With Android Wear releasing three smartwatches and generally making a lot of noise in the days prior to Apple’s much-hyped announcement, the collective imagination has run wild around how wearable tech will change how we interact with the world.

In the spirit of speculation, it’s not hard to foresee a time in which we’ll be receiving email – or something like it – in radically different ways. Google have certainly made steps in this direction with a wearable-ready Gmail redesign, presumably with the intention of eventually porting this email client to Android Wear devices. To get a feel for how this new crop of devices works, here’s a rather cheesy video from Android, sadly without mention of whether email will feature in their kit:

How will we interact with “wearable email”?

Email triage may soon involve 3 or more devices

Based on the UX guidelines that Google/Android have in place for their wearables today, in the short-term we’ll likely see no more than the ability to skim the inbox and postpone, flag or delete emails, based on their subject line and preheader text. Email triage may soon involve 3 or more devices – your watch for siphoning off non-essential email, your smartphone for simple interactions and replying to short messages, then your laptop or desktop machine for everything else.

From a marketing standpoint, I see new opportunities for creating relevance based on the device wearer’s location, proximity to others, or even physical health. Imagine getting sent an triggered email prompting you to visit a local coffee shop, all because you’ve been sitting idle! We could spend all day listing ideas around new kinds of messaging based on context.

While on the topic of messaging, wearable technology may well be what prompts greater convergence between channels like social, SMS and email. There may soon be a time when the short messages from each will be near-indistinguishable, given that they all may be received – and responded to – in similar ways. It will be interesting to see if this impacts the decision making process around which channels businesses focus on when reaching out to their customers.

What could happen to email design?

With no wearable email clients existing at present, “wearable email design” (you heard it here first) is wide open. Early articles on wearable interfaces have stressed the need for minimalist approaches and readable text, while Android’s developer documents focus on presenting short bursts of information and control via voice actions. As a result, we may see:

  • Subject lines and preheader text (or similar) that have been optimized for small screens and extreme brevity
  • Voice engagement with email (eg. “Ok Google, unsubscribe me”, or “Reply I’m on my way”)
  • Email interactions that tie in with wearable applications (eg. Transport directions to a nearby store, triggered by email content)
  • The re-emergence of plain-text email (hmm)

As an email designer, I personally feel like we’re about to embark on a whole new adventure, not unlike when I first wrote about responsive email back in 2010. The difference is back then, we had a precedent – being the web – and the software was there for us to test our ambitions on. Today, we are in a very exciting, greenfield place, where we can not only anticipate new patterns, but potentially define them, too. So, over to you – how will wearable tech redefine email marketing? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Jaina

    While I don’t see, in the near future, the ability to actually view full emails on a smart watch, so phew! But the importance of subject lines is going to just increase even more.

    It’s strange, because on one hand we’ve got Gmail’s promotions tab and their grid view, which is promoting email to be more visual, then at the same time, email marketers are still going to really work hard with their copy and subject lines. Challenging, but I like what’s happening actually. Will help us hone our craft!

  • Ros Hodgekiss

    Absolutely, Jaina! Hopefully we’ll see a few less image-only emails as a result, too – but one can only hope :D

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