We don't hear much about new technology making an appearance in email, which makes it all the more interesting when it happens. The latest Gmail update includes a sign that Google has begun testing a feature called Dynamic Email in the Android app, and once it goes live for regular users, this may be effectively turning email into an app platform.
The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk. All screenshots and images are real unless otherwise stated, and images are only altered to remove personal information.
Dynamic mail (a.k.a. AMP email)
At this stage, most readers have probably heard of AMP. It's short for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and from a user perspective, it's basically just supposed to speed up load times for web pages; but in practical terms, it has some unintended consequences.
About a year ago, Google also began talking about bringing AMP to Gmail. Testing on Gmail for the web began shortly after the announcement, but was only open to select companies and testers. This test is now expanding to the app itself. A new account setting was added for testers that allows them to enable AMP support, also known as "Dynamic Mail" in the setting title.
<string name="preference_dynamic_mail_summary">Enable Dynamic Mail content in emails when available. Dynamic Mail content will not be shown when the Images setting is set to ask.</string>
<CheckBoxPreference android:title="@string/preference_dynamic_mail_title" android:key="dynamic-mail-enabled" android:summary="@string/preference_dynamic_mail_summary" android:defaultValue="false"/>
As the text explains, this permits Gmail to show Dynamic Mail whenever it is available. Much like HTML emails, AMP messages can be included alongside plain text versions as a separate MIME type. (If that last sentence doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, it won't impact your experience.) If you have set Gmail to ask before loading images, Dynamic Mail won't be shown, or maybe it's only shown after asking.
While the technical details of building AMP on the web versus email are basically the same, the implications and possible side effects are very interesting. If you take a look at the presentation video above, three companies (Doodle, Booking.com, and Pinterest) demonstrate some of the things they were working on that allowed users to do quite a bit from from the Gmail interface without opening new tabs. This ranged from simply viewing a carousel of images to communicating directly with remote servers.
At first glance, AMP looks like a pretty cool way to get more power out of email, but it may also invite new ways to run phishing schemes and abusive advertising campaigns, or even exploit vulnerabilities in Gmail and web browsers. Google is surely working hard to sandbox anything that could run with AMP email, but we'll have to wait to see how it works when the world really gets used to it.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.