New York — Relentlessly striving to compete with its rivals, yesteryears internet pioneer AOL over the weekend, unveiled a completely revamped version of its stodgy old e-mail service with a cleaner shiny new design, after an astounding five years without major change, a move that could help it retain the 24 million users it has left from moving to competitors.
Beginning in December of last year, AOL began unveiling a new version of the service to its 24 million users. And now, this is the first major overhaul since 2007, and the new AOL Mail trims down on the clutter, the company said, and adds app-like access to other services.
AOL Mail’s new design
The service now supports a design with less clutter and an ad bar that has been moved from the top of the page to the right side. Next, the chat window as well has moved to the lower left corner of the inbox, much like Gmail’s GChat window. Click the tabs above the AIM window for quick access to contacts, events, and to-do lists, which AOL dubbed “mini apps.”
“People have email fatigue, so we wanted something more stylish and lighter than in the past,” Joshua Ramirez, senior director of product for AOL Mail, said in a statement. “We are spent a lot of time with an emphasis on improving the design and experience.”
David Temkin, SVP of mail and mobile, asserted that redesigning this service was, “kind of playing with fire.” AOL e-mail drives “a ton” of traffic to AOL content sites, “from Huffington Post on down,” Temkin said. “There is just lots of money and users on the line.”
To his credit, Temkin, completely agreed about the fact that this is overdue. “The market has changed and people have higher expectations for user experience,” he said in an interview yesterday. “Our visuals and interaction design was dated and suboptimal.”
Continuing he said, for me at least, getting an email from an AOL address is like a blast from the past — but 24 million people still use the product. The Mail audience tends older and a bit more female. “It is almost like flyover territories,” Temkin noted about tech-savvy people’s blind spot for AOL.
“A large number of users have been with us since the ’90s,” Temkin said. “Not the majority.”
AOL Mail’s old look
On top of a cleaner design, above the inbox, there are also quick links for starting an IM or text message, as well as a refresh button for email. Notably, people can IM each other using AIM, Facebook chat, and SMS all while looking at the inbox. The company promised easier-to-read fonts and icons, as well as new options for customization. Users can also customize the look of their inboxes with more than 40 colorful themes.
Going forward, AOL Mail ranks as the No. 4 service, after Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft mail. Can it move up in the rankings? I’m skeptical about that, but it does have a committed audience, and not only do they deserve a modern product but AOL really should be making some money from them too. “We want to turn AOL into a growth product,” Temkin says.