I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this major update to Yahoo! Mail, after all the changes to Flickr in the recent months, but somehow I am – I think I’m actually surprised by how well it looks, after the previous versions left me unimpressed. There are strong new features (Gmail-like conversations and themes powered by gorgeous Flickr photos, probably the major reason why the new inbox looks so appealing), as well as old Mail Plus features made free for all users (POP3 access, automatic email forwarding, disposable email addresses and extra filters). This move is actually very similar to the recent changes to Flickr Pro accounts, with more features available for free for the general public and higher prices for the ad-free experience – and let’s not forget the 1TB free storage, enough for a lifetime! It’s astonishing how ‘free’ online storage skyrocketed, from 1GB in 2004 to 1TB in 2013, a thousand-fold increase in less than 10 years.
Naturally, most users are complaining about it and some of them are certainly legitimate, for example the removal of tabs and sort by sender and the two-click-access to folders. But there are other, more fundamental problems with it. Even if, under Marissa Meyer, Yahoo! is trying hard to improve its products, there is still a definite impression of playing catch-up. The new look is certainly impressive, but it reminds me too much of Gmail – this could be the interface Meyer has in mind for Gmail if she had stayed on with Google. The compose window is one of the best examples for the similarities – except I personally think Yahoo!’s is better, equally simple, but easier to use because the controls are fixed at the bottom so you don’t have to play hide-and-seek with them. And feature-wise Yahoo! Mail is still lagging behind their two major competitors:
- POP3 access would have been nice 10 years ago and there’s no talk about IMAP, which both Gmail and Outlook.com offer – the latter albeit just recently.
- More filters are good, but they’re still not as powerful as Gmail’s, not to mention the advanced sweep commands in Outlook.
- It’s nice to be able to collapse the left sidebar for more reading space, but the ads on the right are just as annoying as ever, even with ad-blocking software.
- Organizing mail hasn’t received any attention, so no Gmail labels or the mixed Outlook.com system, with folders and categories.
- The spam filter still leaves something to be desired.
- Grouping emails in conversations is awesome – even if most users can’t get used to them – but unfortunately Yahoo! doesn’t collapse the quoted text like Gmail does, so you’re left going through the thread every time you reach a new message, making grouping next to useless.
- It’s good that Yahoo! managed to launch the update everywhere at once – on the desktop, in the mobile and tablet apps; most tech companies release apps only gradually, usually on their own OS first. On the other hand the experience could use some more refinement: I tried to log in through Safari on my iPhone only to be rejected because I was in private mode. I couldn't help but think the page could have warned me before making me type my complicated password on a mobile keyboard…
So, bottom line? Good idea, keep up the good work, Yahoo! But this isn’t going to make people switch away from other free mail providers, just possibly slow down the rate at which they are leaving. My inbox is just silently filling with useless newsletters I don’t even bother deleting and, as things stand right now, if ever leave Gmail, Yahoo! won’t be my first choice of place to move.