January 05, 2010, 2:41 PM — Despite the appeal of the iPhone, many businesses and individuals rely primarily on their BlackBerry. Yet, despite the amount of time users spend checking e-mail on their BlackBerry, many BlackBerry models display messages in a text format. Therefore, any messages sent in HTML can't really be read, at least not the way the highly-paid graphics designer intended.
Readers might look and click at the newsletter's pretty graphics on their laptops. But when drowning in an e-mail deluge on a mobile device, it's tempting to delete the "junk" unreadable message. Certainly, that's the e-mail triage I apply, since I receive upwards of 30 newsletters daily, and not all require immediate attention.
Recently, a niche magazine publisher asked me how to make his newsletters friendly to BlackBerry owners who represented the majority of his readership. I didn't have any useful suggestions, so I asked a few experts. Here is their advice, which may help you improve your newsletter usability and effectiveness for your mobile readers.
A Problem Worth Solving
To some, it's not worth the effort to design a newsletter that's tuned to BlackBerry users. Obviously, if your target reader rarely uses a BlackBerry this isn't as relevant; a Mac software vendor probably doesn't need to care as intensely about HTML e-mail because of the expectation that users prefer iPhones. (Though there are other UI considerations, as you'll see later.)
If you are certain that your readers all use late-model versions of the smartphone, you may not need to be concerned about tuning your newsletter. Most new BlackBerry devices render HTML well. According to Al Sacco, BlackBerry expert at sister site CIO.com, all BlackBerry devices running RIM's handheld OS 4.5 or higher support HTML mail, and all the latest BlackBerry devices run OS 5.0.
However, not everybody sports the latest BlackBerry – my trusty BlackBerry Pearl works just fine, thanks – or feels the need to upgrade. Unless you want to bet that only early adopters are interested in your company news or marketing material, it behooves you to design your newsletter for the lowest common denominator.
The inability to read HTML on a BlackBerry (and other such devices) is not trivial; it has dollar signs associated with it. Anne P. Mitchell, president of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy, law professor at Lincoln Law School, and author of "The Email Deliverability Handbook," says, "For e-mail senders who live, breathe, and die by open and click through rates, [the HTML unreadability] can artificially suppress both open and click through rates.