Yahoo's Mayer says mobile mail is broken

Fixing it is part of a larger company goal to improve its mobile offerings

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer thinks there are problems with checking email on a smartphone, but her company is working on a solution.

"Mail isn't done. There are a lot of things about it that can be improved," she said Tuesday during Goldman Sachs' Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco.

One issue lies in how smartphones and desktop computers are synchronized. Reading emails on your phone and then taking the extra step of marking them as unread so they will still be there on your desktop is a key problem, the executive said.

"That's a wasted amount of time," Mayer said. "There's opportunity for innovation there."

Yahoo does not have the answer yet, Mayer said, but making email work better on people's smartphones as well as on their desktop computers is one thing the company is looking at. It's just one example of a larger content problem the company is trying to solve as it faces rising pressure to stay relevant in the age of mobile devices, which it does not manufacture, and social networks, which it does not have.

But Yahoo does have one thing, Mayer stressed: content.

"We have all the content people want on their phones, we just need to get it into experiences on the phone in a way that people will use it every day," Mayer said. "We need to enrich the experience."

Content types including mail, search, news, sports scores, stock quotes and weather are among the bedrocks of the company, Mayer said. "All those things I would classify as daily habits," she said.

Improving the design and execution of about a dozen core content types on both PCs and mobile devices will be a focus for the company going forward.

In mobile specifically, the aim is to streamline the company's current scattered portfolio of between 60 and 75 apps down to a dozen and improve the user experience for those products along the way.

"We don't want to overload people by expecting them to download too many distinct apps," Mayer said. Under her plan, each person would use maybe two to four apps built around the type of content that is most important to that person.

Yahoo Groups, which hosts online discussion boards, could be one area in particular in need of a mobile makeover, given that smartphones are an ideal place to do group communication, Mayer said.

Yahoo has 200 million monthly active mobile users, Mayer said. Facebook, by way of comparison, says it has 680 million.

Offering more personalized search and advertising products that incorporate information such as users' locations and previous experiences is also on the company's to-do list, though Mayer did not offer many specifics on actual development plans.

Mail and search, after all, are major growth markets, and "there's no reason why we shouldn't be growing with that," Mayer said.

The conference with financial analysts was held immediately following the news that the company had acquired Alike, a location discovery app.

Many of Mayer's remarks on the importance of mobile for Yahoo echoed statements she made last month during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call. During that event she cited the company's redesigned Flickr iOS app and Yahoo Mail as positive steps for the company but added, "there's a lot of work still to be done."

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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