The future of email

It seems every generation gets one great innovation, and “ours” was the Internet revolution. And arguably, nothing has touched as many aspects of our everyday existence — maybe ever — as this one did.

While it’s easy to ruminate on the convenience of shopping, remote working, or content availability, perhaps the most fundamental thing the Internet has changed is how we communicate as…well…as a species. 

For millennia, there were (arguably) no developments in the comms world. One primate screamed at another at the start of it all, and gradually, the evolution began: spoken language, the written word, etc. But then not a lot for a very long time. 

Then, suddenly, the letter, the telegram, the telephone, the fax… Somewhere in that lot, the carrier pigeon made a brief, if uneventful, appearance. But just when we thought we had it all, along came the email. 

From a distance, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was merely a letter in a wig — a relative step backward from the pictorial might of the facsimile, or actual conversation available via the phone. But it gave us a gift we didn’t even realize we’d lost: The pause: a moment to compose our thoughts before responding. A chance to polish, reassess, and refine before immediate delivery. 

Written responses also, paradoxically, made us seem more spontaneous and witty. Best of all, this new system meant we could postpone answering for as long as we wanted. Faking a life-threatening situation no longer necessitated making sound effects into a receiver. 

The email history timeline is complex, and for another blog but there are several key things that occurred alongside the evolution of email. 

A life of its own

The instant message, whether email or otherwise, evolved quickly. Soon, it spawned its own shorthand and phraseology, and even brought us emojis. Where would we be without those? 🤯  

The fact is, we all know why we love IMs, and much of our existence is devoted to composing them, but what can we expect in the future of emails and instant messages? 

Has human communication plateaued? 

Innovation not complication

The answer is no. Ask anyone who works in design and they’ll tell you nothing is ever finished. If we stopped innovating when most people thought we’d run out of things to invent, I’d probably be carving this blog into a stone tablet. And it would be about how stone tablets were the best way to communicate and always will be.

But then again, not all innovation is good. Some might remember Incredimail, one of the first email providers that tried to make email fun. It might look pretty dated now, but it tried to push the email envelope (no pun intended) in its day. But it also required both sender and recipient to have the software for the email to display correctly. This meant emails looked strange, or even spammy, to those who didn’t have the software.

Unsurprisingly, Incredimail is relegated to the infinite drawer of the Internet’s past, likely because it’s just not the kind of innovation most people wanted or needed from email. When something is as simplistic as text, occasional images, and attachments, all we want are tools that make this process more aerodynamic and intuitive. 

Design evolution and AI

We probably didn’t consciously notice when our email providers started auto-filling the addresses we’d sent to before, but boy did it save us time. Design is the unsung hero of most email platforms. Of course, there are obvious elements they all share, almost as if they sat down and agreed upon the location of the compose and send icons. Perhaps altering these received wisdoms would only serve to alienate newcomers to a platform.

But it’s the minor tweaks and improvements — enhanced searches, better calendar functionality, improved spam filters — that separate the wheat from the chaff in a crowded market. But this is only the present, and (in case you’ve forgotten the title), we must look into the proverbial crystal.

Have you noticed Android trying to suggest emojis based on the tone of what you’re writing? I have, and it’s a little unsettling. But we’ll see more applications like this as AI becomes integrated into more and more tech. 

Just look at Samsung’s latest offering, the S24. By having AI built into the phone itself, they’ve not only introduced new apps and features — they’ve also integrated AI into any existing app that uses (for example) the keyboard function. This is a huge leap forward because, while ChatGPT has technically been able to help us compose emails and the like for well over a year now, it’s only with integrations like these that it becomes present enough for us to use without having to actively think about it.

The future of email and messaging will likely see similar integrations into platforms. But it doesn’t stop there. AI could summarize lengthy emails in-platform, instantly drawing out the most salient points. It could explain things within a message you don’t understand by way of annotation. On the other side, it could flag up any tonal shifts as you write, helping you make things more casual or formal as required. 

And of course, it could help us all write more accurately. The future of email is literally having the smartest human you can think of standing next to you, able to explain anything that pops into your head. So, presumably, nobody makes factual errors in this balmy future. 

More advanced security

Over time, cyber-attacks become increasingly sophisticated. Recent leaps forward in AI will pose more threats to email security (and just about every other type of security, depending on your preferred science fiction). Happily, AI can also be deployed by email software makers to work against AI attacks. 

