Commentary

Your Newest Challenge: Mastering The Small Screen

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for giving me the perfect news peg for my Email Insider column this week. With the unveiling on Jan. 27 of the iPad, Apple introduces yet another game-changing (in my humble opinion) portable device and platform that will both challenge email marketers and make their jobs a little easier as well.

It was exciting to hear that email use will be a priority on the iPad. It ranks number two on Jobs' hit list of iPad uses: "Things like browsing the web. Email. Photos. Videos. Music. Games. eBooks."

Email isn't an afterthought, according to the Apple Web site: "See and touch your email in ways you never could before.... No matter which orientation you use, you can scroll through your mail, compose a new email using the large, on-screen keyboard, or delete messages, with nothing more than a tap and a flick.

"...iPad will work with all the popular email providers, including MobileMe, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL."

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The opportunity: The user interface renders HTML emails with images extremely well, making messages with large images or several smaller ones a better experience for subscribers who add an iPad to their portfolio of email-reading devices.

The challenge: iPad's text preview function allows users to view about the first 15-20 words of your email message. Rendering issues aside, optimizing your pre-header copy and links will be as important on the iPad as it is for email on other mobile devices and in email clients with preview panes, such as Outlook. If you still haven't done this with your emails, ask your HTML programmers to make it a priority today.

Types of Small-Screen Devices

The iPad is just the latest in a series of small screens that your customers might use to view your email. Here are the major categories, in descending screen-size order:

Netbooks: These mini-laptops, designed to bridge the gap between the smartphone's portability and the desktop/laptop's computing power, make up the hottest selling computer category today. Typical screen size is seven to ten inches.

Tablets/eReaders/Smartbooks: This market has many flavors, including the iPad, but will ultimately evolve into devices designed for multiple "reading/viewing" activities such as TV, video, books, newspapers, magazines, cruising the Web and even accessing email.

The Kindle and other ereaders will have to morph beyond their current purpose as a digital book reader to a primary purpose as a digital-content viewer to maintain market share, especially with the advent of the iPad and its built-in iBook function. Typical screen sizes range from five to ten inches.

ITouch: It's now outselling the iPhone, according to recent reports.  Users likely are migrating away from single-purpose iPods to the multi-purpose, WiFi-enabled iTouch. For now it seems the iTouch is a category of its own. Screen size is 3.5 inches.

Smartphones: According to a Pyramid Research report, smartphones will capture 37% of the global cell-phone market by 2014, a leap from 16% in 2009. Typical screen sizes range from two to three inches.

Optimize for Screen Size, Not Just "Mobile"

As I write this, I've been debating with numerous people on whether Apple's iPad will be a hit or not. For email marketers -- and digital marketers in general -- that argument is irrelevant. The bigger paradigm is that we are at the beginning of an explosion of "small-screen" devices, like those I listed above, that are adding to the design, rendering and usability challenges for our content.

The email or landing page that looks breathtakingly beautiful on your designer's 24-inch full-color desktop screen loses its punch when your user is squinting at a 2.6-inch version on her BlackBerry, or scrolling and trying to find the "Buy" button on her nine-inch Acer One netbook screen.

In a future column I'll delve into some suggestions on how to optimize your emails for this array of small and large screens.

I look forward to seeing your thoughts, arguments and comments on this issue.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

6 comments about "Your Newest Challenge: Mastering The Small Screen".
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  1. Dylan Boyd from R/GA Ventures, January 28, 2010 at 4:35 p.m.

    Nice work Loren. Really agree with you but think that so much is left to see how it all works once we have one in hand to test. My wife asked me why anyone would want one... which I found odd from the gal with an iPhone surgically attached to her hand who checks email, social and news before she is out of bed in the AM... I think they are going to be great and I am excited to see on in the wild soon.

  2. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, January 28, 2010 at 5:02 p.m.

    As an email marketer Loren, I find your thoughts enlightening. I agree email marketers need to reposition their thoughts on delivering messages. But as I have said so many times, it's about 1. Your list - 2. Your Relationship with your list and - 3. Your offer. If these are in sync it doesn't really matter what 'device' your intended recipient uses. Kurt Johansen http://www.kurtjohansen.com

  3. Jordan Cohen from Fluent, January 28, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.

    I agree with core message here but marketers should keep proper perspective. (Thanks for a provocative post, I love arguing with you Loren, as you know :-) ...

    Some stats from a recent Zinio ppt (thanks Jeanniey Mullen) for marketers to consider... in 2010 there will be:

    - 800 million desktop PC users
    - 300m laptop users
    - 246m smart phones
    - 30m netbooks
    - 3m e-readers, and
    - 2m tablet users

    My take: Resources should be devoted accordingly. The tablet is not poised to be a big player email-wise, at least not any time soon.

    The most eyebrow-raising stat here is that this year there will already almost be as many smart phone owners as there are laptop owners. By 2011 smart phones will eclipse laptops in ownership and, by extension, email usage... Marketers are already optimized for the PC and laptop; smart phones should be their top priority in the weeks and months ahead... Just my .02 cents..

    -Jordan Cohen

  4. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, January 28, 2010 at 6:49 p.m.

    Dylan - thanks, was going to link to your recent mobile optimization post as well...but fell through the cracks. I'm getting one (iPad) for my 10-year old; one for me; and it would be perfect for my wife who hates technology.

    Kurt - agree. My point was really that design optimization challenges are only going to grow - because the growth in devices was beyond smartphones.

    Jordan - we agree on perspective. I would say, however, that heavy email users are also probably more likely to own netbooks and tablets, etc. And so it isn't just about the number of these devices, but the variety of them. I'm one of the 30 million peeps that also own a netbook (in addition to laptop, desktop PC, Blackberry and iTouch) - all of which I use to check email. Have you ever tried to find an submit button on most landing pages via a netbook? Good luck. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

    Loren

  5. Jay Goss from Mogreet, January 29, 2010 at 7:43 p.m.

    Picking up on Kurt's note...agreed, if alignment is there, you're golden. The thing about mobile (vs. just about everything else) is if you are talking about messaging (SMS or MMS), you have one extra consideration. Namely, you are reaching the consumer IN THE NOW. When was the last time you *ignored* a text message beep?

    With near certainly, if you communicate with them via mobile messaging, you are reaching them where they stand. It's intimate, personal, immediate, visceral (if video)...bottom line, it's powerful but has to be thought through.

  6. Colin Bhowmik, February 5, 2010 at 12:45 p.m.

    Great article Loren. The launch of the iPad also inspired me to write a similar article. Speaks to the need to optimize HTML creative to the "small screen" and leverage multi-touch interactions or "gestures" with touch-screens, to provide an eganging experience.
    http://www.emailinstitute.com/mobile-email/evolution-mobile-experience

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