E-mail On PDAs

Dear E-mail Diva,

Do you have any idea how many people are using their PDAs as their primary e-mail monitoring/reading device? I think the number is significant and growing, especially for electronic newsletter providers/services like yours that cater to the new-media community.

I find it surprising that many e-mail programmers don't provide a non-HTML version even though HTML versions of e-mails are not viewable by the PDA crowd, and the level of effort for incorporating a non-HTML version is relatively low. Since I adopted using a PDA for e-mail, I have found I skip over many that don't provide a non-HTML version, including, unfortunately, yours.

Troy Hanford

Principal, Flying Colors

Dear Troy,

While the E-mail Diva could not find specific research about the number of people reading e-mail primarily on their PDAs, Analysys provides this interesting data: Converged-function handsets, which combine traditional voice, multimedia and specialist functions into a single device, are well positioned to grow into the single largest product category of consumer mobile devices in the majority of developed economies by 2011...Analysys forecasts that by 2011, converged-function handsets will comprise 30% of market share (in terms of handset shipment) for developed regions of Western Europe, Asia and North America....



And, as you point out, we can expect that adoption is far greater among business audiences, particularly those involved in technology and new media. So you make an excellent point about the need to adapt e-mail to the small screen.

Morgan Stewart, director of strategic services at Exact Target, offers this insight into the issue: "We have been conducting a good deal of research on this topic. What actually renders on a PDA or Smartphone is determined by four factors:

1. The operating system and software (Palm, Windows Mobile, Symbian).

2. The service provider (Sprint, Verizon, T-mobile, etc.).

3. The device itself (Treo 650, Blackberry 8700, HP IPaq, etc.).

4. The user's settings.

We spoke with a client who is a distributor of software for Mobile devices and found that they regularly test against over 1,000 different OS, carrier and device combinations. Thus, our hopes of a simple answer were shattered.

The W3C has recently updated its proposed standards for mobile devices.. However, they do not specifically address e-mail. It is also unclear how the standards will be adopted, since Microsoft and Symbian (jointly owned by several smartphone manufacturers) are aggressively attempting to develop THE wireless standard. Palm also needs to be considered here, but its voice is diminishing. In short, this appears to be the old browser wars rehashed and infinitely more complex.

So why don't we just deliver text to mobile users? Because mobile users are not just mobile users. They also read e-mail in their normal e-mail clients, where a nicely formatted HTML e-mail still yields higher responses in most scenarios. Which version do we send when? This issue makes the recommendations I have been hearing lately of a "PDA-only version" impractical.

Multi-part MIME still seems to be the way to go based on aggregated response rates, but clients should test this for themselves. Assuming the text version is delivered to the mobile device, the issues are simplified. More complex issues arise when the HTML version is rendered.

We are currently in the midst of revising best practices based on our research."

When Exact Target has something else to share on this important subject, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime,

Good Luck!

The E-mail Diva

Send your questions or submit your e-mail for critique to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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