Once upon a time, way back when email was still relatively new and there wasn’t a single email client that offered HTML or CSS support, the Plain Text Email ruled the world. You may remember those, great big hunks of nothing but text – no images, no links and absolutely no text styling whatsoever.
If you’ve ever copied text from a website, email or any other document into a text editor like Notepad, then you may even be familiar with how something beautiful becomes something pretty plain and simple! And the reason we’re mentioning this? Because the Apple Watch has no browser and doesn’t really support HTML emails, so will render their Plain Text version (unless you’re using the Apple Watch specific HTML).
And although it is not the first smart watch to hit the scene, it is being predicted that the Apple Watch that launched on 24 April of last year is going to change the way that users interact with their emails forever. Especially as the rumours of an Apple Watch 2 ‘which we couldn’t imagine having lived without’ are true! There are even some who believe that it could actually encourage personal interaction and shift focus away from the web based interactions of today!
But in case you haven’t yet joined the wearable devices revolution, here’s what email marketers need to know about the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch favours the Plain Text version of your emails
As we mentioned, the Apple Watch likes the plain text version of an email more than the usual HTML email that has become the email marketers best friend (and worst enemy!).
It seems the plain text display is triggered whenever the Apple Watch finds an <img> tag, which is how remote images are referenced. And because it’s supported by the majority of email clients it is present in just about every email template out there!
One thing to take note of however is the fact that there is a wonderful Outlook-like warning that takes up almost a whole screen before you get to the actual message, telling users that the email they’re viewing contains elements the Apple Watch can’t display but that the text version is available.
And if you haven’t sent a multi-part MIME email (which you should be doing to avoid spam filters!), then your subscribers will get a warning that they can’t see the message on the Apple Watch, but that they can view it on their iPhone.
Apple Watch does have SOME HTML support
Now that we’ve scared the pants off you and gotten you wondering how you’re ever going to convince your subscribers to view their emails on another device when you have nothing but plain text to work with – it’s time to hand you a lifeline!
Your HTML emails should already contain two parts – one that falls under the text/html category (this is your usual HTML email) and a second that falls under the text/plain category (this is the Plain Text version of your email).
But now you can include a third part that specifically targets the Apple Watch and if you’re using it correctly, it won’t affect how your email renders in any other email client. Although you won’t be able to use traditional HTML techniques – you aren’t stuck using boring old Plain Text!
Formatting HTML emails for the Apple Watch
You will need to make sure your email service provider supports multipart MIME messages, then add a new MIME part with a completely different Content-Type. Anything that starts with text/ will do but it seems Apple is calling it text/watch-html so why not do the same?
Now the Apple Watch doesn’t actually support HTML but when you’re using text/watch-html (or whatever you want to call the Apple Watch specific part of your template), your iPhone will translate it into rich text before forwarding it on to your Apple Watch.
Again, you’re working with a very small screen so don’t get excited about a multicolumn layout just yet! However, now you will be able to use simple text formatting (bold, italics, underline), use numbered or bulleted lists as well as change alignment and font colors.
Remember as well that the Plain Text part of your email must be followed by the Watch HTML part, and then by the Standard HTML part in order to work properly. Litmus has a great article about the HTML that is supported, as well as a simple example you can use to create your own templates.
Your subject line and preview text are your best weapons
If you’ve been using email marketing for any length of time then you already know that catchy headlines and interesting preview text are the only way to get a high open rate, making optimizing them the most important element of a successful email campaign.
With the short Apple Watch screen people are only seeing the whole header and preview text of one or two messages at a time, so learn to use those 12-20 (header) and 25-35(preview) characters to full advantage. Don’t waste precious space – just get straight to the point!
For some odd reason, while the Apple Watch will only render either the plain text version or the Watch HTML version of your email, it will use the standard HTML part of your email template for the preview text so keep that in mind when you’re building them.
