HTML parsing quirk allows 'hidden' email content viewable only on Apple Watch

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited May 2015
Thanks to an interesting quirk in the way Apple Watch handles email content, users willing to brave a little HTML code can include "hidden" versions of a message specifically formatted for the device.


Example email rendered in Mail app. Inset: screenshot of same email on Apple Watch.


Discovered by Dan Foody, a user of email testing, preview and analytics service Litmus, the Apple Watch-specific email scheme takes advantage of an idiosyncrasy in Apple's solution for delivering and displaying HTML.

As Litmus explains, Apple Watch only displays the plain text portion of an email, ignoring complicated HTML like remote images in an effort to save processing cycles and uptime. In fact, email content is first translated from HTML to rich text by a paired iPhone before being sent over to Watch.

Emails usually contain both HTML and plain text elements with Content-Type designations text/html and text/plain, respectively. With Watch, Apple implements a fallback -- text/watch-html -- for purposes of replacing complex HTML content. Including an unsuitable HTML element, like a remote image, will force Apple Watch to fall back to plain text and the suitable Content-Type text/html-watch, which results in a rich text-like formatting completely transparent to readers on other devices.

There is a catch, however. Only a handful of email service providers support Watch HTML delivery, meaning your options are limited unless you happen to serve your own mail. Those looking to try out the feature can visit PutsMail, Litmus' Web-based email testing and debugging tool, as it it capable of delivering inline plain text, HTML and Watch HTML.

Litmus has compiled a few tips and techniques for sending tailored Watch emails, as well as a list of rich text concepts known to work with text/watch-html, including font styles, quotes, lists and embedded images.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,054member
    very interesting.

    But Apple should look into using WML for internet access. It's small. It's compressed. It's efficient. It's quick. It's really optimal for watches as it uses "card" interface and it's an open standard. It will work with any power-efficient devices with low resolution.
  • Reply 2 of 16
    satchmosatchmo Posts: 2,699member
    Yes, this is the killer app we've all been waiting for.
  • Reply 3 of 16
    jason98jason98 Posts: 766member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by satchmo View Post



    Yes, this is the killer app we've all been waiting for.



    Yeah, I guess AI ran out of Apple Watch news for today :) . Seriously too much attention lately to something that only 1% of apple user base have any interest in...

  • Reply 4 of 16
    dunksdunks Posts: 1,254member
    On the subject of email when will Apple bring Gmail style labels to iCloud and the mail app. It's really the only thing keeping me from ditching my Google account.

    I was so excited when Apple reimplemented tags in Yosemite (finally a file can have more than one colour label!) but this really needs to be in email rather than the file system. With folders you can only keep things in a single place but with labels you can mark an incoming bill both "Paid" and "Tax Deductable" which just makes life a whole lot easier.
  • Reply 5 of 16
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    jason98 wrote: »

    Yeah, I guess AI ran out of Apple Watch news for today :) . Seriously too much attention lately to something that only 1% of apple user base have any interest in...

    1%? What's your source for that?
  • Reply 6 of 16
    jason98jason98 Posts: 766member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post





    1%? What's your source for that?



    Just a guesstimate :)  I think it is very overestimated :)

  • Reply 7 of 16
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    jason98 wrote: »

    Yeah, I guess AI ran out of Apple Watch news for today :) . Seriously too much attention lately to something that only 1% of apple user base have any interest in...

    please cite the claim that only 1% of Apple customers are interested in hearing about the AW.
  • Reply 8 of 16
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    jason98 wrote: »

    Just a guesstimate :)  I think it is very overestimated :)

    ah so you're trolling. got it.
  • Reply 9 of 16
    scottjdscottjd Posts: 64member
    I think what he meant to say is only 1% of people who ordered the ? watch had received it so far :\
  • Reply 10 of 16
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,329member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Dunks View Post



    On the subject of email when will Apple bring Gmail style labels to iCloud and the mail app. It's really the only thing keeping me from ditching my Google account.



    I was so excited when Apple reimplemented tags in Yosemite (finally a file can have more than one colour label!) but this really needs to be in email rather than the file system. With folders you can only keep things in a single place but with labels you can mark an incoming bill both "Paid" and "Tax Deductable" which just makes life a whole lot easier.



    Back in my day, we used to just create email folders and file things in them (which works in every email app).  Or, if you wanted to get fancy, set up filtering rules to automate filing.  For things which need to go in multiple folders, just duplicate it (storage space is cheap).

  • Reply 11 of 16
    Another option is to use multipart/alternative. This is pretty standard for sending a plain text and a rich HTML version of the same message. But folks over on Apple Support Communities have been looking at this issue. Apple recently started sending out forum notifications that have Watch-specific content. We've looked at Apple's solution and come up with something even a little better.

    The trick is to add a 3rd alternative between the text/plain and text/html parts. Use text/enriched per https://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1896.txt. Not everything in the RFC works, but some of it does. Any real e-mail client will ignore both the text/plain and text/enriched parts. The Apple Watch will reject the HTML part but will display the text/enriched alternative. Plus, it will do so without the big blue warning note.

    Enjoy.
  • Reply 12 of 16
    jackansijackansi Posts: 116member

    This would be great for spammers to be able to do targeted advertising to AW owners.  Hooray!

     

    AW spam in 5.. 4.. 3.. 2..

  • Reply 13 of 16
    65c81665c816 Posts: 133member

    Originally Posted by auxio View Post



    Back in my day, we used to just create email folders and file things in them (which works in every email app).  Or, if you wanted to get fancy, set up filtering rules to automate filing.  For things which need to go in multiple folders, just duplicate it (storage space is cheap).


    In other words, do things the wrong way, because we don't know how to do it the right way, or we are not using the right tools to do it the right way.

     

    Meh.

  • Reply 14 of 16
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,329member
    65c816 wrote: »
    In other words, do things the wrong way, because we don't know how to do it the right way, or we are not using the right tools to do it the right way.

    Meh.
    Right, because everyone not doing things the same way (Google's way) would be blasphemous. Whatever achieves the end result you want is the right way in my books.
  • Reply 15 of 16
    65c81665c816 Posts: 133member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by auxio View Post





    Right, because everyone not doing things the same way (Google's way) would be blasphemous. Whatever achieves the end result you want is the right way in my books.

    Doesn't matter which way Google does it.  Making a copy of one email into each category you want to file it in is one of the worst ways to do this.  If you don't understand why, you will never be convinced of any arguments that any sane person makes.

  • Reply 16 of 16
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,329member
    65c816 wrote: »
    Doesn't matter which way Google does it.  Making a copy of one email into each category you want to file it in is one of the worst ways to do this.  If you don't understand why, you will never be convinced of any arguments that any sane person makes.
    Look, at the end of the day, all I need to do is find the email I need for a given purpose (taxes, receipts, whatever). I'm not editing anything (it's a read only database), so having multiple copies doesn't make my tasks any more difficult. If email had symlinks like file systems, I'd use that to avoid multiple copies. Besides, about 95% of my email only needs to be in one category anyways.

    My point is that there are many paths to the same real world result. To put the blinders on and only see one way, and bash others because they do things differently, is pathological.
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