INSIDE MOBILE: Why I Hate Mobile E-Mail

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2010-11-03

INSIDE MOBILE: Why I Hate Mobile E-Mail

I have been thinking for quite some time about writing a column on why I hate mobile e-mail. I feel almost like a traitor for suggesting that I-a mobile analyst whose livelihood depends on promoting mobile and wireless technologies and services-would suggest that I have any other feeling than "love" when writing about mobile e-mail.

But, there you go. I've said it. I hate mobile e-mail that's delivered to wireless handheld smartphone devices such as an iPhone or BlackBerry. Here's why.

Why I hate wireless e-mail has to be considered in context. When you get e-mail message delivered to your phone, it's much more difficult to manage. For example, consider the following:

1. You receive an e-mail message asking for an appointment. It's not easy to flip over to the Calendar, see if the date's open, add it to the Calendar, and confirm it back to the person who sent the e-mail message. Some services such as Good Technology and SEVEN try to make the experience at least functional, but it's nowhere as easy as using a desktop application such as Outlook.

2. You get an e-mail message that has a number of attachments (in PDF, PowerPoint, Excel and Word). You might be able to view them, but interacting with them and saving them to your desktop folder on your notebook PC is just about impossible.

3. You receive an e-mail message that requires a thoughtful reply. You simply can't do that kind of response with a wireless handheld device. I've tried it and have spent most of the time managing the spelling, spacing and how it will look on the screen.

4. You typically get most of the e-mail messages that your spam filter eliminates on the desktop. Thus, your wireless system is spending time downloading worthless e-mail messages that consumes unnecessary resources. More wireless e-mail systems need to include spam filters on the server side and ways for the user to indicate not to send messages from specific domains (blacklist).

5. Someone in an e-mail message asks you to look at a Website via an enclosed link. When you go to the Website, there's not a mobile version so it's cumbersome to view and navigate. And, to make matters worse, you sometimes have to look at two to three Web pages next to each other. That's easy to do on a desktop but almost impossible to do on a wireless handheld.

As you can clearly see, managing e-mail on a wireless phone is difficult and, at times, impossible. Often, I just use my BlackBerry to read incoming messages to keep informed and then reply when I get back to my desktop. I suspect that every one of you has thought about or experienced these situations as well.

Differences Between the Desktop and Mobile E-Mail Experience

Differences between the desktop and mobile e-mail experience

Just look at the difference between the desktop and mobile experience for e-mail. You get a "full-functioned and easy-to-use" experience using e-mail on a desktop, whereas you get a "tolerated and a challenging-to-use" experience using a smartphone. To be sure, the ability to read an e-mail message or to do a quick reply with "OK" or something short can help move a process along and keep you updated while away from your desktop (or notebook). It's better than not having any information at all.

Yes, an iPad and other tablets will make it much easier to manage mobile e-mail. In fact, I'll likely move all of my mobile e-mail to my iPad and not bother doing much with e-mail on my phone. The primarily benefit of using a smartphone is having access to my 6,000+ contacts so I can select and easily make a call to any of them by spelling their name.

I'm glad that RIM created BlackBerry and that Apple has "pinch and expand" on their displays, but the entire mobile e-mail experience is not positive. Other applications in mobile such as gaming, viewing photos, checking the weather and thousands of other mobile applications are designed to give a good user experience in mobile and are very useful.

E-mail was created as a desktop application that has been ported over to mobile. It just can't possibly give the same user experience.

I'm thankful for all the functionality that's provided in a smartphone to manage e-mail, but I believe most people will migrate to managing their e-mail on tablets as they become more pervasive (and have reasonable pricing for wide area connectivity).

So, that's why I hate mobile e-mail. And, I suspect that most of you feel the same way as I do about it.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.

Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.

Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress. He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time. 

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