• Users can log into Web accounts with push notifications
  • Update also includes sign-on options for third-party providers

Yahoo! Inc. is killing off passwords for its e-mail service -- if users want to.

The Web portal is letting people turn off the obligation to enter a password, and instead giving them the option to verify their identity via Yahoo’s mobile application. Essentially, it’s a way for people to sign in to e-mail and other Yahoo accounts using a smartphone, instead of forcing them to remember a string of letters and numbers. Users can opt in to the new feature, which goes active Thursday.

Yahoo, seeking to draw in more traffic and advertisers in the face of stiff competition from Google Inc. and other Internet properties, is investing tens of millions of dollars in its e-mail service. The company is also rolling out a new mobile e-mail app and adding features so that Yahoo Mail users can also check and manage their messages from accounts at Outlook.com, Hotmail and AOL Mail. The upgrades come as Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer tries to drive a turnaround that’s failed to generate much sales growth.

“Yahoo Mail’s at the center of a lot of what Yahoo is,” Jeffrey Bonforte, senior vice president of communication products, said in a press gathering. “The success of the product is very important to the success of the company.”

The simpler log-in without passwords is called Account Key and will be available for other Yahoo apps the end of this year. For those who don’t have their smartphones nearby, people can verify themselves by receiving a code via an alternate e-mail account.

The new Mail app -- available for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and devices enabled with Google’s Android software -- is designed to be faster for scrolling through messages or sending an e-mail. It also has a simpler design and improves on search and note composition.

“For the last few months, we’ve been working on re-imagining the Yahoo Mail app for mobile,” said Fernando Delgado, senior director of product management. “We’ve worked on performance from every piece of the app.”

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