You won’t be able to track opens as easily
Tracking the success of an email campaign generally relies on a tiny image loading whenever an email is opened, or measuring click through rates when images are blocked. However, remote images are not supported and because there is no browser, links are also disabled.
This means that your open rates could drop quite drastically, especially if a subscriber reviews the Plain Text OR Watch HTML version of your message and deletes it because they didn’t see anything interesting enough to warrant saving it for later reading on their phone (or elsewhere).
Embedded image support is a little buggy
While remote images are not supported (remember there’s no browser!), the Apple Watch does display embedded images. However you’re going to have to be pretty brave and also extremely patient if you want to use them as there are some odd quirks with the image support.
Firstly, if you’re relying on the plain text version of your emails for the Apple watch then all your embedded images will end up in a random jumble at the very end of your email. So be prepared for this if you’re using them despite the fact that they don’t render well in most email clients!
You’ll also find that the Apple Watch doesn’t preserve ratios when resizing images, and for some reason is inserting a 2px transparent border inside their borders (so 100px by 50px becomes 96px by 46px). And even if you try to adjust images for this, they always end up looking a little distorted.
You’ll also have to hope that the Apple Watch renders your email exactly how it’s meant to, as inline images have a nasty habit of repositioning themselves anywhere they want to. Which means it could end up covering important things like your subject line or shift down to the end of your email!
You have an incredibly tiny space to work with
Remember that the Apple Watch is a watch and is designed to be worn on your wrist, so it has an incredibly tiny 38 or 42mm screen. This means that you’re going to have to think very carefully about how you’re going to use the space available.
Remember that things like special characters, indents and other text formatting translate poorly to the wrist sized screen so rather avoid them. The small screen also means that long messages that require tons of scrolling also won’t work well, so keep it as short and sweet as possible!
Leverage the power of the Handoff
When iOS8 launched it came with a new feature called ‘Handoff’. This feature allows you to start something on one iOS device and instantly continue with it on another device – without having to login, find the right app and then figure out where you were.
With the Apple Watch, you can use the headlines and sub headers of your email as teasers, and encourage subscribers to Handoff to their iPhone. When they pick it up, the email will already be open and waiting for them. So they can read the full message, and respond to your other CTA’s!
Your CTA’s will need to change
Your Call to Action is what turns a simple email into a powerful marketing tool, but you’ll no longer be able to rely on links that take subscribers to a website, sales page, blog post or download page to boost your conversions.
Instead you will either have to encourage them to Handoff the email to their iPhone, or open it on another device. ALTHOUGH – addresses open in the Maps app and tapping a phone number dials it from your iPhone so you can leverage these if you have a call centre or brick & mortar store!
Something to consider
We’ve said it already but we’ll say it again. You are going to be working with a very small space so the shorter and more personal your email is – the better it will be for your overall marketing efforts. In fact, you may want to consider rethinking your entire mobile strategy.
This doesn’t mean that you should stop using email marketing altogether, but consider having an app that is compatible with the Apple Watch developed. That way you will be able to do your marketing using push notifications instead of email.
You’ll need to be careful of what you use Push for though, because if they’re getting dozens of irrelevant notifications users are likely to opt out of them or else remove your app altogether. And that is basically like having readers unsubscribe from your newsletters or ending up in the spam folder!
OUR FINAL WORD
The optimists were saying that the Apple Watch was going to sell about 20 million units within a year and although Apple is being very secretive about actual numbers we are sure that they’ve reached at least half that – if not more! The Samsung Gear is steadily improving, wearable fitness trackers are hitting the market as fast as you can say Fitbit and soon wearable technology is going to make the Internet of Things something we don’t even think about anymore.
Responsive email design is about more than making emails look good and work properly on any device, it’s about adapting email to suit user preferences as well. And when checking your email and deciding whether to delete them or save them for later is as easy as checking the time, it is up to email designers to make sure that email campaigns are effective – no matter what device they’re being viewed on!