September 14, 2021

iOS 15 and the Future of Email

This fall, Apple is rolling out the new iOS 15 along with an updated option for “Mail Privacy Protection” features. This change presents adjustments for email marketers, but GALE’s team has some recommendations to help set you up for success.

Robert Aeder

Vice President, Core Technology

Apple’s iOS is the most popular mobile operating system in the United States. Adoption rates for updates and privacy functions are high; for instance, 2020’s iOS 14 release, with new app privacy configuration capabilities, was reported to have reached a 50% upgrade rate within six weeks of launching and now sits at around 90% adoption for compatible iOS devices.

This fall, with the rollout of Apple iOS 15 and the new option for “Mail Privacy Protection” features, we are expecting to see some big changes for digital marketers in the email space. Many key concepts email marketers use to create new customer journeys will need to be revisited.

  • Open rates: Accurate open information will no longer be available, meaning that common open-rated metrics (open rate, click-to-open) will not be as reliable as bellwethers of email performance.
  • Email opens: Since email opens will be abstracted (opens may be recorded hours before a true open activity, or even in cases where recipient never actually opens an email), journeys that rely on opens will break.
  • Subject line: Open metrics will no longer be reliably attributable to subject lines.
  • Dynamic content: Most dynamic content may be fine, but anything based on time of open, location of open, etc., will likely be broken.
  • Email timing: Open times, locations, and device information will no longer be reliable. Note that some companies are pivoting their optimized send time functionality to reflect overall email engagement, rather than the previous bias towards open rates.

Given these significant changes by Apple (and the likely matching of security measures by others in the near future), GALE’s team has some recommendations on how to best prepare and set your email marketing function up for ongoing success.

Audience Management and Channels

  • Consider opportunities to use other mobile targeting tactics, such as SMS and mobile push. Bringing people to your site, your app, etc., will bring them into an owned, “known” environment.
  • Update your journeys to ensure reliance on opens is removed. Any decision points tied to opens are likely to misdirect traffic for some email recipients.
  • Understand the expected performance of any interactive third-party elements that rely on open time and location.
  • Connect transactional activities (and data) to email marketing to measure incrementality and drive journey rules.
  • Refine your target segments, ensuring your customer is fully aware of the emails you will be sending.
  • Remember that email is an opt-in channel for people that want to hear from you; getting them meaningful content is still king in garnering the most value from this channel.


  • Consider a design that uses email to drive readers to your website for content rather than delivering it all via email (think landing pages).
  • Adhere to email best practices, such as making hero images clickable and having the main call to action above the fold.


  • Move your open reporting baselines (expect an increase), drive key metrics to center around clicks and conversions rather than opens.
  • Understand your current customer/member app and device usage patterns; this will help in aligning on expected impacts to baseline metrics.
  • Watch out for reporting solutions that may be heavily exposed to open-related metrics and dashboards (some solutions, for example, present reports that show how many people have opened your email, read your email, skimmed your email quickly. Metrics like this are likely to be severely impacted).

Email will continue to be the workhorse channel of digital’s just evolving. The new challenges presented by these privacy updates do not materially change the goal of email marketing — directing recipients towards authenticated experiences (apps and web apps). Once recipients are in an authenticated environment, marketers will still be able to drive personalized, targeted experiences and offers. By embracing these new strategies and tactics proactively, the impacts of these privacy changes can be mitigated.