Last year in August I made a bet with Anna Yeaman that as of March 1st 2011 (which would be last week), at least one webmail provider (be it GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo or any other) would support HTML5 in their email clients. The reason I proposed this bet was that HTML5 was gaining quite some momentum and two of the biggest players in the industry (Google and Microsoft in this case) had both a browser (Internet Explorer and Chrome) and a webmail client (Hotmail and GMail) in the arena.
The bet was that I would send Anna some fine Belgian chocolate if one (any) provider didn’t get to support HTML5 email in their web clients by March 1st. Sadly, I lost: there is no HTML5 support so far in any webmail client (as of today 7th March 2011). Which means that when I’m in Belgium later this month I’ll have to visit a chocolatery and grab me some bonbons to send her way. D’oh!
Why would HTML5 support in webmail clients be such a big and cool thing? Maybe you’ve seen some examples and showcases already, but HTML5 could be just the thing many email marketers and designers have been waiting for. Being limited by Outlook 2007/2010′s incomplete HTML support (Word is not a valid HTML render engine) is bad enough as it is, but the webmail clients don’t make it easy either. Why is it that GMail after all these years doesn’t support CSS classes in an email? The list of non-standard email client behaviour goes on.
Other than Microsoft launching Active Views in December last year innovation in the world of email has been quite limited or even backwards in the case of Outlook 2007/2010. Email is getting more diversified among platforms, especially with the rise of mobile email usage introducing a host of new email clients and screen sizes to take into account. This also means the email experience is getting more condensed and more like fast food: quick bite sized glances on screens to update one’s email head, no extended look and read through the email. The future of email should be better than that.
With HTML5 email support built in web and offline mail clients the email experience could become more immersive and fun again, and also make a subscriber’s path more seamless from email to website. When one of the purposes of an email is to drive traffic to a company website, by all means make both channels as close and connected as possible to gain maximum effect. Email as a communications and marketing channel needs all the help it can get: I believe HTML5 can be one of the technological steps forward to finally welcome email into the 21st century.