Posted by Will Thomas on Oct 01, 2014

The curious case of the blank Blackberry emails

A lot of our tradesmen are out and about during the day, so we wanted to make sure they had a painless experience reading our emails on a mobile. Recently we redesigned our email templates to be responsive and work better on a small screen. Shortly after making the change we heard from some of our Blackberry users that they were receiving blank emails.

Researching the problem

We didn’t have a blackberry to hand so we went down to our local device lab. To access email on Blackberry you have to have a Blackberry Internet Service account, which means having a SIM card. Then we tried virtualising the Blackberry environment using RIM’s testing software. This didn’t work out so well as the test suite is hardware accelerated and we were using a Windows VM running on OSX.

Running out of options we then decided to take the desk research approach. We looked through plenty of forums but the few cases we heard of that sounded like ours had no solutions either. In particular we found a thread on the Untappd support forum that said nested tables might be to blame. We took a stab at it and launched the changes. The complaints continued to roll in.

Then came the unthinkable…

Blackberry 9720

We bought a purple Blackberry 9720. Let it never be said we don’t make sacrifices for our tradesmen.

The good news was we managed to reproduce the blank email error, the bad news was it only happened 50% of the time. We ended up removing all the CSS and bisecting the template to see if we could get the emails to work. We then tried a fixed width version of the email which worked, after searching for “blackberry viewport email” we found this article on emailonacid.com.

It said “Emails that are sent with and anything in the content attribute appear to be blank when viewed on BlackBerry”.

The fix

By removing the viewport metatag completely, we solved the problem, the emails were no longer showing blank. It’s funny how sometimes the fix can be as simple as removing one line, but understanding the problem is the real work.

Incidentally if you’re interesting in building your own responsive emails I recommend Email Boilerplate by @seanpowell and Creating a Simple Responsive HTML Email by @moonstrips.

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