iOS15 – What is it? 

In case you missed it, Apple recently announced a new privacy update for iOS 15 which will undoubtedly impact the accuracy of email marketing tracking and results.  

This follows on from their recent iOS 14 update which greatly impacted Facebook tracking. A considered approach to email marketing is a vital aspect of growth marketing, so we’ve compiled our thoughts on the update so you can best prepare for this change. 

Please note: this was only recently announced and it is currently in beta testing. Apple may change how this works when it’s released, and a lot of information is speculative at the moment – but there is no doubt it will have an impact on email marketing. 


iOS15 – What is it? 

Like the Facebook iOS 14 update, Apple users will be met with the option to “protect mail activity” or “don’t protect mail activity”. If a user selects “protect mail activity”, this will prevent email service providers from tracking mail openings, the user’s IP address will be hidden, and the user’s location will be hidden. If the user selects “don’t protect mail activity”, there will be no difference from current tracking. 


Source: Ryan Jones 

We can hope that most users will choose to not be protected but based on the 4% opt-in reports from iOS 14 – it is likely this will have a significant impact. After all, with Apple’s wording of “don’t protect mail activity”, it’s understandable why a user will choose to remove tracking. 


It’s important to note that this only affects users on the Apple Mail app on any device. If the user is using another app such as Gmail or Outlook, then this will not apply. Litmus’ report from July 2021 shows that Apple Mail currently accounts for 49.7% of email opens: 



Source: Litmus Email Client Market Share in July 2021 


We highly recommend checking your email statistics to discover how popular Apple Mail is within your email list. This should dictate just how much of an impact the iOS15 update will have on your email reports. Most email service providers should be able to provide this but if you need any help with this, please feel free to get in touch with us.


iOS15 – What does this mean for my email marketing? 


Open rates become less accurate 

Due to the way Apple’s iOS 15 update will work, all emails sent to an Apple Mail inbox will automatically be considered an “open”. This means that open rates are expected to be inflated from Apple Mail by at least 75%-100%. Depending on how popular Apple Mail is with your audience, this could have huge repercussions on your reporting. 

Although some email marketers consider open rate to be a vanity metric, it is still used for some very important aspects of email marketing which the iOS15 update could potentially render moot. 


Quickly A/B testing subject lines with open rates 

Using early open rate differentials is one of the most common ways to test the most effective subject lines fast. With the iOS update, this will make this approach very unreliable.  

You will be flooded straight away with multiple “phantom opens” coming from Apple Mail and your segmented audience with the highest number of Apple Mail users could show a much higher open rate with no insight on how effective the subject lines are. Subject lines will now likely require testing over a longer period which reduces the quick turnaround of quick-fire A/B testing. 


Automations and segmentation based on email opens 


Now, this one hurts. 

If you currently have any segmentations set up based on email opens, then these are rendered almost useless. Best practice for email marketing is to send to an engaged segment – this is potentially now likely to change and something we need to keep our fingers on the pulse of. We will now no longer be able to tell which Apple Mail users are engaged and consistently opening our emails which means we may need to go broader with our email audience targeting – or more niche. 

Not only will segmentation take a hit, but automations will also be affected. If you send automatic follow-up emails to users who haven’t opened your initial email campaign or have conditional paths on your email automations, then these could potentially be rendered useless. 

Email opens are also vital for re-engagement and sunset automations which could cause a large issue for list cleaning. There is certainly the argument to be made that these privacy issues do not help consumers as – since we will no longer be able to track inactivity – users will receive emails no longer relevant or of interest to them. 

At Space & Time, we highly recommend you perform a full audit on your automations and segmentation to gauge the effect iOS 15 will have as the consequences are potentially huge. Not sure where to start? Please feel free to contact us. 


Send time optimisation is now redundant 

If your email service provider uses any sort of send time optimisation, this is now rendered moot. Emails sent to Apple Mail users will be considered open as soon as they receive them so it will be almost impossible to tell what time is best to send your emails at. 


No more location-based emails 

Whether your email shows the nearest store location or features local weather, this is now likely to be inaccurate with the new iOS 15 update. This could have larger implications from showing the wrong currency, if you’re an ecommerce store you could show a product to someone that can’t be delivered to that person, and even things such as competitions only being valid for users in a specific country or region could be affected. 


iOS15 – what do I need to do? 


Start testing now 

Do everything you can to test creative and subject lines so you can maximise engagement with metrics that will no longer be able to be used for segmentation in the future. That means getting a complete understanding of your current open rates, click rates and conversion rates which will provide a baseline for life post-iOS15. It’s not too late to find out your most optimal subject lines and email copy. 


Clean up your list 

Ensure you keep your list clean and up to date before iOS15 hits in Autumn 2021. We won’t be able to clean it using email opens so it’s important we clear out users now who haven’t opened your emails for a while. As open rate is currently the best way to calculate engagement and interest, we will need to adapt our email marketing strategies moving forward. 

Take your deliverability seriously by making lead quality and list cleaning a high priority. It is going to be much more difficult to monitor deliverability once the update hits, so now is the time to act when open rates are still accurate. 


Expand your segmentation 

As we will no longer be able to rely purely on open rates, we can expand this to including clicks and conversion history. This will likely lead to our engaged segments being smaller, but we will still be able to have highly targeted engagement segments which is never a bad thing. 


Using conversion data such as recency, frequency and value we can still target highly engaged and highly profitable users. These will likely prove to be the cornerstone of engagement segments moving forward. 


Take a deep breath 

We’ll be fine. Facebook ads are still going strong despite the iOS14 update and marketers were quick to adapt. Similarly, we will do the same with our email marketing strategies. If anything, this provides a strong opportunity for us to pivot and do more things right as those who don’t are likely to see a large decrease in email performance. 

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein 


Key takeaway 

Apple’s recent iOS15 announcement is a blow to marketing but there is no need to panic. Ultimately, our goal as marketers is to provide the right message to the right customer at the right time and this will still be possible – albeit more challenging. 

Looking at marketing, digital marketing is still in its infancy. A lot more changes, in particular privacy changes, are likely to be made and Apple are likely just the start. It’s important we use this warning to prepare and pivot instead of waiting to see how drastic the changes will be. 

Let’s use this as an opportunity to identify the various ways we can measure customer engagement and behaviour then use this data to improve customer experience. I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge. 

If you’re not sure where to start, or want to find out more about how we could help with your email marketing, contact us today.