Yahoo has introduced an upgraded free email service with enhancements that include letting people send text messages from computers to cellphones.
The improved Yahoo! Mail being rolled out around the world in the coming weeks is the most extensive overhaul of the web-based email service since it was launched a decade ago.
Because the text messaging feature depends on cooperation of cellphone service providers, its debuts are limited for now to India, Canada, the Philippines and the United States.
“We are really bringing text and instant messaging to a new audience,” Yahoo! Mail vice president John Kremer said.
“My mother now instant messages through mail to my children. She can send messages to my son while he is at soccer practices; he carries his mobile phone everywhere.”
Yahoo doesn’t charge for sending or receiving text messages, but cellphone users may be charged fees by carriers that provide their services.
Yahoo is making its upgraded service available to the more than 250 million users of its e-ail as it competes with rivals Google and Microsoft for “eye balls” that can be parlayed into advertising revenues.
Improvements include making the service faster and enabling users to have instant message conversations with people using Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger service.
“These are all important features they have to keep adding to the platform in the face of Hotmail, Gmail, or whatever,” Gartner Research analyst Michael McGuire said.
“But this is more than keeping up with competitors. They have added value.”
Yahoo will continue to offer its old email platform, dubbed “Classic,” for those that don’t want to switch to the new program, Kremer said.
“Consumer inertia is a powerful force,” McGuire said. “You are not going to get everybody wanting to learn the new one.”