Apple (s aapl) recently started offering a new beta of the web Mail application portion of its MobileMe software suite. As a longtime MobileMe subscriber, I’d say it was high time it updated that particular app, which has been more or less broken since launch.
Maybe ‘broken’ is too harsh a word, but it definitely hasn’t made for a pleasant web-based email user experience. As someone who also maintains a Gmail (s goog) account for back-up purposes, there really is no comparing the two experiences. One is pleasant and intuitive, and the other has been, till now, awkward and uncomfortable.
The new MobileMe Mail Beta makes a number of changes that, though small, completely change the look and feel of using the web app. Here’s a rundown of what’s new and different.
MobileMe Mail’s physical layout can now be switched among three different views, including Widescreen, Compact and Classic. Each offers unique advantages and suits different monitor setups or screen arrangements. For example, I generally keep my mail open on a secondary monitor that’s oriented in portrait mode. Either Compact or Classic represents a better look for this type of setup, because you can see more information in a narrower space. Widescreen is great for when I have my second display flipped in landscape mode, since it resembles Mail on the iPad.
MobileMe Mail looks a lot different in the new beta. In fact, it no longer shares the design elements of its other MobileMe web apps, like the iPhone-inspired icon bar at the top and the black top bar. Instead the theme is blue and white, with a single button that sends you back out to your Contacts web app, which still has the old navigation bar.
The search bar is located above your inbox instead of on the far right side, which is a much more intuitive place for it to be, and in keeping with how message search works on both the iPhone and iPad platform. Things like that and the icon choices for your common mail actions (Delete, Archive, Move, etc.) seem to indicate that Apple is trying to tie the MobileMe web-based product to the iPhone platform.
The changes really do bring a sense of uniformity across Apple’s platforms. All we need now is a new version of desktop Mail on the Mac that also borrows design cues from the iPhone and we’ll have true product continuity.
New Message Editor
Hitting the compose button now results in a completely different experience compared to that of the original Mail web app. The interface is clean and sparse, but still presents you with a much larger selection of composition options via the new formatting toolbar.
The 14 font options, color picker, list formatting button, link insertion and tab control mean that using webmail is now a lot more like using Mail via a desktop client. You can now personalize your email completely, and drafts are autosaved with considerable frequency to prevent losing messages, something which happened often in my previous experience with MobileMe on the web.
You can now create rules in MobileMe web mail that will apply across your inboxes, on all devices associated with your MobileMe account. What makes this so great is that doing so using the web-based interface is far simpler than creating rules using desktop Mail.app. Just click the settings icon, then in the ‘Rules’ tab add and edit any rule you want. On the desktop it takes a bit more hunting around to find these features.
The little things really make MobileMe better. It feels snappier and more responsive, and seems to function much better in terms of composing and reading email, both areas which always seemed buggy in the old version. And little touches like the one-click archiving button, inbox refresh button and quick folder addition intuitively located next to the “Folder” menu item instead of tucked away at the bottom of the interface all combine to make this beta a winner.