Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer declared email a pain point that needed to be fixed less than a year ago. On Tuesday, Yahoo unveiled her solution: a redesigned Yahoo Mail with a focus on mobile and a mission to dethrone Gmail.
Yahoo refreshed Mail for the Web, Windows 8, Android, and iOS last December with a clean and simple white-and-purple motif, but Mayer clearly wasn't satisfied with the results. The new look for desktop, iOS, and Android takes its cues from Flickr and Yahoo Weather with curated background themes and beautiful transparent layers. The theme you pick will follow you from the Web to your devices as part of Mayer's efforts to maintain consistency across platforms.
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But Yahoo Mail doesn't just look a little different. In a jab at Gmail, the service now displays threaded conversations -- finally -- and quick actions when you hover over a message on the desktop, or swipe left or right on mobile. You can also preview full-screen attachments on desktop with support from Flickr and Dropbox.
Yahoo unveiled the new look and features on Mail's 16th birthday, and made premium features free to mark the occasion. Now disposable email addresses, automatic email forwarding, advanced filters, and 1TB of storage are available to everyone -- though Mail Plus customers still benefit from an ad-free experience.
Will Mail sink or swim?
Mayer is clearly listening to what users want: easy-to-use features and a beautiful, streamlined interface. Yahoo Mail won't fail based on its looks.
But even after a summer promotional campaign that cleared the decks of old, inactive email accounts and bestowed new usernames to those who created wishlists, Yahoo still has a long, uphill climb to overtake Gmail -- if such a heroic feat is even possible.
After years of clearly not caring about the competition, no one can say Yahoo is resting -- or backsliding -- on its mighty laurels anymore. Yahoo Mail might not be the transcendent email experience required to slay Gmail, but it's a huge move in the right direction.