How Gmail's ⚡️AMP4Email Support Impacts Email Design

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Back in February at AMP Conf 2018 in Amsterdam, Gmail announced support for interactive email and real-time dynamic content in email powered by AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), an open-source initiative stemmed in improving web performance.

You can watch the full announcement below:

How will it work?

A separate MIME-type of text-x-amphtml of an email will be required by Gmail in order to render the interactive, AMP-powered version.

The entirety of AMP won't be supported by Gmail, only a subset. Here's the full list of supported components:

Presentation

Media

Dynamic Content

Here is the full documentation for AMPHTML and the proposed spec on Github. You can experiment with AMP using the AMP Playground.

Examples of ⚡️AMP4Email

Pinterest provides ability to browse and save items within the email
Booking.com uses image carousels and lets subscribers update current deals manage email preferences
Doodle allows users to schedule meetings within email

Where will it be supported in Gmail?

🤷‍♂️ Gmail hasn't officially listed anything. The video announcement showcases Gmail webmail, but Gmail rendering is highly fragmented between webmail, mobile, and different account types. My best guess is this will work where media query support for Gmail works, which would notably exclude POP/IMAP accounts using Gmail.

When will this go live?

🤷‍♂️ Half a year later, Gmail still hasn't shared expected an release date. Developers can apply for access here, but I'm unaware of anybody in the community having success with this application. Seth Weisfeld from Pinterest stated that it's "looking more like Q1" for a public release at #LitmusLive panel in San Francisco and Sparkpost noted the same in a recent webinar about interactive email.

What are your thoughts?

Here was my instant reaction to the ⚡️AMP4Email announcement when it happened on The Email Design Podcast:

The Pros

Improved analytics tracking: Gmail currently caches images which impacts our ability to accurately report Gmail opens. ⚡️AMP4Email offers the potential to work around this limitation to record Gmail opens and provides the ability to more easily track click events for interactive email. Today, interactive email requires an individual tracking pixel fired off as a background image for each action, but can only measure *if* a user interacts with an element and not how many times they interact with an element. ⚡️AMP4Email's dynamic content ability will allow us to inject dynamic pixels for every interactive event we want to track.

Real-time dynamic content: This isn't possible with pure HTML & CSS—it's a limitation without JavaScript. ⚡️AMP4Email is a far superior implementation for dynamic content. This approach allows for real-time, in-email, no-refresh-needed updates. The closest we have today is to use images or external CSS stylesheets, but those require page refreshes or re-opening the email to see updates. We'll always debate *how* to implement this functionality in email (i.e. should it be AMP?) since we have to move outside the standard of HTML & CSS, but there's no denying its improvement. To me, this is the biggest benefit to ⚡️AMP4Email.

The Cons

AMP is not a standard: Here's the obvious. I will always stand by web standards, which AMP isn't. Sure, it's open source. But Google is the only active contributor and it is essentially proprietary. I do not believe we should venture outside of HTML, CSS, & JavaScript as they exist to create emails. I don't see the necessity. Email clients should work to support the existing web standards, not create their own. Since their inception, email clients have blocked images by default and required users to turn images on. I'll never understand why they don't just take the same approach for enhanced CSS and JavaScript. They can take a sender-approved approach to solve this rendering problem and still block spammers (which is their primary concern).

Creates further email rendering fragmentation: This is perhaps the most problematic problem to ⚡️AMP4Email. We don't need further fragmentation and various implementations for HTML email. This moves the industry further away from a unified set of standards. I don't see Apple or Microsoft adopting AMP into their email clients, either (which are the only other two that matter).

Lack of ESP support: There's been virtually *no* support for ⚡️AMP4Email by ESPs. I tweeted major ESPs back when this announcement was made asking about them supporting it. Only Sparkpost has publicly stated supporting this functionality in the near-term. Gmail massively missed on this and is out of touch with the email marketing community in this regard. Email marketers don't even have the ability to send emails with ⚡️AMP4Email support if they wanted to because the ESPs don't support it. It's like they put a luxury resort on Mars...sounds cool, but there's no way to get there. If Gmail was smart, their launch would have included some major ESPs announcing support for it. Or better yet, they would have used a JSON/Microdata approach like they are with Annotations in the Promotions Tab to get mass adoption right away instead (especially since they're only supporting a subset of components). That approach also has better potential for eventual cross-client support and standards.

Duplicates development work: ⚡️AMP4Email requires a separate MIME-type for sending. I don't care if it's relatively lightweight on the code side, this creates extra work for every email that many will bypass. A new learning curve exists for email marketers to learn AMP altogether.

Ads potential scares me: There's an amp-ad component in AMP. I can't trust Google's intentions with this existence, as it opens up the possibility of polluting inboxes with ads or introducing pay-to-play inbox visibility.

Gmail's approach to interactive email is a developer-centric approach that is completely out of touch with the email marketing landscape and how it operates today. They are introducing functionality with massive barriers to adoption. Yet, it's completely in line with Gmail's security and privacy driven product culture.

Gmail has ~30% of the email market share today, which is certainly large enough to make an impact in industry behavior. According to Litmus, nearly a third of marketers who know what ⚡️AMP4Email is say they're very likely to use it. And nearly two-thirds of brands that have created interactive emails plan to make more. But, ~90% of email marketers have never built an interactive email to begin with and ~50% don't plan on doing so anytime soon. There's a niche desire for the more technical and staffed teams who already build interactive email to leverage ⚡️AMP4Email, but the large majority won't have the know-how or ability. Certainly, AMP is easier to build interactive email out of the box than using checkboxes and radio buttons with HTML & CSS, but it's not familiar at all for most. If email marketers haven't learned or invested into how to build interactive email with HTML & CSS, I can't see them grasping AMP which introduces JavaScript and a new markup language. I just can't see this getting mass adoption. With Gmail's approach, they've guaranteed that it certainly won't happen any time soon due to lack of ESP support. Email marketers literally can't use it even if they want to right now.

I hope ⚡️AMP4Email fails. I doubt it will ever gain significant momentum or take off. Marketers and developers want to provide interactive and dynamic email experiences for subscribers, but ⚡️AMP4Email is the wrong implementation. We didn't ask for this. We don't want it this way. I'll play with it for educational purposes, but I hope you all join me in boycotting ⚡️AMP4Email and getting Gmail to improve HTML & CSS rendering and support standards instead.

Marketers and developers want to provide interactive and dynamic email experiences, but ⚡️AMP4Email is the wrong implementation. We didn't ask for this.

What do *you* think?

Do you like or dislike Gmail's idea of ⚡️AMP4Email to support interactive and dynamic email? Will you develop emails with AMP just for Gmail? Let me know @KevinMandeville.

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