The 2012 Inbox: Mobile's Impact - Reloaded

  |  January 19, 2012   |  Comments

A look back at predictions of mobile's impact on the inbox from 2010 to see how they fared.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a column about the inbox of 2012 and in what seems like no time at all the inbox of 2012 is here. How were my predictions? Mixed, I think. While aspects of each of the four have come true, I wouldn't say my hit-rate was all that spectacular.

Let's review. I made four predictions:

  1. Mobile email usage is smaller than you think
  2. Progress will be slower than expected
  3. Mobile rendering will match or exceed that of desktops
  4. The future is mixed use - not mobile exclusive

Mobile Email Usage Is Smaller Than You Think

I think of this as a hit and a miss. Technically, what I said about mobile email still being smaller than desktop usage is true. Furthermore, the numbers actually still are smaller than many of the headlines would lead you to believe. (Beware of headlines comparing mobile and desktop open rates. These are not apples-to-apples comparisons since mobile devices typically default to loading images while desktops do not.)

However, mobile email usage has grown to the point where today it should be a key consideration in the design and creation of messaging and that growth is certainly going to continue.

Progress Will Be Slower Than Expected

This feels like a miss as progress feels much faster than expected. I say feels because if you read the headlines and talk to early adopters it seems as though everyone has a smartphone and reads their email on it. However, according to eMarketer, at the beginning of this year approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population will have a smartphone, though Pew put the number at 35 percent in mid-2011.

Whether progress is as fast as some had projected is hard to say, but smartphone adoption is certainly proceeding very quickly.

Mobile Rendering Will Match or Exceed That of Desktops

I also score this a hit and a miss. It's a hit in that we're definitely seeing the adoption of the WebKit engine on smartphones and tablets. The result is that HTML typically renders better on these platforms than it does in Outlook or webmail systems. So email rendering on modern smartphones certainly does match or exceed that of desktops.

However, the reason why this mattered was the need for special preparation and testing of content for limited mobile devices. What has happened is the overwhelming adoption of touch interfaces means that while rendering is excellent, messages must still be carefully crafted for mobile devices - to be touch-friendly. Thus, the need still exists, but for slightly different reasons.

The Future Is Mixed Use - Not Mobile Exclusive

Nailed it! (I'm one for four so I have to tout my successes.)

Seriously though, we're in the multi-screen age, or what some are calling the post-PC era. Users have multiple devices (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, TV) and use them to access multiple communications streams (email, voicemail, SMS, social media), sometimes even concurrently.

Which device a given recipient uses depends on a host of factors that can include time, day, location, mood, charging status, etc. The result is that users cannot now, and will not in the future, be classifiable as mobile or non-mobile. This means that email content and design must be appropriate for, and usable on, a range of devices.

I was also right with my summary paragraphs.

"For 2012, we should think of evolution not revolution. We'll be supporting mobile reading of marketing emails by making them mobile-friendly. However, mobile will not be the dominant target platform, most email will still be read on non- or less-mobile devices and the user experience will need to reflect that."

"Smart marketers will combine email and SMS to leverage the growth of mobile devices. By 2012, this will be the norm rather than the exception."

I now need to add that smart marketers will combine email, SMS, social, and video to leverage the growth of mobile devices. The growth of social on mobile enables many innovative location-aware and time-sensitive communications. The capability of mobile devices to support video also makes the possibility of video in email even more tantalizingly close than it has been in years.

Until next time,


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Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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