Gmail vs. Apple Mail: Key Differences for Email Design and Development
Take a look at a breakdown of the email clients on which subscribers open your campaigns and you’ll notice two familiar names at the top of the list: Apple Mail and Gmail. Yet, even though these are two of the most popular email clients, they have some distinct differences.
Some of the biggest differences between Gmail and Apple Mail relate to how they render HTML email designs.
In this article, we’ll talk about how the Apple Mail app works and how it compares to the Gmail app. We’ll also talk about the differences between the two email applications to help you make informed decisions about email design and development.
Gmail and Apple Mail similarities
Gmail and Apple Mail are email apps available in both web and mobile versions. You can access both on iPhones, iPads, Macs, and any device operating on iOS, iPadOS, or macOS ecosystem. Apple Mail is only available for Apple devices, but Gmail is available on both iOS and Android devices.
While there’s a desktop application for Apple Mail, Google doesn’t offer that option with Gmail. The user interface for Apple Mail looks fairly similar to Gmail, and both have apps that you can install on iOS devices.
Behind the curtain, both the Gmail app and the Apple Mail app rely on Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) servers to send messages. They both use Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3) and Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) to retrieve messages. In addition, there’s the possibility to set up Microsoft Exchange in both Apple Mail and Gmail to retrieve messages.
Despite these technical similarities, HTML email design can still show up in a Gmail user’s inbox looking one way and look entirely different for an Apple Mail user.
Here’s another confusing fact…
Apple Mail also allows Gmail users to fetch new messages from their email accounts and aggregate them in the Apple Mail app. So, even if someone has a Gmail address, it’s entirely possible that they’re viewing it in the Mail App with a Mac or an iOS device.
The reasons for inconsistent display all point back to how these two clients render emails, which will explain more in a moment.
What are the main differences between Gmail and Apple Mail?
Despite their similarities, there are some key differences in the Gmail and Apple Mail apps that can confuse both email designers and their clients. Below, we’ll go through five major differences between the two.
1. Rendering engines
Apple Mail and Gmail use different rendering engines, and that’s the main reason why emails may appear differently in these apps.
A rendering engine is software that takes HTML and CSS code and “draws” text and images on the screen. While Gmail uses a proprietary rendering engine, Apple Mail uses WebKit, which it also uses in the Safari browser. Some versions of Outlook use WebKit as well.
You may be familiar with how certain web browsers will display web pages differently than others. This is basically the same concept. For example, you may want to use a specific web font in your emails, but while it displays fine in Apple Mail, Gmail reverts to a default font. While animated PNGs will work in Apple Mail, they’ll only work in Gmail for iOS. Gmail and Apple Mail also handle dark mode emails differently.
When someone uses the Mail App to fetch Gmail messages, it will be rendered with WebKit. That’s why you may not be able to trust what you see if you simply send a manual test to Gmail. It’s extremely likely that some of your subscribers with Gmail addresses are viewing campaigns in the Mail App.
2. Email client vs. email service
That brings up another key difference between Gmail and Apple Mail. While Gmail is both an email client and an email service, Apple Mail is only an email client.
An email client is an application, like Apple Mail or Android Mail, which you use to access your emails. An email client may have specific rules or behaviors regarding the deletion, archiving, or threading of your emails.
An email service – like Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, or Yahoo Mail – provides the technical backbone for sending and receiving your emails. Apple Mail gives you a way to check your emails from a variety of clients in one place. To put it simply, you can’t get an @applemail.com email address, but recipients can use Apple Mail to view emails from multiple mailboxes.
Email services often also have specific rules or behaviors regarding the deletion, archiving, or threading of emails. If so, they usually take precedence over any other rules your email client may have. However, it’s important to note that your campaigns will be rendered in the client on which the email is opened.
3. CSS styling and responsive design
Some of the most frustrating differences between Apple Mail and Gmail involve using CSS to style an HTML email. For instance, if there is an error in the <style> block, the Gmail app will strip out the style block from emails.
The style block is an HTML element that defines the CSS styles for a document. While Gmail does have some support for media queries and the <style> element, Can I Email indicates it’s only partially supported. Using the <style> tag in the body of an HTML email won’t work Gmail only supports it in the <head>.
Many email developers use media queries to code responsive emails. These queries automatically adjust the email’s width, height, orientation, and resolution to a subscriber’s device.
According to Can I Email, Apple Mail fully supports media queries. Gmail, however, supports media queries for coding responsive campaigns as long as they are included in a <style> block in the email’s <head> section. The only exception is height-based media queries, which Gmail doesn’t support.
