Life changing abilities

That was the title of the email I got yesterday. Very proud to see our app making a difference for stroke victims –

“I work as a speech language pathologist, one of my current clients is a woman who has had a recent severe stroke. She went from being only able to repeat words to speaking in sentences with difficulty. Due to the stroke she is unable to read, which had been a social avenue for her. Today I found your app and I put it on her phone. When we used it for the first time she cried. She is now able to listen to all the emails she has received since she had her stroke. Your app has decreased her isolation and drastically improved her quality is life.”

(email from Ruth Ginsburg, Speech Language Pathologist, Boston)

Siri simply not smart enough to read email

Siri simply not smart enough to read email

Research from by digital agency Stone Temple shows Siri was able to answer only one in five questions asked of it. And they weren’t trying to trick it either.

They tried out 5000 questions (including general knowledge and some standard tasks like reminders) on all the leading digital assistants and they all did poorly, but Siri did the worst.

I notice they didn’t ask any of these assistants to read email. Bearing in mind email is the number one activity smartphones are used for, this seems to be missing.

It is unrealistic to expect a general assistant to be able to do everything. Digital assistants are generally best for single answer questions, rather than engaging in an activity.

This is where our voice controlled email reading app Speaking Email has an edge.

It addresses this shortcoming. It is a dedicated app for doing just email reading. Its smarts are around detecting email signatures, disclaimers, reply threads you have seen, and other clutter, and surfacing the important content. It has voice commands to archive, flag, trash, reply by dictation and forward.

It doesn’t attempt to answer 5000 random questions, and it doesn’t have to, so it can focus on being good at helping you get through your backlog of emails.

Activity-dedicated voice apps make sense. The general assistants are creating the demand – consumers (and businesses) are wanting to use smart voice technology. But the assistants are stumbling, not having the smarts to engage in involved activities, and this is where Speaking Email shines.

https://www.stonetemple.com/digital-personal-assistants-test

https://speaking.email/

Look – no hands! How to do email handsfree – both listening and speaking

Look – no hands! How to do email handsfree – both listening and speaking

Earlier this month as we were grilled by the NZ Hi Tech Awards judges one of the judges queries whether the app is truly “hands-free”. It’s hands-free for listening to email but until recently you needed your hands if you wanted to interact with your mail.

We’ve released several new features recently that now make it possible to do email completely hands-free – including replying, forwarding, flagging, archiving or trashing.

Waiting for your command…

Now that we’ve got voice commands working nicely, we figured it would be easy to have Speaking Email listen for commands at the end of each email. Indeed, it was easy and it’s a great new feature, making it fully hands-free to interact with your email.

You can also have it wait for a command at the start of the email, after the headers – say “play” or “continue” or wait 10 seconds for it to carry on as usual and play the email body.

Bluetooth / Steering Wheel buttons

You can now use steering wheel / headset controls – next, previous and pause hardware buttons over Bluetooth or on your headphones (while technically this isn’t “hands free”, you don’t touch the phone!). We support skip next & previous email, rewind and fast forward.

If you hit the “pause” button on your steering wheel / headset, we’ve made it invoke command listening mode, so you can say any command – like “archive”, “trash” or “reply” to dictate a reply. This is released on iOS and coming soon to Android.

Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile (HFP)

We now fully support Bluetooth HFP, which means using the microphone and speakers over Bluetooth. We support Bluetooth A2DP mode also, using the device microphone and a Bluetooth speaker. When a new audio routing is detected, it displays on screen.

Speaking Email even shows the subject and sender on your Bluetooth track display

Playing email content without the clutter

Of course listening to emails works pretty nicely hands-free too, with smart content detection skipping of disclaimers, signatures, email headers, email trails that you’re in, limiting email length, and automatically moving to the next email. You may notice we even shorten common text like dates and times, http://www is shortened to dubdubdub, and we read out smiley faces (can be essential to get the mood of the writer!)

By the way you can dictate smiley faces too. Try it! 🙂

 

Get your hands on Speaking Email at https://speaking.email

Basic edition is free and premium subscribers pay a piddly $2 a month!

Speaking Email featured in NZBusiness Magazine.

Speaking Email featured in NZBusiness Magazine.

Recently Speaking Email has been published in NZBusiness magazine. mike article photo

Click here for the full article as a pdf.

Mike Nelson: Geek on a mission

Beweb CEO Mike Nelson has built up an impressive client list over 16 years in the website business. He talks to NZBusiness about his Speaking Email app that’s caught the eye of one of the world’s biggest brands.