Presumably, in a few years, every email we send will involve a complex AI war being silently waged in the background, just so we can get a coupon code for 10% off fried chicken. But even if this transpires, without the dedication of unsung heroes working for these email platforms, our security wouldn’t stand a chance. So, choosing a provider that puts security at the heart of what it does, and has a team actively working on new developments, will be a must when choosing your email provider in the near future.

Businesses shifting away from the big names 

People, particularly businesses, have also started taking their emails away from the biggest companies due to privacy concerns. Events like Google's server breach in 2018, and Microsoft's in 2021 where data was stolen, are only part of the reason for this shift. 

As the saying goes, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Email is often no different, and another force driving customers away from the big boys is that their private data is mined for targeted advertising. Of course, where businesses are concerned, this could be customer data, and laws like GDPR make them responsible for protecting this. 

But even on a less conspiratorial note, simply seeing fewer adverts as a result of paying a small monthly fee could be financially advantageous. After all, if you spend money on products because of this targeted marketing, there’s a chance you’ll spend more than you would if you just paid for better email software. Software you’d also benefit from.

In the future, we’re likely to see an uptick in companies turning to providers who simply do not read the contents of the emails stored on their servers. Perhaps it’s just my over-active imagination, but it feels like we haven’t reached the end — or perhaps even uncovered the crux — of the damage this data mining is responsible for.

Besides, paying for a more trustworthy provider can be only a few dollars a year.

Email as part of something bigger

Of course, another way to improve something, rather like in the Samsung phone AI analogy, is to incorporate it into something bigger. When email is integrated into a wider web service platform, it brings multiple benefits to users, especially those in business. Putting it alongside other tools or products, like domains and web hosting, has potential security benefits, and often allows for a more straightforward setup. Say you buy a domain and want to create email addresses that uses that domain. Using an email platform made by the same provider will usually streamline the process.

Futuristically, perhaps links like these will allow us to integrate email into our websites more easily. We’ve already started seeing a lot of AI chatbots on sites like Amazon, but being able to do this as a small business, while managing the necessary human responses through an ordinary email platform would be quite a good way to manage customer service. The system would decide which emails to escalate to a human, and even offer suggestions and ideas to that human on how they might want to deal with it.

The distant future…

Of course, we can’t write an article with a title like this without examining the hover-boots-Discovery-Channel possibilities for email — where it can send smells, teleport a McDonald’s burger, and slap high-five someone for you through their screen.

But seriously, what can we expect the more off-the-wall innovations to be? Here are a few ideas I like, but feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Emails to devices

Perhaps, in the future, we’ll email AI devices as well as people. Imagine writing to your robot to tell it to defrost the Madras and put it in the oven, and receive an instant, thoughtful response. A rudimentary form of this kind of thing is possible with some apps, sure, but there’s something interesting about sending more nuanced ideas — perhaps recipes or instructions in a way that can be understood and executed without the need for multiple apps. One messaging service could allow us to manage our entire homes or offices in colloquial language, no programming required. An email AI assistant like this would be a blessing, especially for those who find computer operation tricky. 

Mood-reactive text

Maybe email platforms will interface with us (bionically) to read our emotions, then tailor the emails we receive to have the best chance of being understood or acted upon. This kind of technology could be fun, and useful between friends, but in the wrong hands could be dangerous. Who wants to be manipulated by a scam website playing into their mood or insecurities? 

So jumping back a step, perhaps simply by adjusting the font, layout, and tone of the email based on the recipient’s linguistic behavior that day we could inject some fun into our communications. 

Virtual Reality meetings in email clients

This wouldn’t be a huge change from what we are already seeing from companies like Meta, but being able to ping right from an email into a VR meeting would, again, streamline the process without necessitating another app. 

Sending sensations

We already ‘touched’ on this above, but by integrating email with wearable tech, we could literally send people hugs, handshakes, and who knows what else. 

The sky is no limit

Whatever the future holds, we can be sure email is here to stay. The best we can do is protect our data and move with the times, finding the most secure, trustworthy platforms. 

Spaceship’s Spacemail is fully independent, offers easy integration with custom domains, boasts the latest security features, and has the ability for large companies to manage multiple accounts, for less. As a new platform, it’s constantly evolving and will remain at the forefront as our predictions start to come true.

Which of these would you most like to see? Comment below with your ideas.

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Jamie Long

Jamie is a UK-based writer and author who has worked for Spaceship since it began. He is also a classically trained musician with a strong interest in comedy and writes novels in his spare time.
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