How will Apple’s new OS Update Impact Your Marketing?

Tim Taricco
Interactive Developer

In late September, Apple will release updates for iOS 15 (iPhone), iPadOS 15 (iPad), and MacOS 12 (Mac) that will forever alter one of the most widely-used key performance indicators (KPIs) for email marketing — the open rate. As a result, your corresponding marketing analytics data are about to get a bit wonky.

Here’s what’s happening.

In September, Apple is implementing privacy changes within the default Mail app that will affect the ability of email marketers to see open rates on email campaigns accurately.

Apple users who install the new operating systems and use the Mail app will be presented with a prompt giving them two choices; “Protect mail activity – hide IP address and privately load all remote content,” and “Don’t protect mail activity – show IP address and load any remote content directly on your device.”

These choices are very similar to the privacy options Apple introduced six months ago with iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 that prompted users about sharing their data with the apps they install. It’s important for marketers to note that in April of 2021, Flurry Analytics estimated that 96% of iPhone and iPad users chose to not share their data with apps. Hence, it is likely that users will make a similar choice with the newest update to the Mail app.

How will this impact your marketing?

Estimates vary, but it’s widely known that about 30-50% of average email marketing lists contain contacts that use the default Mail app on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

When it comes to tracking email marketing open rates, email broadcast systems include a small invisible image embedded in the email code. When an email is opened by a user, that invisible image loads, which in turn sends a signal reporting back to the email broadcast analytics solution. The result is, you know the percentage of people that have (or have not) opened your emails.

If a user chooses “privately load all remote content” when prompted by Apple’s new Mail app, the software will automatically load the invisible image when the message is received, not when the message is opened by the user. This will result in the appearance that an email was opened when it’s quite likely that it was not.

The result?

Starting in late September, you can expect to see a jump in your email marketing open rates.

An increased percentage of your reported email open rates will be bogus.

The cascade effect of false open rate metrics will result in your other marketing KPIs suddenly looking less productive. In other words, get ready to hear people asking, “Our open rates have gone way up but our click-through rates, conversion rates, cost-per-lead metrics, etc., haven’t budged. What the heck is going on?”

And then there’s the alias email address factor.

Apple Mail app users who use an iCloud mailbox will gain the ability to create disposable, alias email addresses to use for subscribing to mailing lists. The alias email addresses will route mail to the users’ iCloud mailboxes. The result of the disposable email addresses will mean that your mailing lists in the future may be less accurate since many users are more likely to abandon email aliases. This will act as a multiplier for false email open rates since the Apple Mail app will still trigger a read response when your email messages are received.

So what should marketers do now?

First off, every marketer should get out in front of this new change in order to manage expectations. After all, it’s better to be the knowledgeable expert giving everyone a heads up versus being on the defensive end of reporting meetings.

Second, be sure to add more compelling and more numerous call-to-action links within your email messages since these will serve as a more accurate barometer for email marketing effectiveness.