New Yahoo Mail ups social integration, mobile optimization

Revamped mail system addresses needs of mobile Web-only users in emerging Southeast Asian markets and provides seamless experience across devices, says company exec.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Yahoo's revamped e-mail service boasts new features that meet the needs of the mobile Web-only population and social-centric user base across emerging Southeast Asian markets, in which the Internet giant has a stronghold, says a company executive.

Officially unveiled May 23, the new Yahoo Mail features social integration that provides a one-stop shop for users to connect with friends on social media and is optimized for mobile access. Its beta mode was launched in October 2010.

The changes have been implemented across markets in Southeast Asia and the United States. By mid-June, all 284 million Yahoo Mail accounts worldwide will sport the new features, according to Karen Yeo, product marketing manager of Yahoo Southeast Asia.

In an interview and demo with ZDNet Asia, she noted the importance of introducing these new tweaks to the company's Web-based offering. "As much as e-mail is relevant, it cannot be a standalone product," Yeo said.

By adding social elements in the mix, the new Yahoo mail becomes the "one place for people to connect with their friends" across Facebook, Twitter and other social media. This provides a "very integrated and meaningful experience", she added.

The revamped e-mail system allows users to update and reply to messages on their social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter without having to leave their inbox. They can also connect with friends via various instant messaging (IM) services, including Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft Windows Live, or via SMS (short message service), within their mailbox, she said.

Catering to the youth demographic, particularly in Southeast Asia--one of Yahoo's strongest markets--was another reason for the social push, Yeo revealed.

The region has a "younger audience" where the 15 to 24 year-old group makes up at least 30 percent of Yahoo Mail's market share in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, she noted.

Citing ComScore's figures for April 2011, she said Yahoo Mail is the leading e-mail service in four countries in the region: Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It ranked number two in Singapore for the same month.

Yeo said the statistics indicated that e-mail is "not dead" and for young users, in particular, it is "still very important" component in their lives because they find it more "secure" and "private" to share information such as their bank account numbers via e-mail, Yeo pointed out.

"[Concurrently,] we know they're also spending a lot of time on social accounts and instant messaging," she said, explaining why these features were integrated into Yahoo Mail.

Mobile approach in design
Yeo also highlighted the importance of mobile, adding that the company had looked first at mobile when it designed the new interface and user experience of Yahoo Mail. She pointed to how users in emerging markets across Southeast Asia are accessing the Web for the first time via the mobile.

Furthermore, smartphone use is growing in mature economies such as Singapore, she added.

With mobile optimization, she said Yahoo Mail now provides a seamless and uniform user experience regardless of whether the user is on a mobile device or desktop. In the past, she noted that there were aspects of the design and user experience which resulted in a "clunky" and "not very pretty" experience when Yahoo Mail was accessed via mobile platforms.

Yahoo has been beefing up its focus on and initiatives in the mobile segment, which include a new partnership with Taiwanese mobile chipset maker MediaTek to embed services such as Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger into feature phones.

Calling it a "huge, global deal", Yeo said this paves the way for Yahoo to be the "one touch to the Internet" for feature phone users, particularly in key emerging markets Yahoo targets. "While a lot of people have moved on to smarpthones, we definitely do not want to neglect the huge population still on feature phones," she said.

Not just a "facelift"
Asked why social elements and mobile optimization were only now being integrated into Yahoo Mail, Yeo said the revamp is more than just a "facelift". "We went from ground up and a lot of Yahoo [teams worldwide] came together to relook, rethink, redesign and re-architect this entire system."

She said the company's engineering and product teams looked beyond mobile and social elements and into the entire mail system including antispam technologies, and added that planning, development, testing and feedback processes took "many, many months".

The last time Yahoo Mail underwent a redesign of a similar magnitude and extent was in 2007, but Yeo noted that the company typically implement smaller updates in between major revamps.

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