Less than two years after their beta release, Yahoo Mail has begun rolling out of beta after releasing an onslaught of innovative feature improvements along the way. On the other hand, a whopping three years into their beta release, Gmail remains one of the most popular but stagnant web-based beta email apps around—and most of Gmail's innovation since its release has come in the form of third-party hacks and extensions. The short of it: Google makes a great beta, but with Gmail they've been much too slow to actually take the application to the next level. Let's take a look at some of Yahoo Mail's killer out-of-the-box features in comparison to what Gmail is offering.
What They've Both Got
Autocomplete: It's a simple feature, but hell if we don't rely on address auto-completion almost exclusively these days. I don't even know half of my contacts' email addresses any more.
Chat: Gmail's got Google Talk/Chat while Yahoo's integrated Yahoo Messenger. Both work exclusively with users of those email services, which is a little annoying. UPDATE: As many readers have pointed out, this isn't strictly true. GChat users can also chat with other Jabber users, and you can even chat with other services with some added effort. The more useful chat application depends entirely on which service more of your friends use for email, though Gmail does save chat transcripts, which edges out the built-in Yahoo client.
Keyboard Shortcuts: Both email apps have a fairly good set of default keyboard shortcuts, though both are very different. I lean toward Gmail's shortcuts, having always found them more intuitive. One might be tempted to point out the third-party Gmail Macros, but keep in mind that those aren't actually integrated into Gmail.
Where Yahoo Mail Wins Out
Unlimited Storage: Yahoo thrilled all their users by announcing unlimited storage, meaning you no longer need to keep close watch on your account usage. In contrast, Gmail's once innovative 1GB of storage has progressed to just under 3GB. It's not that 3GB is bad, Gmail, but you're still falling behind the curve.
Built-in RSS: It's by no means as robust as Google Reader, but Yahoo has gone that extra mile and incorporated RSS directly into their email application. And while Google Reader and Gmail share very similar layouts (meaning one could easily imagine a tight integration), Gmail users have yet to see integrated RSS in any form other than third-party hacks.
Push Email for iPhone: It certainly doesn't affect as many users as many of the rest of the features, but Yahoo Mail's support for push email on the iPhone is just another point indicative of their desire to innovate new features into their email client.
Integrated SMS: When Yahoo Mail rolled out of beta, they also added the ability to SMS contacts directly using their email. The SMS feature and out-of-beta rollout still haven't reached my Yahoo Mail account over three weeks since the announcement, but this added feature is obviously a step in the right direction. (AU - of course, SMS isn't on the cards for Australian users at this stage)
Robust contact management: Yahoo Mail's Address Book is head and shoulders above Gmail contact management (which—if you've ever tried viewing "All Contacts"—is an absolute disaster). Incidentally, Yahoo's Address Book also syncs with the iPhone—again, not applicable to everyone, but an absolute killer feature for anyone who owns an iPhone. (And it's worked, too, as I've set up filters to forward all of my important email from Gmail to my Yahoo account for this feature alone.)
Drag and Drop: If you want to file a message into a folder, you can do so in Yahoo Mail with a simple drag and drop. Sure you can label content in Gmail, but unless you're using a third-party add-on, it requires selecting each email you want to label and then choosing a label from a cumbersome drop-down box. I can already see all the labels on the left sidebar, Gmail! Why not add drag-and-drop capabilities like you've already implemented in Google Docs & Spreadsheets labels into Gmail? Or if not, get going on incorporating Gmail Macros (see below).
Where Gmail Tops Yahoo
Threaded Conversations: The one thing that Gmail has done that absolutely puts all other email applications to shame, web or desktop-based, is its threaded conversations. This single feature—along with the third-party Gmail Macros—is what keeps me in complete love with Gmail. It's revolutionised the way I view and keep up with email. The endless thread of Re:s comes to a screeching halt in Gmail, and I still don't understand why every email application doesn't follow suit.
Labels: They may take some getting used to for people who are used to straight folders, but Gmail's labels outsmart Yahoo Mail's folders if only because labels are not buckets in the traditional sense that folders are. You can label a single email with as many labels as you want, meaning you can access through as many organisational avenues as you feel are applicable.
Chat Transcripts: Like I said above, Gmail outdoes Yahoo with its chat transcripts, which rather seamlessly integrate with regular email content—even within email threads. It's a simple but powerful implementation.
Where Third Party Add-ons Come In
Gmail Macros: Written by Google's very own Mihai Parparita, Gmail Macros up Gmail's keyboard navigation one hundred fold. In fact, Mihai—who's the tech lead for Google Reader—actually integrated a very similar set of keyboard macros into Google Reader, which—*GASP*—just left Google's labs and beta labels in the dust. The Gmail Macros script has been available from Mihai as a Greasemonkey script for a couple of years now, and it's currently bundled into Lifehacker's popular Better Gmail Firefox extension (see below), but when will we see this kind of crazy-useful functionality baked directly into Gmail?
Better Gmail: Because we want to love Gmail so much, Lifehacker has bundled all the greatest third-party Gmail scripts (including Gmail Macros) into a Firefox extension called Better Gmail. Better Gmail adds Gmail Macros, Google Reader integration, Google Calendar integration, and tonnes more into the best email beta on the block.
It's probably obvious that Gmail is my preferred web-based email (I've sung its praises many times before), but I'll be damned if I don't want to see some improvements out of it. Aside from what I've discussed above, Gmail could shut me up about most of my complaints if and when they pull off the > rumoured and much-anticipated offline Gmail via Google Gears. (Is it any wonder that Google Reader was the first—and so far only—Google app to actually use Google Gears?)
Personally, though, I'd much prefer a dedicated Gmail desktop client that incorporates most of the third-party abilities and syncs labels and read/unread status with the web version. Gears could be all right, but sometimes you just need the speed of a dedicated desktop application—but you still want virtually the same interface and a lot of the same features you're used to in the browser. I'm probably asking way too much.
Any Gmail/Yahoo Mail users care to defend/tear down your client? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments.