October 27, 2006

Apple Updates .Mac Webmail, But Is Playing Catchup

In September, Apple hinted they would be adding new features to the company's .Mac Web-based e-mail, utilizing tools including Ajax, to make the user experience more like a desktop application, and less limited. Last night, with little fanfare, the Webmail site was upgraded to do just that, and after using it to send/receive, delete, open and forward messages, it's not at all dramatic - especially when contrasted with the upgrades at Gmail by Google, Yahoo! Mail, etc. Where Apple could have leapfrogged the competition, they instead opted to play catchup.

Over the last decade, we've picked up and dropped a wide variety of e-mails, Web-based and otherwise, having at various used AOL, Earthlink, @Home, AT&T, Comcast, Netscape, Excite, GMail, Mail.com, Yahoo!, a number of work-based accounts, and Mac.com. On a daily basis, however, I only use two e-mail accounts - the one for work, and my Mac.com account. GMail I use as a repository for lists with high volume, and everything else is a waste. In fact, right now I have 452 new e-mails in GMail, and 1,093 unread messages in Yahoo! mail, 672 of which have been classified as "Bulk". It's not even worth looking at the other abandoned accounts.

Years ago, I bought the $99 a year .Mac subscription to have an e-mail address I could keep using regardless of the underlying ISP. If I ever switch away from Comcast, or need my e-mail on the road, the e-mail moves with me. Thanks to Apple's Backup and iSync services, the e-mails are backed up and won't be obliterated if I suffer a dead hard drive or user error. But aside from that, Apple hasn't given the same amount of focus to their Web-based services as they have the iPod or their desktops, by any means, and even with last night's upgrade, they haven't emerged as anything resembling a market leader.

In the new .Mac Webmail service, replying or double-clicking a message pops it open in a new window, with a simplified button structure - automatically guessing at your next move. The service also comes with a standard 1 GB of available space (compared to nearly 3 GB for GMail), and search functionality - which works fairly well. The major difference between the Web version and that of the desktop would be the archives. While on the Web, you only have your In Box, Sent Items, Deleted Items, and Junk. As I've saved mountains of e-mail from friends, family and commerce transactions over the last decade, I don't have access to those remotely, as they live on the desktop and don't hit my Webmail quota. If Apple tried to use their storage space to give me access to all my e-mail, that would be pretty cool, and that would put them ahead of competitive services at something.

For other views of Apple's Webmail upgrades, check here:
Mac Rumors: .Mac Webmail Updated
GigaOM: New Dot Mac Mail - Live Now

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