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Mobile email has been this year’s hot topic. Optimizing campaigns for the small screen has gone from maybe to mandatory, resulting in countless new templates, not to mention, our responsive email guide. But do the numbers match the hype?

To answer this question, we recently refreshed our popular email client popularity report by analyzing a sample totalling more than 7 billion emails to find out which mobile email clients had amassed market share in the past year, which clients we should keep an eye on and well, any other trends and trivia we could find along the way.

Mobile email, now in the lead

Earlier this year, our friends at Return Path predicted that mobile was to surpass web and desktop client usage by July, 2012. We found that this event happened as early as February, when mobile overtook webmail client usage. In April, desktop clients lost their top spot – and mobile has shown no signs of slowing down since. In the following graph, you can see how mobile market share has increased since we last updated our report in May, 2011, while desktop and web client market share has continued its shallow decline.

To clear up any misunderstandings here, both webmail and desktop email clients are far from dead. For example, over the same period, we recorded a 25% increase in opens originating from Outlook desktop clients. However, relative to both mobile clients and overall send volumes (which increased also), Outlook and company are becoming less significant.

Apple in the lead, but don’t ignore Android

Given our earlier results in 2011, it came as no surprise that iOS devices had retained their clear lead as the mobile email client of choice amongst subscribers, accounting for almost 88% of opens recorded across all the mobile email clients we were tracking. In comparison, Android devices represented 11.7% of mobile opens, with all other major handset manufacturers playing a minor part in the results.

Before we ignore all but iPhone and iPad users, it should be noted that Android email client market share shot up from 2.49% in June 2011 to 4.74% by September, 2012. This impressive 90% increase makes it one of the fastest-growing platforms and definitely one to watch in 2013. Unfortunately, we couldn’t distinguish between default Mail and other popular Android email clients (like Gmail), which have considerably different rendering capabilities.

At this point we’d like to address the elephant in the room, being underreporting amongst clients that do not display images by default – we’ll touch on the technical significance of this shortly. As iPhone Mail downloads images without being prompted to, while Android Mail does not, the figures we’ve presented here will be inevitably skewed towards the former device. Later in the year, we are hoping to address this issue by comparing opens to other activity in order to address this bias, so please stay tuned to this blog.

A note on our numbers

Our methodology is pretty straightforward. As you may know, every time one of your subscribers opens an email you’ve sent or clicks a link, we record which email client they are using. However, if a link isn’t clicked an open can only be recorded when images load in the email client. This means that clients that don’t display images by default are likely underreported, while clients that don’t display HTML email at all (like older Blackberry handsets) cannot be tracked.

While factors such as image blocking by default can affect usage stats, it doesn’t impact market share change over time. So the skinny is that while email client usage / open rate figures may not be exact, the growth of individual clients is not in dispute.

With that out of the way, we looked across a sample of more than 7 billion emails including close to 1.3 billion opens, recorded between June 2011 and September 2012. One quirk we were quick to notice is that our email client market share percentages totalled over 100%, which suggests to us that subscribers are reading the same emails on multiple devices, say, on an iPhone while commuting to work, then later using their desktop email client. This is becoming increasingly frequent occurrence and is likely driven by the increased use of email-friendly mobile clients.

To get the scoop on which email clients you’re likely to hear about in the year ahead, we recommend you check out our updated email client popularity guide. But don’t let us tell you which clients to design for – you can find out what your subscribers are using in your reports.

Naturally, if you have any questions about the data above, or would like us to measure a specific something in the future, let us know in the comments below.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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