No surprises here: In its latest Mobile Email Opens Report, data management firm Knotice revealed that the share of mobile email opens continues growing by leaps and bounds, up 32% in the first half of 2012 compared to the second half of 2011. 36% of all email opens are now occurring on mobile devices (25% smartphones, 11% tablets), with the remaining 64% of email opens occurring on desktops.
But something strange is brewing when you dig deeper into the numbers. According to Knotice’s report, nearly four times as many emails are being opened on iPhones than on Android smartphones. Meanwhile, about twice as many people around the world have purchased Android-based smartphones than iPhones, and the gap is only expected to widen (source: IHS Research).
So, even though there are many more Android owners than there are iPhone owners, they are apparently using their smartphones to open email much less often. What gives?
The easiest answer is that images are viewable by default on the iPhone’s native email app, while they are initially disabled in Android’s native Gmail, requiring users to click to “display images” as they do with the desktop version of Gmail. Since email “opens” can only be ascertained when images are turned on, the iPhone has a significant upper hand when it comes to tracking open rates.
A somewhat murkier argument relates to possible differences between iPhone and Android users themselves. Is there something inherently less email-friendly about Android users than iPhone users?
Most Android-based smartphones are cheaper than iPhones. Perhaps iPhone owners are more likely to be power users of “business apps” like email and the Web, while Android owners are more passive, using their devices primarily to place calls and texts, or to follow their family and friends on Facebook?
Regardless of what’s really behind the numbers, these data led me to wonder: If an email is opened on an Android, but its images aren't turned on, does the email exist?
In discussing the new research, an industry colleague told me: “Who cares about an email if images are turned off? If an email is opened with images off, it might as well have never been opened.” Was he right?
I’m not so sure.
As much as the default disposition of most Android phones to hide images may artificially deflate open rates, the viewable-by-default disposition of iPhones likewise inflates them. An Android open is more deliberate -- it’s more hardily fought for, and won by, the marketer. So while there may be fewer Android opens, they may be more meaningful, higher-intent opens.
One way or another, it would be foolish to ignore or belittle the impact of Android and its users. If marketers and publishers focus on making their messages more contextually relevant to the mobile email experience, they will be able to achieve higher click-to-view-images rates, and watch their Android open rates grow. This is a preferable approach to pretending that next year’s 1 billion plus Android owners won’t really exist, or that they aren’t worth optimizing your email program for.