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Yahoo Mail on Monday emerged from a year-long public beta period with two significant new features as well as other refinements.
Yahoo Mail now includes the ability to send text messages to mobile phones. It also now allows users to send instant messages to both Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger users.
"Not only are we launching a brand new version of one of the most popular Web mail services in the world, but we're unveiling a solution to my texting woes, and giving people around the world more ways to connect," said John Kremer, VP of Yahoo Mail, in a blog post. "With the new Yahoo Mail, people can send and receive free text messages in their e-mail to and from any mobile phone number in participating markets including the U.S., Canada, India, and the Philippines."
Yahoo claims that the new Yahoo Mail is more responsive than it was during beta testing, that it includes advanced search options for sifting through e-mail messages and that users now have six new color themes to choose from.
U.S.-based users of Yahoo Mail can take advantage of new shortcuts to underline words in messages, to add events directly to their Yahoo Calendars, to add friends to their contacts, to view a Yahoo Map of a selected address, or to perform a Web search on a selected word.
To establish the potential impact of text messaging capabilities on Yahoo Mail, Kremer cites statistics showing that 69% of U.S. mobile phone users between the ages of 18 and 39 use text messaging (Harris Interactive, June 2006) and that half of Americans age 18-25 say they sent or received a text message over the phone every day (Pew Research Center, January 2007). Whether text messaging will lift Yahoo Mail's flat growth rate remains to be seen.
Yahoo Mail is the most popular e-mail service in the United States. and the second most popular worldwide, just behind Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail, according to Internet metrics company ComScore. In July 2007, Yahoo Mail received 83 million unique U.S. visitors, up 6% from almost 79 million a year earlier.
But Yahoo's traffic growth in the United States hasn't been much better than the Web e-mail market overall, which grew at 4% from July 2006 through July 2007, according to ComScore. During the same period, Windows Live Hotmail grew only 2% to reach almost 49 million.
Worldwide, Yahoo Mail saw 254 million unique visitors in July, which is about 800,000 less than the number ComScore recorded a year earlier. Windows Live Hotmail reached about 260 million unique visitors, up 11% from 234 million in July 2006. Between July 2006 and July 2007, the overall worldwide Web e-mail market grew 12%.
Google's Gmail, meanwhile, is growing rapidly. The number of unique visitors coming to Gmail in the United States in July reached almost 17 million. While that's still almost five times less than the number of unique Yahoo Mail visitors, it nonetheless reflects 79% growth over the course of a year. Worldwide, the number of unique visitors to Google's Gmail service reached 79 million in July, a 64% growth rate from the previous year.
Yahoo is planning to roll out co-branded versions of the new Yahoo Mail to partners like AT&T, Verizon, and Rodgers, as well as to users of its Yahoo Small Business users in the fall.