Key to the experience is that Yahoo has created the new Messenger with group messaging in mind. To that end, the new Yahoo Messenger makes it super easy to add contacts to conversations. It understands relationships between contacts -- which are incidentally culled from your email address book instead of your phone's -- so as soon as you add one person to the conversation, it'll guess the next participant (based on how often you talk to the same people) and so forth. Anyone in the group can add another chat buddy. Like on WhatsApp, you can name each conversation group too -- maybe you can have one for "drinking buddies" and one for "weekend warriors."
And it's not just about slinging text at each other either. Jeff Bonforte, Yahoo's Senior VP for communication products, told us that one of the most popular usecases for messaging is sharing photos. And since it so happens that Yahoo also owns Flickr, it made sense for them to harness Flickr's powerful photo management platform for its messaging product as well. This, according to Bonforte, is sort of Yahoo Messenger's secret sauce to handling and processing images.
"In most messaging apps, you have to decide between quality or speed," explained Austin Shoemaker, senior director of product management for Yahoo Messenger. With iMessage, for example, it opts to send you a high-res photo, but it takes awhile to do so. In contrast, WhatsApp downgrades images in order to send them quicker. "But we thought: Why not have both?"
"The new Yahoo Messenger achieves both speed and quality by streaming photos into the conversation," explains Shoemaker. "A small preview of the photo is uploaded and appears in the conversation. The original photo is then uploaded in the background." The photos are shared instantly in the message timeline -- no need to wait for that annoying upload progress bar -- because the images are pushed and stored to the cloud immediately, with only a small cache stored locally on the phone.
In a product demonstration, I was amazed at how quickly photos were messaged to each other, even though they were full high-res images. And if you want, you can also go ahead and select the photo to download it in the full original quality.
Additionally, if you send several photos at once, they'll be displayed horizontally underneath the message. Unlike the vertical stack that most messaging apps display multiple photos, on the new Yahoo Messenger, you can simply swipe through the photos from left to right and vice versa. This way, Shoemaker says, you can view the photos while remaining in the context of the conversation.
Aside from photos, the new Yahoo Messenger also lets users send GIFs thanks to the the extensive Tumblr database. Simply find the GIF you want from the search bar, select it and enter it in the message for a quick and funny way to spice up your conversations.
Oh, and you're also able to "like" or heart any photo, photo set, GIF or message with just a couple of taps. This is especially handy in a group messaging situation, Bonforte says, since you don't need to have multiple people saying "cool photo" or "LOL" to a single message, thus cluttering up the conversation. Another cool feature is offline messaging -- if you send the message when you're offline, it'll simply wait until your phone gets signal again before shipping it off.
But perhaps my personal favorite feature is the ability to "unsend" a message. Yep, if you sent a photo that you regret, you can easily delete it from the thread later and it'll be wiped from the conversation history. In fact, you can delete anything -- message, photo, photo sets or animated GIFs -- from as far back as the conversation thread allows.
Yahoo is clearly trying to push the mobile app experience here, but the new Yahoo Messenger will also have a full desktop Web page plus a smaller presence within Yahoo Mail; sort of how Google's Hangouts looks in Gmail. Plus it's compatible with Yahoo's Account Key, which is Yahoo's password-free authentication method that pushes a notification to your phone for account access.
You can get the new Yahoo Messenger app for both Android and iOS starting today, while the Messenger integration with Yahoo Mail will roll out over the next month or so. And it doesn't stop here. Future features include a more integrated search, in-line message editing and the ability to search past messages for specific GIFs. "This is a whole new platform," says Bonforte. "There's lots more to come. "