Microsoft delivers the best Android email experience to date

In your Face Gmail, Outlook for Android is awesome

Historically Android has shipped a native email app which the various manufacturers have tweaked or not. On many occasions the app has rendered responsive but it has not been consistent across devices.

This is has not been the most popular email app on Android though, the Gmail app tends to be used by more people. This does not render responsive emails and instead tends to simply zoom out the desktop version to fit it into the screen width, unless some very clever coding is used.

Gmail recently released their ‘Inbox’ app which is a new email app with a focus on consumers who receive far more emails than they send. It is a very different experience from the Gmail app and now the novelty has run out from its original invitation only release, its popularity is fading.

This app has the same rendering engine as the Gmail app, so is also not responsive.

Google has since announced that future Android versions will not carry a native app and everyone will get the Gmail app, which will allow any email supplier to be used rather than just Gmail.

Microsoft have pipped Google to the prize of responsiveness on Android and may well be the “most progressive inbox provider” of the moment.

The Gmail app might be the most popular choice but it is by no means ‘loved’. The lack of responsive rendering, coupled with the auto tabbing and the fact that the menu is top left but the compose email button is bottom right, means some people have to swap hand to compose an email on large phones.

Whilst Gmail has confirmed that responsive rendering is ‘high on the list’ for the email products we have only seen automatically enlarged text in Gmail for the iPhone … check out the Email Design Podcast for more info.

Consequently it seemed that Android would be robbed of all responsive email potential.. until now.

After Microsoft acquired Acompli in December last year they joined the ranks of buying email apps rather than making it themselves.

The new Outlook app has been released only a few months later. We could easily speculate that work on this started before the acquisition.

On the Android, this app ticks all of the boxes.

  • There are only two tabs: ‘focused’ and ‘other’
    where focussed looks for conversations and emails from people and the other tab is more marketing and notifications etc.
    This is nice and simple.
  • More importantly and a big winner is the easy filter to show only unread emails.
    This is very handy seeing as many people use their inbox as a todo list and emails requiring actions are the unread ones.
  • You can schedule sending emails.
  • You can swipe emails.
    There is only two swipes – left or right, compared to Mailbox which two options either way. However, I only need ‘mark as read’ and ‘schedule’ because I live in the unread filter.
  • The other big winner is that it will render responsive emails.
    So now users of Android phones are no longer forced to use two hands to pinch zoom and scroll around a desktop email on a small screen.

For a full list of capabilities Alex at DisplayBlock has gone “under the hood

The app feels more focussed on business users, as expected, has the usual built in calendar and has some clever integrations with online storage providers too to help with sharing files.

Apple’s native email app on mobile devices is very popular due to that fact it renders everything like a browser, which separates it from almost all other inboxes in the desktop browser, desktop app or mobile devices. So Outlook with have a harder sale to convert people how are already set-up. However, with it’s integrated calendar and obvious interface, people are used to Outlook at work and those which do try it may well stick with it.

Gmail Promotions Tab Grid View in action

screenshot

 

Tah dah!

This is about 300px wide, now mobile subject rules apply to the Promo Tab:

Animated Gifs don’t work btw.

Getting the G+ logo working was a bit complicated, the sending domain seemed to make a difference and I tend to use the numerical Google plus url as it is a sort of primary key.

More to follow and they’ll probably be a more formal post on the Pure360 blog early next week, stay tuned!

 

2014-04-03 Update:

In order to get the G+ icon/logo:

The sending domain appears to need to have valid/working MX records.
The domain needs to have some sort of DNS link to the domain listed as the brand’s url on the G+ page.
– Tried it with a sub-domain of the domain listed on the G+ page and it worked
– Tried it with a sub-domain of a domain which redirected to the G+ listed domain and it worked
DKIM doesn’t seem to make a difference either way.

2014-04-04 Update:

The GooglePlus url code is not required. If your sending domain’s dns is linked to the domain your confirmed as your site in Google Plus it just picks it up automatically.

The fact you can specify a GooglePlus profile link seems pointless because it won’t pull the logo unless the sending domain is linked and it’ll do the look up that way anyway.

Sent an email for the first time from a different brand, did not include the G+ data, in fact, tried to wing it by editing the publisher data to call a different image and changed the url/googleplus to just say image:
Gmail still pulled through the google plus image from the account, the only link was the sending domain and item url of their site.