However, media queries are not supported at all in GANGA accounts (Gmail app for non-Google accounts). And as you’ll see next, there’s another type of media query that won’t work in Gmail.
4. Dark mode emails
Viewing emails in dark mode has become popular and that’s created some challenges for email developers. A common way to optimize emails for dark mode is the use of the media query (prefers-color-scheme).
This query allows you to develop dark mode and light mode versions of a campaign and the client will render the version that matches the mode the subscriber prefers. Unfortunately, this only works with email clients that use WebKit as a rendering engine, which as you know by now, includes Apple Mail and excludes Gmail.
Get some tips on improving the dark mode email experience in Gmail from Rémi Parmentier of HTeuMeuLeu.com. Check out the guide on fixing dark mode in Gmail with CSS blend modes.
5. AMP for email
In addition to dark mode, interactivity is another email marketing trend. AMP for email is based on the open-source AMP framework. It allows developers to add interactive elements to email campaigns such as carousels, surveys, forms, and more – all without leaving the inbox.
Many developers who’ve used AMP for email love it. Others have been hesitant to try it out for one big reason… Gmail is the only major email client with consistent support for AMP for email. That’s because Google is directly connected to the development of AMP.
It’s no secret that Apple and Google are huge competitors. So, if you’re expecting AMP support in Apple Mail any time soon, don’t hold your breath. If you’re going to take advantage of AMP for email, make sure you have interactive email fallbacks in place.
Right now, the two tech giants are fighting over the adoption of Android’s RCS (Rich Communication Services) messages. Find out more from either MacRumors or Android Police, depending on which side you fall.
6. Security and privacy
Both the Gmail and Apple Mail apps use encryption. However, while all Apple Mail is encrypted with S/MIME, only paid Google Workspace accounts use S/MIME encryption. All other Gmail accounts use TLS encryption. While S/MIME is more secure, TLS is more widely supported by email systems and thus operates more seamlessly for the average user than S/MIME.
In addition, Apple rolled out its Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature in 2021. MPP allows Apple Mail users to specify whether or not they want to share information about when, where, and how they open emails. This will affect how you measure email engagement metrics, especially open rates. Find out more about what AMPP means for email marketers.
What are some key features of the Gmail app?
Now that we’ve explored some of the basic features of both email apps, their similarities, and their differences, let’s go over some Gmail-specific features. Below, we’ve included a list of key Gmail functions to keep in mind while designing emails:
- Gmail clips messages larger than 102kb. If you exceed this size, Gmail will display the first 102kb of your message followed by the text [Message clipped] View entire message. Find out how to prevent Gmail clipping.
- Gmail’s attachment interface is more intuitive. Though both Gmail and Apple Mail apps support attachments, Gmail’s large attachment button is more intuitive than Apple Mail’s attachment solution. In Apple Mail, you’ll need to tap and hold on to the message area of an open email to upload a file.
If you’re designing emails for the Gmail app, be sure to check out our tips for developing emails for Gmail and Google apps.
What are some key features of the Apple Mail app?
Interested in designing emails for Apple Mail? In this section, we’ll go over some Apple Mail-specific features to keep in mind while you work:
- Apple Mail works with many email services. Apple Mail supports other email services, including Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, AOL Mail, Yahoo Mail, and iCloud. You can set up your Apple Mail to import and aggregate emails from other providers. For instance, let’s say you receive an email through Gmail. This message could look different depending on whether you open it in the Gmail or Apple Mail app.
- Apple Mail supports responsive designs. You can use the style tag to include your CSS stylings for responsive email designs.
- Apple Mail may resize your email based on the largest element. Use the style tag to create responsive designs. Otherwise, Apple Mail might resize your email design based on the largest element, like a large image, to make it “fit.” As a result, the app can incorrectly reduce your text to a smaller print.
Like these tips? They’re just the tip of the iceberg. Check out our tips for designing for iOS devices.
And that’s it! We’ve gone through the major similarities and differences between the Gmail and the Apple Mail apps. If you’re new to the world of email development, the realization that these clients don’t display campaigns identically might be a bit of a shock.
That’s why there’s Email on Acid by Sinch. We built our email testing platform to help with challenges just like this. Use our email previews to view your campaigns on dozens of clients and devices. See how the email renders and fix any issues before you hit send.
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This article was updated on May 24, 2022. It first published in September 2013.
Author: The Email on Acid Team
The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks. Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.