Email is about to become more useful and interactive – or even more annoying and distracting, depending on how you look at it – thanks to Google’s new AMP for Email project.
Essentially, the search giant is seeking to save people who get lost in the rabbit hole that is their smartphone. You know when you’re reading something on your phone and after clicking around for a few minutes you think to yourself, “what app am I in again?” And then it turns out you’re not actually reading that article in Safari – you’re in Facebook.
AMP for Email aims to keep you in your email rather than shuffling you off to a browser. For example, when you get an email from Pinterest, instead of sending you to the Pinterest app or some in-app browser when you click a link, an AMP-powered email will let you use Pinterest inside your email.
Making emails fully interactive is a BFD. AMP for Email is set to introduce changes to email that will impact anyone who designs, develops, markets, or just generally works with email.
But not everyone is convinced we need this. TechCrunch says it’s a terrible idea “borne out of competitive pressure and existing leverage rather than user needs.” Ouch.
To help you make your own mind up, this article will cover some of the key information you need to know about working with the new AMP for Email spec, its potential for modernizing email, and possible use cases for designers, marketers and content creators.
What is AMP?
Let’s start with the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project. It’s an open source framework that, according to Google, “provides a straightforward way to create web pages that are compelling, smooth, and load near instantaneously for users.”
It’s worth noting that many news organizations and publishers have adopted AMP because Google promised better mobile search placement.
What is AMP for Email?
The AMP for Email spec is proposing to do all this by allowing email publishers to embed AMP directly in a message body as a new MIME part – text-x-amphtml – which would be rendered by email clients (with a fallback to non-AMP content). The proposed name for this particular project is “AMPHTML Email.”
It’s safe to say, this project is going to shake up the email marketing space, which has wrestled with poor HTML standards support in many email clients (including Gmail and especially Outlook) for years as the rest of the web has embraced modern and interactive standards. While Gmail introduced better support for CSS in 2016, developing emails in 2018 still requires outdated tables and hacking code.
So what does AMP for Email look like on the front-end? Imagine you get an email from Pinterest and you want to save a pin you see in your email to your actual Pinterest account. AMP for Email lets you do just that.
Pretty convenient right?
Gmail Project Manager Aakash Sahney, says the new spec will be a powerful way for developers to create “more engaging, interactive, and actionable email experiences.”
While the AMP for Email spec is available now, it won’t be supported in Gmail until later in the year. Developers can sign up for early preview access.
Why AMP for Email Has So Much Potential
Over 270 billion emails are sent around the world every day, the majority of which are opened on mobile devices. Interestingly, how we interact with and consume content online has changed dramatically, but email hasn’t really changed at all. Email is still static. Since they’re built with HTML, there are a lot of limitations around what developers can do with them.
AMP for Email aims to completely modernize email, providing fully interactive content that is updated in real-time.
At AMP Conf 2018, Google previewed how AMP for Email will revolutionize email:
1. Quickly take action
Whether you’ve received a party invitation, appointment reminder or survey, you’ll be able to RSVP, confirm your appointment, or quickly fill out the survey right from within your email.
2. Browse and interact with content
Say you’re looking for a new rental property, you’ll be able to browse listings, swipe photos and save properties you like without leaving your email.
3. Information is always up-to-date
For me, this is the most exciting aspect of AMP for email! Information can be updated in real-time so emails never get stale and the content is accurate whenever you open your email. So whether you’ve received an email about flights, events, news or purchases, you’ll see the latest information right in your inbox.
Pros and Cons of AMP for Email
This project hasn’t come without controversy. The feeling among many observers is that it gives Google even more power and influence over the web experience. This is despite the fact the original AMP technology, which has helped speed up mobile sites, has been widely adopted.
As TechCrunch writer Devin Coldewey writes in his rather scathing analysis, “AMP is, to begin with, Google exerting its market power to extend its control over others’ content. ”
“Why do this? Are we running out of tabs? Were people complaining that clicking “yes” on an RSVP email took them to the invitation site? Were they asking to have a video chat window open inside the email with the link? No. No one cares. No one is being inconvenienced by this aspect of email (inbox overload is a different problem), and no one will gain anything by changing it,” Coldewey writes.
The reaction from email development expert Justin Khoo, who founded FreshInbox, is measured in comparison. While he says he says certain aspects make sense (speeding up email on mobile) and others don’t make sense (eliminating the tag and inline CSS styling), the overall approach is still “overkill.”
“I’d rather Google just sprinkle AMP support within regular HTML and use progressive enhancement capabilities already adopted in interactive email to enable interactive AMP features within Gmail. This way out of the gate, AMP for Email would be accessible to everyone,” Khoo writes.
Khoo lists a number of drawbacks of AMP for Email, including having to package content in a new MIME part, forcing developers to learn a new language, ditching existing email development practices, and strict validation. Check out his original post for his detailed analysis of the new spec.
If you’re an email developer, I encourage you to check out the AMP and Email spec and start getting your head around it before Gmail starts supporting it later in the year.
What I find incredibly exciting about this new spec is the potential for emails in real-time – opening an email and reading up-to-date news and current affairs, being able to immediately confirm salon appointments, and getting live updates whenever I’m flying somewhere. AMP for Email has so much potential to change how we interact with not just email, but speed up how we consume content, communicate with people in everyday life, and generally do email.
But this new technology will only be successful if third parties adopt it and develop it. Otherwise, AMP for Email will flop. Google is campaigning for other clients to support it. For now, we’ll have to wait and see how developers take to it and hopefully early next year we’ll see some really cool implementations of it in our Gmail accounts.