Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mobile Mail != Push Mail

I guess it is not a big surprise that you can read mail with your mobile device and there are multiple ways how to do it. You can use browser, POP, IMAP, different 3rd party applications and so on. All this is simple and technology is well established.

What bothers me here is that the concept of "Push Mail" keeps on appearing as a synonym for "having access to your mailbox using mobile device". Maybe I'm thinking this a little bit from a technical side, but I think "Push Mail" is just one attribute of mobile mail solution; if solution has "Push Mail" attribute it means that server component actively signals mobile terminal about changes in mailbox state. I must emphasize that this is just my interpretation about the deeper meaning of "Push Mail" - which is also problematic; is your "Push Mail" same as mine? What do your customers understand with "Push Mail" when they ask you to give a tender about delivering such a system?

Many companies and organizations seem to think that mobile mail system without "Push Mail" feature is not an option, messages must be delivered to mobile terminal without any delay or solution is useless. I disagree on that. Global email system is a collection of store-and-forward servers that are suffering under increasing number spam messages. When you send a message to somebody you really can't be sure that the message will ever reach the recipient's inbox and when that happens. Why should somebody put a huge effort on building a system that optimizes the very last mile of email delivery? When the message has travelled across the world for tens of minutes or hours, is it really important that the message takes the last jump in one second or less; I don't think so. By the way, if "pushing" the messages is so much better than "pulling", you better make sure that your desktop email client get "pushed" when new messages arrive - have you verified that? Or are you like me and you care more about the easiness of email handling and don't care about the byte-level communications protocol when the message finally arrives. After all, you typically don't know that you will receive an email and you are not actively waiting for it. If there is a very urgent issue, mobile phones have nice ability to receive voice calls and SMS messages, too!

If "pushing" is not important, what is? If you are considering mobile mail system, I'd check at least following things before signing the contract:
  • Can I read messages from different folders?
  • Can I send messages from mobile terminal(sic!) and are the message copies also saved at my email system?
  • Is message handling at "normal" level: messages can be replied, forwarded, sent to multiple recipients and so on?
  • When you don't read your email for a while (I hope you have vacations, too!), can you clean your inbox before you start using mobile mail again, or will all the spam messages arrive to your mobile phone?
  • Is the solution secure enough? Enough security means that you understand the solution at such level that you can assess the potential risks and feel comfortable with that information.
  • How can you manage the system? As soon as somebody gets mobile access to mailbox, he will start experimenting with different settings and before you understand, the settings are all messed up and nothing works anymore. How would you solve this?
  • Last but not least: remember that spam messages are annoying, but when spam messages hit your mobile terminal they will drive you crazy



Jan Eldenmalm said...


You raise many important questions, and I agree with you that delivery now or in 5 mins may not be the end of the world. But that set aside working with mobile mail I find your points very interesting and I notice that we have addressed almost all of them in our latest release of Emansio push mail!


Jan Eldenmalm
(Emansio Team)

PS I have push mail in my desktop client DS

Harri Salminen said...


Nice to get feedback from you and get to know your product. I will continue my crusade against wrong interpretation of "push mail"; just noticed that also Finnish government has published a white paper where terms "mobile mail" and "push mail" have nicely been messed up.