Speaking Email featured in NZ Magazine.

Recently Speaking Email has been published in NZ Business 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.

img_2723
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”


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.

img_2723
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”


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.

img_2723
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”


Helping blind users read their email

Lots of people said this app would be great for blind people so we have been working with the blind community to make Speaking Email accessible using VoiceOver.

I’m pleased to announce that Speaking Email is now fully accessible with VoiceOver, the screen reader that blind people use to interact with their iPhone. We’ve been reviewed as a fully accessible app on AppleVis, the online community for visually impaired iPhone users.

We’ve had a lot of enthusiastic and supportive feedback from blind and visually impaired users, which makes this effort really feel worthwhile:

“I just wanted to say this app is awesome! It makes reading emails a lot easier.”

“Your app is one of a handful that could assist people with visual problems and I strongly support your efforts.”

“I want to thank you for this app because my 93 year old mother is almost blind from macular degeneration. She can now listen to her emails without needing someone to read them to her”

“The accessibility is awesome”

In the process we learnt a lot about making HTML5 apps WAI ARIA compliant, and some of the challenges around swipe and slide interactions using VoiceOver. A big problem is that VoiceOver takes over the swipe gestures, and a fundamental part of our app is what we call the “email slider” where you navigate emails by swiping left and right.

We managed to solve this by presenting the email slider as an ARIA “tabset”, which is a component that happens to be navigated by swiping left and right. We named the tabs by the title of the email (eg “Email from Fred Flintstone”) so the user can quickly flip between emails and hear VoiceOver read out the email title. A couple of seconds after the user stops changing tabs (ie swiping left and right), we then trigger our own text-to-speech engine to read out the email content nicely as usual. So we managed to present a swipe left and right interface using VoiceOver and WAI ARIA standards.

We got some amazing feedback from our beta testers during this, and their feedback helped drive this effort.

Stuff like this made our day:

“Speaking Email totally rocks! The accessibility is awesome!”

Check out Speaking Email at www.speaking.email – also usable while driving (or doing anything else).