NZB: What is your background prior to establishing beweb?
MIKE: As a graduate I wanted to work in the up and coming ‘multimedia’ space, because in those days it sounded cool. So I picked Terabyte, the leader in the space, and went to the Computerworld conference in Wellington where they were presenting.
Turns out they were looking for people, so they brought me to Auckland for an interview and I got a job.
After a couple of years I left for my OE. In London my visa only allowed temporary work, which meant contracting and getting paid three times as much.
Many ex-Terabyters went on to other jobs within the industry, which meant I had contacts and was able to start freelancing when I returned. Most good freelancers are hard to book, but I was always ready to fit things in and soon had enough work to take on another person.
I asked former Terabyte colleague Jeremy Nicholls to join me. That’s how beweb started.

NZB: What have been the main contributing factors to your business’s success?
MIKE: I enjoy getting an understanding of where a client is coming from, what they want and why, and how we can help their business.
We’ve built a culture that values technical excellence, the sharing of code and helping each other, but not at the expense of customer service. Providing what customers want and need is kind of ingrained.

NZB: What have been the most significant changes in the web development marketplace since you started?
MIKE: It seems like technology moves so fast that it’s impossible to keep up. But, in fact, the fundamentals of the web don’t change much, and having a long-term view helps us focus on which new technologies are valuable for incorporating into our process.
User expectations have changed significantly – now people expect a lot of functionality to be built-in and want even complex requirements to be simple. User experience design is critical, and understanding what makes good user experience is one of those fundamentals.
We are no longer doing simple websites, as these can be done using DIY tools. But there are still many more complex requirements that need our skills and experience.
However, the problem with services businesses is they don’t tend to be very scalable. So instead of keeping on adding bodies, we’re creating a product with global potential in the form of Speaking Email. Many say incubating a product development within a services company is a formula for success, as it avoids the problems associated with taking on outside investment.

NZB: How did the Speaking Email app come about? And what’s the story behind the Bosch deal?
MIKE: I wanted an app that would read out my email to me while driving to work. It seemed like a good way to make productive use of commuting time.
I tried every app available, including Siri, but wasn’t satisfied – so I thought maybe this is a gap waiting to be filled.
We made Speaking Email work with all email platforms, and published iPhone and Android versions on the app stores.
After a year refining and improving it, I received an email out of the blue from Bosch. They were looking for apps to integrate with their connected car system.
The Bosch partnership is a huge deal for us. It means our app may be installed in up to a million cars a year. We have to go through a few more approval stages yet but we are on track.

NZB: What is the global potential for Speaking Email? And what are your plans for it?
MIKE: Our market is both small and big. Everyone has email. A lot of people drive, or can’t see very well or prefer to have things read to them. So the market could be billions.
On the other hand, this market is tiny as it has very small mindshare – people aren’t thinking about it, don’t realise it exists or don’t realise it would be useful. It’s not an established market, so estimates of its potential are pretty useless.
I was in LA for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Bosch had Speaking Email running on a BMW motorbike. The car manufacturers were all showing off their technology and I chatted to them about third party apps. They’re scrambling to get their platforms right for the connected car of the future.
Right now there’s no consistency in the approach to third party apps – what restrictions they have in driving mode, where they are installed (phone or car), or what operating system they run off – let alone standards for how an app interacts within the car environment. But all this will come eventually. Like the PC and mobile phone, the apps will become a key platform.

NZB: What inspiration can other young web developers take from your example? Do you have any advice?
MIKE: You have to enjoy what you do and see the value in it. Building a business also takes time and requires stickability.
I’ve heard people say start-ups are hard. This is true. You need a very good idea that you want to stick with for several years. If you enjoy building the product and can see the potential, then you’re off to a good start.
Building Speaking Email within our existing business has made it a lot easier to sustain, but also harder in some ways with the two very different business models.
I’m proud of having bootstrapped beweb without any financing. Raising funds can sap a lot of energy from a start-up. Funding is not the end goal, but some people seem to treat it as such.

NZB: What’s next for Beweb? How do you maintain that passion and enthusiasm?
MIKE: We plan to continue our services business alongside Speaking Email and see where it takes us. We’re focusing our growth on the app and taking opportunities as they come.
One of the things I like most about programming is seeing how old technology still works and is continually built on. Speaking Email is an email client that connects with almost every mail server, which has meant learning about all kinds of email technologies. It’s a bit like archaeology, poring over historic systems documentation, and then integrating it with some of the newest features in mobile operating systems, and cars.
Visiting Silicon Valley was exciting. As a geek from way back I love all that computer history.
I get a kick out of seeing what our team has built, whether it is an app, website or a business system. It’s always exciting to see people enjoy using something you’ve helped build.

