an email, you can search or browse your Yahoo Address book and choose the recipient(s). But you still can't add the sender of a received email to the address book. Nor can you add a new recipient address from an email you are composing. The mobile versions of Live Mail and Gmail are somewhat better in this regard. Gmail automatically adds the recipient addresses of every sent email to your address book. Live Mail lets you add the sender of received emails. Of course, you should always be able to add any address to your address book by leaving mail, entering the address book and then, unless you have one of the relatively rare phones that support cut and paste, re-typing the contact's email address. Actually you can't even do that currently in Yahoo Mobile Mail. The New Contact menu item is missing from the address book in the beta, and in the old version, the New Contact link is still there, but it leads to the message,
"The add, edit and delete features have been temporarily disabled while we work on improvements..."
I take this to mean that some sort of improved address book is in the works but in the meantime we have to manage our address books on the desktop. I don't understand why it's necessary to remove a working module before it's replacement is ready but at least Yahoo Mail still has address book integration with Outlook, Outlook Express, Lotus Notes and Palm Desktop using a free version of Intellisync. For some reason Yahoo doesn't do a very good job of promoting Intellisync. It's not mentioned anywhere on the Mail or Addresses main pages. To find it, if you have a Yahoo account, go to your Yahoo Calendar and click the Sync tab in the top right corner. Or anyone you can go directly to an Intellisync help and download page here. Note that Intellisync is different from the SyncML that Yahoo is starting to rollout to a limited set of devices. SyncML synchronizes your phone's built-in address book and calendar with Y! Addresses and Calendar. IntelliSync synchronizes Y! Addresses, Calendar, To-Do, and Notebook with desktop PIMs like Outlook, Notes and Act!. Synchronization is the main reason I use Y! Mail. Microsoft and Gmail don't have true synchronization although they can import contacts from most desktop email programs and PIM's
Speaking of things that are missing from the beta, where have the access keys gone? Classic Yahoo Mail, like Live Mail and Gmail has access keys, numeric accelerators that give you single keypress access to important features. For example in Gmail Mobile, when you are reading a message, pressing 0 takes you back to the Inbox, 7 deletes the current email, 0 lets you compose a new message. Access keys add more to usability of a phone with a numeric keypad than almost anything. I can't believe Yahoo removed them in the beta. Someone please tell me this is just temporary.
Not all phones get the link which lets you try the mobile beta. It you want to try it anyway, the direct link is us.wap.yahoo.com/p/mail. Of course there is no guarantee it will work on unsupported devices. The beta currently doesn't support WAP1 but I think it will eventually. I get an error message reading "WML not supported (yet)." when I select the Try Beta link on the Yahoo front page with the Openwave 7 (WAP 2) browser my Motorola i855.
My take on the beta is that it looks promising, the more attractive layout, search and better navigation are all pluses. If Yahoo adds some real address book integration or at least brings back the ability to edit the address book and also restores the access keys they will have a product which is approximately equal to the Gmail and Live mobile offerings in features and usability. The strengths of Yahoo's underlying web based mail and PIM, particularly in synchronization, should allow Yahoo to retain their lead in mobile web mail.
Yahoo Mobile Mail Beta: xhtml-mp
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