In a post I wrote back in January about sending SMS from your computer, I mentioned how Yahoo allowed you to send SMS messages from their messenger client. That, it seems, was just the start.
Yahoo just released a new beta version of their Messenger app with a bunch of new functionality, most impressive of which is the seamless mobile messaging integration. Yahoo is stepping up interop between it's Messenger service and SMS for U.S. based carriers. Back in January, you were able to send and receive SMS messages to certain networks via their messenger client. Now what you're able to do is instead of just turning off your IM client (for example when you shut down your computer), you have the option of choosing "sign into mobile" instead, which shuts down the desktop app and forwards all your instant messages to your phone via SMS, which you can reply to automagically. It's pretty damn cool if you ask me.
Now, beyond this, Yahoo is incorporating mobile phones into their already very good identity system which runs the rest of their portal. You simply go to the Yahoo mobile page and add your mobile phone and number to your Yahoo ID, then you can get alerts, browse the web, download games (powered by Handango), use the messaging stuff and more. All customized just for your phone! It's very well done. I can see as time goes by, Yahoo integrating this functionality in every area of the site - from games through bill pay.
It's great to see Yahoo coming up to bat on the mobile front. As I wrote a while ago, I really like Yahoo. I've used their services for years and now it looks like they're making moves to ensure that they are the number one destination for the mobile internet as well as the wired one. It's great to watch, though to be fair, many Yahoo services have long been available via WAP. I remember years ago using an old b&w WAP phone to log in and check my Yahoo Mail, send IMs and read news, etc. But this is a new level of integration that starts to give some respect to mobiles as a true alternative to the PC in terms of data services.
That said, you can see that they still have some catching up to do - for example the Yahoo Photo service for mobiles is read-only. You upload via the PC and can view the photos on your phone. Why they haven't enabled a moblog-type functionality yet for their mobile customers is a bit of a mystery considering the success of companies like TextAmerica. They do have a cool function for downloading an image as a wallpaper, but that's dumb ass (though who knows, it could be incredibly popular). Another hold out is the WiFi Hotspot finder service. Duh. That's so 2003.
Anyways, very cool. Probably the most comprehensive mobile portal I've seen yet, even though it's missing quite a bit of functionality. Next steps? The move to 100% XHTML-MP based pages, mobile photo storage, data backup (via SyncML), J2ME-based apps for specific functionality, mobile RSS Aggregator, Pay Direct (mobile payments...Rock!) and more. That's the stuff that needs to happen. Also, they've got to get some deals with carriers. You know how Yahoo is the home page for SBC Broadband? Well, that's what needs to happen for mobile carriers as well. It'd be a huge revenue stream for them once the mobile ecosystem starts moving. Again, look to Japan and i-mode for examples of this. XHTML-MP is the West's answer to cHTML years late, but it's here now. Yahoo could use the vacuum that currently exists in mobile payments and advertising to become what DoCoMo was to i-Mode.
I bet you all that is written on some biz plan somewhere deep inside Yahoo already. It should be very cool to see if they can make that transition, or if some startup or external player gets there first.
A little later: Exploring AOL's MyMobile portal and it looks like they've had IM Forwarding to SMS for a while - it's not as seamless, but it's there. Cool. I like the look of their mobile page a lot actually, but it's not very deep. They need to get some more content and customization going. Everything I said here about Yahoo applies to AOL too (besides my loyalty)- they have a real opportunity to be relevant again in the mobile world.