The opt-in beta program allows MobileMe users to test drive new features of the online Mail web app, including a new widescreen view interface, improved performance, server-side email rules, a formatting toolbar for adding rich text to emails, and new SSL security when composing and sending email.
Users opt in by clicking on a "request an invitation" link inside MobileMe. Joining the beta program has no effect on how MobileMe mail works with desktop or mobile clients, and users can leave the beta program at any time.
Apple says the new widescreen view "lets you see more of each message with less scrolling. Choose compact view to hide your folders or classic view to see more of your message list." The new view is more like the user interface for Mail on iPad, and less like the "Classic" three pane display of Outlook (below).
New support for "server-side" mail rules "help you reduce inbox clutter by automatically filing messages into folders you select ahead of time. Set them up at me.com, and your rules organize your incoming email on the web and everywhere else on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and PC."
Apple's previous Mail strategy lacked a strong server side component because Apple didn't sell a server. Mobile Me should now act a lot more like "Exchange for the rest of us," enabling sorting rules that work even when the desktop client isn't open, and therefore work across multiple mobile clients as well.
Apple also touts "single-click archiving" as a new feature. "Click the Archive button and the selected message is quickly filed into the Archive folder where it's always available for future reference."
A new formatting toolbar allows you to "create great-looking email messages using formatting buttons to bold or italicize text, change font color, insert images, and more. You can even create formatted web links to hide long URLs." The new beta also supports a range of keyboard shortcuts to allow web users to apply bold, italics, underline, or indent text in emails, as well as select, undo, redo, open, and print within emails.
Apple says Mail at me.com "loads your inbox and messages faster. And with interface refinements such as the ability to scroll through your entire inbox without having to manually click to load the next set of messages, you'll be able to work more efficiently." Performance is a significant problem for MobileMe today, so gains in
Thanks to increased security with SSL, "accessing your email on the web is more secure than ever," Apple says. "Your inbox is protected to prevent anyone from eavesdropping on your webmail. As always, you receive SSL protection when you use your MobileMe Mail account on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and PC."
As noted earlier, Apple's existing MobileMe service has been criticized for not offering SSL security within its web interface, enabling the potential for users to have their data spied upon while using, for example, an open WiFi network.
While the addition of SSL security is nice (as long as it doesn't slow the interface down noticeably), users should be aware that email is inherently insecure, and even SSL security between the email client and serve means nothing once the email leaves Apple's server and heads across the internet to its destination server as an insecure, plain text communication.