Bosch partners with Speaking Email to provide email in cars

Jan 5, 2017

A Kiwi-made app is getting global attention after securing a strategic partnership with technology giant Bosch to bring email into cars.

Bosch is this week featuring Speaking Email as part of their stand at the renowned Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas from January 5-8.

Speaking Email is an app that reads emails aloud so people can safely check their email while driving.

Bosch is incorporating Speaking Email into their mySPIN platform, which enables drivers to use authorised apps on their iPhone or Android smartphone via a touchscreen integrated into cars and motorbikes.
“We are very happy that Speaking Email joined the mySPIN eco-system and are convinced that their existing solution will add further value to our customer’s offering to drivers” says Kay Herget, Global Head of Marketing at Bosch Softtec, Bosch’s business unit who develops mySPIN.

The event showcases the latest in innovative devices, gadgets, software and services and draws vast crowds. Last year 175,000 people attended the show.

Speaking Email was developed by small Auckland web development company, beweb, after director Mike Nelson got frustrated with the lack of such a product on the market.

Mr Nelson says the partnership with Bosch is major coup for the app which was launched last year.

“Bosch is way ahead in automotive technology – they have the only connected car system that allows apps to work seamlessly in the vehicle, so it is a perfect fit for us and very exciting they have chosen to partner with us,” he says.

“Thousands of technophiles will be able to see the app in action in Las Vegas so we are stoked that our New Zealand made app is making it on the global stage.”

Speaking Email differs from other alternatives in that it enables users to focus on important email content by avoiding reading out clutter – including signatures, disclaimers, reply chains and junk mail.

A premium version features the ability to archive, flag, trash or even reply on the move. Recently released features include voice selection and multilingual mode which detects emails written in other languages and reads them with native pronunciation.

Speaking Email can be downloaded free from the App Store or Google Play and works with all email platforms.

To download visit http://www.speaking.email

Improved mail fetching, voices and new buttons

We’ve been quietly beavering away on improving the mail fetching, fixing some bugs, and putting user feedback into action.

We now have some great features to push live.

Improved mail fetching

We have dedicated a lot of time to improving the mail fetching across all platforms. If you experienced issues with emails downloading, we hope you will try again now that we think we have ironed out all the wrinkles. In particular, Office 365 users will now notice a much improved experience without the previous timeouts and errors.

Voices

On iOS you can now choose which voices you would like to introduce and read out your emails. If you speak more than one language, Speaking Email can now automatically switch voices to match the language detected in the email content. This will be coming to Android too.

New button overlay

A number of users asked for one or two extra buttons but we had trouble fitting them in. We’ve done away with the 3 or 4 small buttons at the bottom of the screen. You now single-tap anywhere on screen to show the new command button overlay sporting bigger buttons, which are easy to tap while driving. As requested by users, we have included a Trash button in addition to Archive.

Get briefed on your important email as you drive to work 

At Speaking Email we realise you want to save time not waste it. That’s why we avoid reading out clutter.

But how do we do that? We’ve now got 6 ways to keep you hearing your most important emails.

1. Ignored senders

Our most recent addition is a little feature we call “ignored senders”. With two taps you flag an email for ignoring and that sender will be skipped in future. It still reads out the name and then says “skipping this sender” so you are aware – and you can tap again to unignore.

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Just tap to ignore this sender in future

2. Reply thread skipping

Emails often contain long threads of replies and forwards. I prefer to listen to these and then swipe next when I’ve heard enough. You may prefer we don’t read these out at all. We have a feature that looks for your name or email address within thread headers and skips the rest of the email when we have evidence this email thread has crossed your path already. This is a really nice feature for busy people listening handsfree.

img_2687

“Skipping the rest as it was in reply to an email sent by you”

 

3. Signature skipping

Within emails we detect and skip over bits of irrelevant content. This includes email signatures, legal disclaimers, footers, contact details such as phone and fax blocks, long strings of digits, IDs, URLs, characters such as ———–.

“skipping disclaimer”

4. New emails only

If you want to hear only new emails we have two switches for this, either unread only or unplayed only. The difference is “unread” uses the server status to tell if it’s been marked as read from any mail client, while unplayed is just whether Speaking Email has read it out already.

5. Gmail category tabs

Promotional, social, updates and forums. If you use gmail you can switch on or off any of these gmail categorisations in account settings.

Screenshot_1

6. Skip promotional emails

Sick of listening to junk mail and newsletters? There’s a switch to turn these off. We detect promotional emails simply by looking for unsubscribe links.

“From: Outlook. Speaking Email is skipping this promotional email”