If An Email Is Opened On Android Without Images Turned On, Does it Exist?

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.

9 comments about "If An Email Is Opened On Android Without Images Turned On, Does it Exist?".
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  1. Vanessa Sorenson from Sailthru, September 17, 2012 at 9:42 a.m.

    This is an interesting question. While it's true you can't really track an open from an Android if the images are turned off, you can assume an open, if a click is generated from an Android device. I think that's the only way your can really know for sure.

  2. Chad White from Litmus, September 17, 2012 at 10:07 a.m.

    I sincerely hope no one is making any big decisions based on opens, which have always been notoriously misleading because of image blocking. The takeaways from this data are that defensive email designs are critical when sending to Android users and that clicks and conversions are the more reliable metrics in general.

  3. Christine (Kevan) Licata from pontiflex, September 17, 2012 at 2:13 p.m.

    Gmail users dominate on Android devices (obvious), so the deflation of open rate is greater on that platform. iOS not only has a different user experience w/image enable but also encompasses a more evenly distributed ISP makeup with Yahoo and Hotmail accounts; thus offering a more diverse data sampling for open rate behavior and widening the gap even more. Given how mobile behaves, one needs to design for that screen to pull in/measure Clicks (and beyond).

  4. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, September 17, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.

    I am with you Jordan...who cares...everyone should be worried about the entire mobile experience and not just focused on what can only be measured.

    I am also with you Chad....can we all please stop talking about opens as measurement for success. There is so much more to discuss.

    Lets all focus on the user experience and not one in particular. Once we go down a rabbit hole on just one is a recipe for disaster.

  5. Jordan Cohen from Fluent, September 17, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

    Thanks for leaving great comments Vanessa, Chad, Christine, and Andrew. With all the noise these past few days around the iPhone 5 launch, it's important for marketer's to keep in mind that Android is a [not-so]-sleeping giant that is only going to get bigger. And, like Andrew said, ensuring the best possible user experience across all of the platforms that our consumers are using is key.

  6. Gerardo Robles from Aspen, September 18, 2012 at 10:28 a.m.

    Interesting question.
    Take the analysis to the next level and look at the click rate CTOR and for iPhone, Android and other (i.e. Desktop).

    If Android shows a comparable click and significantly higher CTOR you start to make assumptions that they are responding to emails and images off are suppressing open rate

  7. Gary Zimmerman from Neustar, September 18, 2012 at 11:37 a.m.

    I agree with Chad—more important than the open rate is the design of the e-mail itself. And that comes from understanding more about the user to begin with. If marketers really want to make an impact, it’s important they know a little about who they are sending too. If you are aiming for an interaction with an Android user—customize the mailing accordingly. With all the data out there, it’s possible to deliver in a more meaningful way every time. Gary Z, Neustar |

  8. Jim Morton from Goolara, LLC, September 20, 2012 at 11:31 a.m.

    I'll add my vote to the Chad and the rest that opens are far less important than what happens next. It doesn't even matter if images are turned off as long as the primary message is still discernible and interesting enough to warrant a click through. Marketers that rely entirely on the visual appeal of their email are usually missing sales opportunities.

  9. Adrian Gray from PayPal, September 26, 2012 at 11:29 a.m.

    Very interesting article, there is another possibility regarding the low android open rates. If users are not using the native app and have downloaded a gmail, yahoo etc. app. Will these count as mobile open rates? And on what type of handset have more of these apps installed?

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