Speaking Email

Email done. On the move.

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.

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.


“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.


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). 




Speaking Email plays nicely with your enterprise Exchange and Office 365 

Speaking Email plays nicely with your enterprise Exchange and Office 365 

Speaking Email now has simplified connecting to Office 365 and supports enterprise security policies in Exchange. http://www.speaking.email

Some of our Exchange and Office 365 users had trouble connecting due to enterprise IT security polices. We’ve now implemented Microsoft’s ActiveSync provisioning protocol, enabling Speaking Email to play nicely with corporate IT policies. So more people in enterprises can use Speaking Email to listen to their email on the go. 
We also simplified the account set up process for Office 365 – many people were unsure what settings to use so it’s now preset. 

There are more enhancements for Exchange users coming. We recently added a setting allowing you to control the number of days back to sync your inbox (just like in iPhone mail app). We plan to improve this by adding an “auto” setting with automatically figures out the number of days based on number of emails you typically get. Too many days sync can cause major slowdowns for people with hundreds of emails a day. Too few means you many not see many new emails unless you use Speaking Email regularly. So we think automatically determining this will help some odd situations some users have reported and plan to make this the default setting.


Other things on the wishlist for Exchange are:

– plan to support autodiscovery of server settings based on email address

– quick replies (currently works with gmail automatically and others with configuration, but not available on Exchange)

– attachment speaking (reading out the contents of word or PDF docs attached to emails)

Let us know in the comments if you’d like to get your hands on any of these features or if you have another feature to suggest. 

Ideas for New Year’s resolutions…

Some ideas for New Year’s resolutions:

1. Stop checking emails during family time
2. Stop bad texting and driving behaviour – use purpose designed apps in the car
3. Get a phone cradle for my car
4. Get more organised with work email
5. Use my time efficiently
6. Recommend Speaking Email to my friends

Happy New Year!

Exchange sync days back option

Speaking Email currently can miss emails that are in the past when using Exchange server. This happens because we sync back only one day by default. If you only want to listen to your latest email this is not a problem. But if you expect to see emails from a few days ago, you will not see them.

We have now added a feature under account settings allowing you to choose how many days to sync back. Our sync defaults to one day, which means it checks for new mail since yesterday (i.e. it will not download mail from the day before yesterday).

If you get lots of mail and are up to date on reading it, this is a good setting. But if you don’t have heaps of mail every day, or want to listen to your inbox back a few days, you will want to set it to longer.


Speaking Email app voted ‘most fundable’ by Context.IO

In October we entered a 3-month online hackathon sponsored by Context.IO which aimed to recognise apps that are doing interesting things with email.

The timing coincided pretty nicely with our product launch.

We are stoked to have our entry voted “most fundable” and given an honourable mention in the awards!

Our thanks to the Context.IO team for making the great platform we made use of to provide the backend service for Speaking Email, and for giving us this recognition.



Daily agenda

I had this great idea for a feature for us to build into speaking.email. Wouldn’t it be cool if you started driving to work, and very helpfully, Speaking Email would read out your days’ agenda. That way, you could be heading to work, and Speaking Email would pipe up and tell you about a meeting you have in 20 minutes, in the other direction!

Anyway, it turns out that Gmail Calendar already has this feature. It will send you an email that Speaking Email will read out to you, while driving.

Everyone go and get it!



How do you handle the commute?

by Jeremy Nicholls, Speaking Email co-conspirator

jeremy in car

Over the years I’ve come up with lots of coping strategies to deal with the daily commute. I’ve tried music, but I only had one tape. I’ve tried calling someone for a chat, but they are usually also driving or busy – plus it’s hard to get the microphone setup right. Luckily gadgets have come a long way since the tape deck. I’ve had great success with audio books, and more recently podcasts on my phone. It was pretty hard in the early days of my palm 5 and windows ce clamshell type devices, but these days with Android and iPhone things are a bit easier for everyone. I’ve had the privilege to be right in the heart of seeing how these devices work, and how apps are built for them, being a programmer since the 90’s (oh man!)

