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The New iPhone’s Peek Feature: Design Considerations, Analytics, Animated Gif Support and More

Email On Acid

Much has been said about the new iPhone 6s' Peek feature enabled by 3D Touch where users are able to take a quick preview of their messages by pressing lightly on an individual email in their inbox. While some call 3D Touch a gimmick and others feel like it brings a whole new level of interaction with their devices, 3D Touch and Peek create a potential challenge for email marketers.

When the user activates Peek, a window is overlaid on the inbox featuring the sender name, the subject line and a preview of the email content. If the recipient sees something interesting or wants to read further, she is able to press harder to open the email completely (to make the email "Pop" in Apple's parlance). Otherwise, the user can just release her finger and the preview window goes away.

Just like prior to 3D Touch however, the user can still tap on the email entry and open the email normally without seeing the preview.

The fold

Drawing on best practices in print design, email marketers were once trained to place crucial call to actions "above the fold"; the visible portion of an email when it's previewed or opened. Prior to the iPhone, the fold was the height of the smallest window, the preview window in Microsoft Outlook.

Over the past few years, articles have argued that the fold in email is a myth, because users are conditioned to scroll an email when it's opened and that calls to action under the fold don't suffer. After all, if someone's taken the trouble to open the email, it takes a mere flick of the thumb to continue reading.

A different interaction paradigm

However, Peek doesn't allow scrolling. The recipient now has to make a decision whether to commit: to Pop and read the rest of the email. Not only does reading the full email require an extra press, recipients will also have to tap on the "back" button to go back to the inbox once the email is fully opened.

The size of the fold

Interestingly, in the case of 3D touch and the Peek preview, what's important isn't the size of preview itself, but the width to height (aspect) ratio of the content view - excluding the header and subject line.

The aspect ratio varies depending on whether the email is viewed on an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus and whether the subject line takes up one or two lines in the preview. From my rough estimates, the aspect ratio of the content area goes from 5:6 (taller) on a 6s Plus with a single lined subject to 9:10 (almost a square) on a 6s with a subject line that takes up two lines.

When an email is previewed on an iPhone 6s with a width of 375px, the height of the content displayed within the window assuming a 9:10 width to height aspect ratio will correspond to the values below:

Dimensions of Content Viewed in the Peek Window on an iPhone 6s
Native Email Width Native Height of Content Displayed in Peek Window
600px (fixed width) 666px
700px (fixed width) 777px
375px (responsive) 416px

Although responsive emails allow for a better user experience by displaying the text clearly and not having the user pinch and zoom to navigate the email, less vertical content is actually being displayed in the preview window. In other words, the fold is higher up in responsive emails.

Of course, fixed width emails also suffer because the recipient may not be able to read the text within the preview as well. Senders should be aware of the tradeoffs.

Tracking and animations

Surprisingly, other than the lack of the ability to scroll, Peek is very much like opening an email. When Peek is triggered all the images within the email are retrieved. This means any tracking pixels within the email are loaded even though the pixel may be located outside of the Peek viewable area. In other words, when a recipient activates Peek, they will show up as an open in your email reports.

Animated gif images and CSS animations also play within the Peek window; depending on your subject matter and audience, animations could be used as an attention grabbing teaser to entice the recipient to completely open an email.

Not all emails are equal

The iPhone 6s user still has the option to open the email without previewing it first. For example, if the recipient knows that the sender frequently sends emails of high relevance or value, then a quick tap opens the email fully, skipping the preview.

It's still too early to tell how 3D touch will affect email consumption and whether iPhone users will even warm up to Peek-ing their email. However, if users begin to use it as a primary form of email triage - especially during the holiday season where the inbox gets particularly congested - brands with less stronger ties to their recipients may have to start adding value to what's seen above the fold in their email creation to encourage Pops and further email engagement.

About the Author

Justin Khoo

Justin Khoo

Justin Khoo (@freshinbox) is an email developer and writes about email techniques and new innovations. He has been involved in many aspects of email over the past decade, everything from building webmail clients and email campaign services to coding HTML emails.

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Thank you for this article... So when is Email on Acid supporting the Peek feature?? (that's an open challenge smile

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