According to a support document, Google will discontinue Gmail’s Basic HTML view in January 2024. Everyone who currently uses the Basic HTML mode will be forced to adopt the Standard view. This is a disappointing change of pace, as Basic HTML mode provided a lightweight and old-school design that some users preferred. And, unlike the standard Gmail interface, Basic HTML mode always played nice with screen readers and other accessibility tools.
The reasons for this change are unclear. In response to The Register, a Google representative simply explained that “Basic HTML views are previous versions of Gmail that were replaced by their modern successors 10+ years ago and do not include full Gmail feature functionality.” This may simply be a push for new Gmail features, such as AI integration or verified senders. Or, maybe it has something to do with the Privacy Sandbox — Google’s method of collecting and selling user data in a post-cookies world. There’s also the possibility that Basic HTML view presents some security concerns, as Google’s support document mentions the word “security” in a vague kind of way.
Some Gmail users are unaware of the Basic HTML view and are unaffected by its demise. And while this may sound blunt, Basic HTML view has lived beyond its original purpose. This viewing mode was made for two groups of users—those with a terrible internet connection and those who refused to give up Internet Explorer. A decent internet connection isn’t hard to come by, and Microsoft finally stopped coddling the remaining Internet Explorer users a few years ago.
But if you prefer Gmail’s old-school interface, or if you’ve got an older family member who’s affected, this is frustrating news. It’s also a loss for some blind and visually impaired users, as Gmail’s Standard view isn’t fully compatible with third-party screen readers and other tools. This is mainly due to Google’s endless stream of tweaks, updates, and A/B tests—Gmail is constantly changing, and two users may have a slightly different Gmail interface at any time. The Basic HTML view has remained unchanged for a decade, which is why it works well with screen readers and other tools. When asked about accessibility by The Register, Google pointed to a list of Gmail’s accessibility features.
Obviously, Gmail’s Standard view should accommodate all users. The fact that some users have to enable Basic HTML mode is unacceptable, even if it was just a quick fallback when something went wrong. If we’re lucky, the death of Basic HTML mode will force Google to take accessibility more seriously in Gmail (though a replacement for Basic HTML mode seems unlikely). Third-party email clients like Thunderbird are also still an option.