Back in 2007, we looked at whether it was practical to use image maps in HTML email. Over 3 years later, there continues to be considerable interest in their support, so we decided to revisit the email clients featured in our previous test and add some new ones to the pile. After all, the iPhone was barely 5 months old when the original post was written!
Lets look at image map support across the most popular email clients, as well as a couple of fundamental issues with their use in HTML email.
The results, refreshed
As per before, we sent a simple test HTML email to a variety of popular email clients and were again, thoroughly surprised by how common image map support is, even when images are blocked. Here’s a summary of how each of email client handles image maps:
Image Map Support in Email Clients
|Client||Works with Images On||Works with Images Off|
|Outlook ’03 / Express||Yes||Yes|
|Windows Live Hotmail||Yes||No|
|Yahoo! Mail Beta||Info||No|
|Outlook ’07 / ’10||Yes||Yes|
|iPhone / iPad||Yes||Yes|
|Apple Mail 4||Yes||Yes|
|Lotus Notes 8||Yes||Yes|
There’s been a couple of notable changes since our last test. For example, Windows Live Hotmail no longer supports image maps. Curiously, Gmail now supports image maps in Safari, whereas it didn’t before.
To find out more about the lack of image map support in Hotmail (amongst other issues), take a look at this blog post on ‘3 Things you Need to Know about Hotmail’s Latest Release‘.
Accessibility and image blocking issues remain the same
Despite the results looking relatively rosy for image maps, we still discourage their use for the same reasons as before. Image blocking in email clients continues to be commonplace and thus image-heavy email newsletters are as problematic as ever. In addition, image maps still make life tricky for the visually impaired and folks who read the plain-text version of HTML email newsletters, as the links display without context, if at all.
Personally, I find the use of image maps to be antiquated and well, bone-lazy. Despite HTML email coding being largely stuck in 1999, we don’t have to follow all the conventions of such an unenlightened age – especially now that accessibility is at the fore. We should also be striving for elegance in code, an elegance which image maps and their awkward co-ordinates don’t offer. Besides, who wants to change rows of unintelligible numbers, every time you edit an image?
Image maps also undermine the designer. Whenever I see one, I can’t help but think, ‘Oh, somebody couldn’t be bothered to slice up their design. They’ve exported a bit fat image from Fireworks and that’s all it’s ever going to be.’ It’s a real pity when we see newsletters that could be email gallery-worthy, if only the designer put a little more time and love into the code.
However, if you must send emails with big images and maps therein, we recommend that you add descriptive
alt attributes. But in all sincerity, our recommendation is to avoid using image maps altogether.