Yahoo’s back, baby

With consumers spending more time on mobile devices, Yahoo is betting it’s where tomorrow’s money will be made. Under CEO Marissa Mayer, it’s doing an admirable job of staking its claim to the digital spoils. By Craig Wilson.

Craig Wilson

Craig Wilson

Last week, Yahoo released new applications for mobile phones and tablets. Android tablet and iPad users got an e-mail application, while iPhone users received a weather app that makes Apple’s equivalent look rudimentary and crude by comparison.

These are just the latest additions to Yahoo’s mobile apps stable. At the end of last year, it launched a superb mobile app for image sharing site Flickr and an excellent mobile browser called Axis that makes inspired use of gestures and touch interactions.

As if to ensure all its bases are covered, the company last month acquired news aggregation and “summariser” start-up Summly from a British teenager for US$30m.

It’s clear Yahoo, led by new CEO Marissa Mayer, is betting the proverbial farm on mobile. It’s the right approach. The move by many Internet users from desktops and laptops to mobile devices is part of the reason the company found itself in decline in the first place.

Take Flickr, for example. In 2005, Yahoo bought the images site for an estimated $35m. At first, Flickr continued to add users and content, keeping rivals like Google’s Picasa at bay. Despite a head start, however, Flickr gradually lost ground to social sites like Facebook, which won over users with its tagging features, and eventually to mobile-only services like Instagram (which Facebook famously acquired for $1bn in cash and stock).

Blindsided by the move to mobile, Flickr didn’t go belly up. It still commands a fiercely loyal following among amateur and professional photographers alike. But it stagnated. What was lacking was innovation. Yahoo, like AOL before it, became complacent and its products suffered.

Yahoo's Flickr app for iPhone

Yahoo’s Flickr app for iPhone

Enter Mayer, with an aggressive and focused mobile strategy under her arm. Under the former Google executive’s guidance, Yahoo has added 100m mobile users since the beginning of the year. That’s on top of an already-impressive 200m users of its mobile services.

How has it managed this feat? By creating compelling apps that play to its strengths and acknowledging that users will create or consume whatever content they want. Yahoo can’t control the content, but if it plays its cards right, it can again become the preferred channel users turn to for creation or consumption.

Once a devout Flickr user, I moved away from the platform because of the cumbersome nature of the upload process. When the app appeared, I downloaded it out of curiosity. My old content and contacts were ready and waiting and the interface was so compelling I’m now considering handing over the $20 annual fee for the “Pro” service.

Flickr’s figures suggest I’m not alone. Since the app was released in December, it’s enjoyed a 50% increase in user uploads. With Flickr, Yahoo has an existing user base that’s simply become distracted by better offerings. The overhauled app is slowly grabbing users’ attention again.

The company’s new weather app for iPhone takes full advantage of its other assets. It pulls in images from Flickr that correspond to a user’s location, for example, resulting in a beautiful, information-rich app.

It’s these sorts of historic services that could prove key to Yahoo’s future success. While Yahoo’s e-mail service now enjoys only niche support given the popularity of Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), the company nevertheless has a decade and a half of experience in the e-mail market.

The result of this experience is a beautiful app for tablets that takes elements of magazine content aggregation applications like Flipboard and brings it to e-mail. Yahoo has a real opportunity to win users over if it builds a better app (which it’s done) and lets it work with users existing e-mail services (which it hasn’t).

There’s no doubt Yahoo has an uphill battle ahead of it if it’s to secure its future, but it’s making all of the right moves in releasing carefully considered, clever and compelling mobile apps.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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