AOL is one of the oldest and most experienced inbox providers — and, in terms of webmail rendering, is one of the absolute best. However, because AOL has almost always been more focused on content, its webmail market share has suffered since its heyday.
Currently, AOL Mail is the 10th most popular email client overall. As of April 15, 2.25% of all webmail email opens and 0.67% of all email opens took place in AOL Mail, according to an analysis of more than 1 billion email opens by Litmus.
Verizon also provides email inbox services. It operates Verizon- and FiOS-branded email inboxes that collectively have an email market share that is a small fraction of AOL’s.
It doesn’t make sense for Verizon to operate multiple inbox platforms, so it’s very likely to consolidate AOL Mail, almost assuredly rebranding it. Focusing resources on a single webmail client and backend would likely free up some resources to make some improvements to better compete with Google and Microsoft.
But even without major improvements, the consolidation, plus a rebranding, plus better promotion and visibility within the Verizon ecosystem, could lead to a doubling of AOL Mail’s current email marketing share over the next 12 to 18 months. That would put the company back in the race with Yahoo Mail and Outlook.com, especially if Microsoft fumbles the transition of users from Outlook.com to Office 365.
AOL's Mobile Email Client
The mobile email client in AOL’s mobile app is considerably less impressive, and takes even more of a backseat to its content offerings. That app only supports AOL email accounts, and doesn’t support alt text or media queries for responsive design.
Since Verizon is a mobile communications company, it’s a safe assumption that there will be a revamp of the AOL mobile email client and that it will be more front and center in the future. The addition of media query support should be at the top of the to-do list.
With webmail market share in a slow decline and mobile email client market share still creeping higher, the mobile email client is clearly the more important of the two.
And if I were to dream a little dream, Verizon would be the ideal company to create a unified inbox with email, SMS, and mobile content (e.g., photos, videos) in the same place across both webmail and mobile clients.
AOL Mail’s email market share may seem small, but it’s a base to build from. Just ask Facebook how difficult it is to launch an email client and have it stick.
At the other end of the spectrum, look what Google and Microsoft have built on the back of email. Google has an entire ecosystem of SaaS apps built around Gmail, which are making serious headway into enterprise organizations. And Microsoft has made a fortune off Outlook and the Office apps that tie into it — and is now working with Salesforce to integrate it with CRM.
Will Verizon treat AOL Mail — and email in general — as a strategic asset, following in the footsteps of Google and Microsoft? I think there’s a good chance it will, and that over time the result will be better-rendering emails. What do you think?