Android is a mobile operating system developed by Google and used by a variety of manufacturers on a wide range of devices. It is currently the most popular mobile platform, with over 1 billion devices activated.
Android comes in a few different versions. Unlike Apple’s iOS, which enjoys high adoption rates for new versions of the operating system, many Android devices are not eligible to upgrade to newer OS releases. This, combined with the wide range of device sizes and capabilities in the Android world, leads to fragmentation that can be problematic for email designers.
While there are a number of email clients available for Android devices, the most popular clients are the stock email app that ships with all versions of Android and the Gmail Android app. Both clients have varying support for HTML email and can pose a number of problems for designers.
Android as a platform is hugely popular - accounting for over 80% of mobile devices. However, we have found that Apple’s iOS is more popular for opening and reading email. iOS commands 36% of the market for email clients, whereas Android lags behind at 11%. This is still enough of the market to make it #4 in our email client market share top ten.
Among Android versions, two releases are overwhelmingly popular. Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) is installed on 26.3% of devices. Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) is installed on 37.3% of devices. Testing on both of these versions’ email app is essential for email designers. Fortunately, Litmus has you covered. Along with a variety of mobile clients on a few different devices, we offer testing for the stock email app on both Android 2.3 and Android 4.1.
The default Android email app, like most email clients, relies on the spam filtering capabilities of the service which it is using. Therefore, no hard-and-fast deliverability rules can be recommended beyond the normal best practices used for other email clients.
The Gmail App is a client specifically for use with Google’s Gmail email platform, meaning that it is subject to the same deliverability rules as the Gmail webmail client.
The two main email clients for Android, the Email app and the Gmail app, utilize their own rendering rules and have different sets of issues with which designers must wrestle. Let’s take a look at each app.
The Android Email app has excellent support for HTML and CSS. The apps shipping with both Android 2.3 and 4.1 have similar support and render emails consistently. Email designers will be pleased to know that Android’s Email app will render styles defined within media queries, allowing for responsive email designs. Nearly all HTML tags and CSS properties are supported, including most CSS3 properties. The most notable exception is support for CSS3 box-shadows.
The Gmail app for Android sits in stark contrast to the default Android Email client. The Gmail App has very poor support for CSS and doesn’t honor media queries. While missing support for media queries isn’t uncommon, many clients afford emails some level of mobile optimization by automatically scaling HTML emails so that the entire width of the email is visible on the screen.
Older versions of the Gmail app did not auto-scale emails, resulting in a common issue on Android devices - the “Grid of Grim”.
The Grid of Grim is a result of emails not being scaled and a portion of the email being rendered off-screen, forcing users to scroll horizontally to see the entire width of the email. Important information and CTAs can easily be missed by readers and the act of scrolling both vertically and horizontally is often a frustrating experience. Care should be taken to keep important information (logos, essential copy) as well as CTAs on the left side of emails with a large portion of users reading on Android Devices.
Fortunately, the newest version of the Gmail app adds support for auto-scaling emails. While it’s a far cry from media query support, it is a welcome addition for email designers and readers alike.
The Gmail app has very good support for the box-model (including support for box-shadow). However, it lacks complete support for positioning elements using CSS. Properties like top, right, bottom, and left are missing as are z-index and display. Care should be taken when building responsive emails that rely on display:none; to hide elements on mobile displays.
Designers should also note that background images are not supported in the Gmail app.
Finally, the Gmail app does not support manipulating lists via CSS, as the list-style-image, list-style-position, and list-style-type properties cannot be used.
The Gmail app automatically blocks images, as well. Designers are encouraged to use styled alt-text on important images, as it is displayed by both old and new versions of the app.
Some users are likely to access their email via a webmail client on their Android devices. The usual suspects like Gmail and Outlook.com handle HTML and CSS well in this context, but designers should be aware that emails will likely be displayed without auto-scaling here. As always, keep the Grid of Grim in mind and test as much as possible. Litmus offers testing not only for Android 2.3, 4.1, and the Gmail app - but has previews for both Gmail and Outlook.com webmail clients on Android devices.
Wikipedia Android Article
Wikipedia Comparison of Mobile Operating Systems
What's the Most Popular Operating System?
Breakdown of Android Versions
MailChimp's CSS Support Guide
Campaign Monitor's Guide to CSS Support
Why HTML Email Can't Look Great on Android
Android Grid of Grim
Android Preview Pane Tips