2014-04-11 Update:
Upon further investigation it seems one should be able to get the logo untie inbox from a different domain. The same form used for the transactional schemes also registers your domain with your company.. Testing to follow.

Promotions Tab goes Pintastic

When the Promotions tab first appeared, brands who’d got Gmail promo’d panicked. They called it “Junk 2” and “the 2nd junk folder”, they spent time with animations in emails showing people how move the emails into their primary folder, had landing pages with videos.
Loads of bandwidth was wasted on this! People still went to their promo folder when they were in Promo mode, eg: in the evening whilst in front of the telly.

Then Google added ads at the top of the promo tab, initially disguised as emails: The email industry went berserk! Sprouting the law of opt-in and permission to emails. Except Dela Quist of course who said they were clever and there is more to come – how right he was, as always.

Are they emails are they not emails? Google changed the colours a bit, added a little “ad” label and an ‘X’ button and we all got on with our lives.

Reports came in about open rate drops in Gmail, email marketers were depressed.

Then Google started to auto-load images, Yay! something to be happy about; then we found that the caching was stopping tracking for all repeat opens, device tracking and location logging.

What will they do to us next they cried! There was sooo much drama!!!

Well…

Introducing the new imProved, Pretty, Pinteresty: Promo Tab Grid View

Loads of films in the early 2000s suffered from appallingly bad endings where producers were so unable to restore the equilibrium to be better than or even equal to the start of the film, they’d kill off a main character to make you think that anyone could die so by then end you were just relieved that no-one else died rather than disappointed at the shoddy ending. eg: Transformers – Jazz, Serenity – Wash: Yes Spielberg I’m talking about you!

Some say this was Google’s plan all along. In order to maximise it’s impact they had to make the promotions tab look a bit crap first.

As announced on the Gmail Blog it’s currently only in a field trial, Gmail are giving users to ability to turn on a classic grid view of the content of their Promotions tab to give them a better experience of their marketing emails.

Even though the grid view is not a new thing, it seems to have been made famous or at least cool again by Pinterest, either way it’s the first time it’s been in an inbox (or is it?).

Although it will make it easier for Google to slip in adverts, this is definitely a good thing. Google have even released details of what to put in your emails in order to customise the hero image and of course the sender logo is taken from your Google+ page.

If you want to try and get involved in the early days of this, sign-up for the trial and hope for the best.

If you just want to get ready, check out the dev code to make sure you have everything read to add to your emails going forward.

 

What’s next? Brands telling their users how to move the emails  from the Primary tab back to the Promo tab, maybe a G+ button on the emails to help the brand on G+ maybe to even help deliverability?

Time will tell!

Either way, I love the fact that someone is being innovative with an inbox. It is the recipient experience that matters and our job to facilitate that in the environments provided.

 

 

(image courtesy of the Gmail blog)

Gmail adds its own unsubscribe link

Gmail Unsub

Gmail Unsub

Gmail is now adding an unsubscribe link at the top of the email, after the Sender Name

Gmail’s had a busy time lately: tabs and auto image loading being the most recent two and before that, smart labels and priority inbox. All there to improve the user experience of the Gmail inbox.

Gmail’s latest little trick is to add an unsubscribe link at the top of the email. This is not far all senders and is not in fact a new feature, they’ve just moved it so it is more prominent.

Back in 2009 Gmail decided to make Unsubscribing easy. This simply gave the user the opportunity to unsubscribe when they hit the spam button. This was kind of pointless, because people who hit the spam button had done so because they did not trust the unsubscribe mechanism provided by the sender and were worried that by doing so they would merely alter the sender of their existence thus ensuring more spam. Alternatively the email might not have had an unsubscribe button at all. All the user wanted to do is not see anymore emails from that sender.

Either way the spam button was still hit and the damage was done to the sender’s reputation in Gmail.

How they unsubscribe them

They key point here is how they were able to unsubscribe them. The funny thing is that Gmail did not invent anything new and nor did any of the other ISPs who also rolled out that same functionality. The method employed is in fact very very old and it’s called the “List-Unsubscribe Header”. (Try reading that back again but in your best Jeremy Clarkson voice!).

In the old days is was simple and the receiving server or person would just process the opt-out of the address which sent the email. Nowadays we have software to send millions of emails very quickly all from one spot, ie: ESPs. This means that the unsubscribe method has to be unique for that recipient at that sender and sometimes even on that particular list but it works the same.

All that used to happen was when someone hit the spam button on an email with an Unsubscribe-Header, Gmail would let them also unsubscribe thus stopping that sender from hitting someone’s junk folder for ever or until they did some engagement cleaning.

(That is if they did engagement cleaning, they might be one of the “Never Remove Inactives Crew” which incidentally has a very long list of “Don’t be stupid rules” which if you break them and have deliverability problems, you don’t get to blame the people who told you to never remove inactives and it’s definitely not their fault, it’s your fault).

So in short, the List-Unsubscribe header is quite a bit like a Feedback loop when activated automatically by hitting the spam button and quite a lot like a unsubscribe link when activated manually by the user.
Of course all of this relies on the sender having these headers.

What Gmail Have Actually Done

Gmail have simply copied the “Unsubscribe” bit of old “Unsubscribe and report a spam” from their spam button process, into the inbox.

Only one email I get actually employs the List-Unsubscribe header, and it’s my Favourite place to get baby gear from for my daughter – free next day delivery if you spend £30 – Kiddicare.

This is what I get from my favourite on-line shop when buying toys and stuff for my kid – this lot do free next days delivery on orders over £30 if you order early enough in the day!!!

… Below they are correctly signing with DKIM, if they didn’t properly sign the Sender-Name would be followed by some kind of “via e.sendersender.com” or something like that and then they would have the unsubscribe link.

kiddiecare

Essentially it looks a little like an Inbox Snippet Preview, where in the inbox they take the top line or two from the message and stick in grey after the bold subject line, except it’s underlined to show it’s a link.

Apparently it is to save their users from scrolling around looking for the link. I think it is far too prominent and should be at the bottom of the page where everyone expects it to be. It could be at the bottom of the frame so people still don’t have to scroll, it would just mean that as they open the email, the new easy to use unsubscribe link won’t appear right under their mouse.

Either way, it’s here if you have a List Unsubscribe Header.

If you don’t and are quite spammy, you might think, “I’m not getting one of those, people will just hit that link”, what you are missing is the fact that without that link your recipients are just hitting the spam button!

If you get on the eventual Gmail FBL you’ll be able to see the counts and when you add your List-Unsubscribe header you should see the complaints go down.

Gmail Android App now auto-loads images

image

Got the update through the play store yesterday, updated the app this morning.

We knew it was coming but how they did it was the question. They tend to like to roll it out in bits; for instance: both of my personal accounts got auto-images immediately but my work one only got it last week.

I’ve no idea if they can throttle the roll out of the app update, I’d presumed it was all or nothing but I’m quite content to be wrong about that if anyone knows facts.

Gmail opens a new door to your inbox though Google Plus

G plus email

I received this to two of my Gmail accounts that do not have G+ profiles, I did not receive it to any of my accounts that do have G+ profiles

Image

While they still bang on about respecting our privacy by not sharing the email addresses it does not mean that you are safe from a lot more unsolicited emails.

Essentially, it defaults to “anyone on Google+” so if you don’t change that, anyone with a Google Plus account can now send you an email.

If you change it to only “circles” people who you follow can email you. Which might not be so bad unless you follow people and brand to consume their content, like you would a blog or twitter: you might not want them to now email you to convert you from a follower to a prospect to a customer, like they would with someone who signs up to their list even people who are unlucky enough to be on a list they buy.

Time will tell about how abused this is but personally I’m not a fan, I don’t think it is the best idea with the low level of control Google have left us.

I’m worried that brands and marketers will see this as a new way into inboxes of followers and start marketing to people, not unlike people on Linkedin sending mass personal messages.

There’s a lot to play with and test and time will tell what happens with it.

Google has fallen very short with the opportunity that Google Plus presents. Circles are a good/novel idea and well executed in IU but poorly executed in function.

The fact that your Google profile is permanently stuck to your email address is the biggest fail of all.
Whilst it helped get new Android users set-up and bedding in, it is a massive barrier to engagement for the more savvy user who left Hotmail or Yahoo for security and spam reasons to now have to open themselves up again in order to enjoy whatever the benefits of G+ might be.

This is why  Facebook still owns that space.

Google could better compete with twitter by offering a headline and link feed of G+ so we don’t have to work so hard to aggregate, choose and consume content on G+.

Google is having some success in the B2B sphere with G+ accounts and hangouts working well with the Docs suite as a full business solution. Microsoft is trying to catch up with office 365 & skype but the G+ profile is more like Linkedin than anything MS has to offer.