Now, with our Speaking Email app, it feels good to be able to provide one more solution to the commute problem. The idea is that you get in the car, put your phone in the cradle, check your Bluetooth is talking to the car (or headset / hands free system) then open Speaking Email and start driving. You can catch up with your emails that came in over the weekend – just like you are listening to the radio or a podcast. When it runs out of email to read, it will wait until something comes in, then read that. Really good for making sure you’re right up to date before you get to work. If you have your phone mounted in a cradle, you can do a ‘2 touch’ reply to someone – e.g. press reply, then choose a canned reply you set up earlier such as ‘we need to discuss that’.

I’d be keen to hear if you have had a similar experience trying to get some useful time back during your commute. Have you had any other success with getting stuff done while multitasking – and does speaking email fit into your work day? We are really keen to improve it too, so tell me if you can see ways to change and enhance it and we can help you make your commute better.

Beweb email-reading app trumps ‘pretty crap’ apps – Interview with Paul Henry on TV3

I was on TV just before the PM, had to stand next to him quietly in the wings while waiting to go on. Paul Henry said he thought the idea was fantastic, said it could be the start of a billion dollar company, and wished me all the best. Was quite a rush! 

A Kiwi web company has invented an app which reads your emails out loud to you while you’re driving. Beweb designed Speaking Email to help drivers who are tempted to keep across their work emails on the commute to work.

View on the TV3 website

Paul Henry interviews Mike Nelson about Speaking Email

NZ Herald on Sunday – ‘Hi, this is your email calling … Drive safely’

A beautiful sunny Sunday to have a beer and read the paper with Speaking Email featured 

Kiwi app lets motorists listen to emails as they drive. A Kiwi company has developed an app that allows drivers to listen to emails at the wheel. Beweb created the free Speaking Email app after director Mike Nelson got frustrated at being unable to safely read emails on his commute from Auckland’s North Shore to the city.

And though he admits drivers shouldn’t have any distractions, he said banning cellphones while driving wasn’t working. Rather than expecting drivers to ignore their phones, apps should be designed with a “safe-driving” mode.

Read more on NZ Herald→

Drive safely with Speaking Email app for iPhone and Android

HEY! STOP EMAILING WHILE DRIVING! Use this new app instead – Idealog

NZ’s leading venture, tech and innovation magazine wrote a hilarious article featuring us!

From Idealog

HEY! STOP EMAILING WHILE DRIVING! Use this new app instead

Police around the country have been cracking down on driver distraction this week. The Herald reports that Auckland Police have pulled over a man texting on two cell phones while steering with his knees, a man texting with one hand and drinking a beer with the other, and a woman texting while driving three children and towing a horse in a float.

But in this always-on/always-connected society, so many of us just feel the need to maximise every second, multi-tasking our multi-tasking. So, if you can’t stand being away from your email while you’re driving to work, there’s a new app that’ll keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

Speaking Email, is a new app that reads your email to you while you drive. “It’s just like having a radio station with your inbox in it,” says Speaking Email’s CEO and developer, Mike Nelson.


Email-reading app for drivers – Australian Associated Press

Australian’s are waking up to Speaking Email

From Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and let loose around Australian media…

A New Zealand company has developed a phone app which it hopes will reduce drivers’ phone distraction by reading out emails – until perhaps it reads you the one from the Nigerian prince which will make you a millionaire. Web development company beweb’s first app is Speaking Email, designed after director Mike Nelson said he couldn’t find one to help him on his daily commute from Auckland’s North Shore.

With police cracking down on drivers illegally using their mobile phones, he says more such apps should be designed for driving.

Read more on:

Kiwi company makes ‘checking emails while driving safe’

Story about us published on Voxy.com

With the New Zealand Police this week cracking down on mobile phone driver distraction, a locally created app could help drivers concentrate on the road, while checking their emails safely.

Speaking Email reads emails aloud, so that users can keep in touch with work, without being distracted. The app was developed by Auckland web development company, beweb, after director Mike Nelson got frustrated with the lack of such a product on the market. He wanted to use his daily commute from Auckland’s North Shore into the city to listen to emails, without taking his eyes off the road. “I wanted a safe way to check my email. It takes a lot of time out of my day just going through my email inbox and I thought I could use my commute time to do that.

“Drivers should not be multitasking while they drive. They should not have any distractions. But the current system of banning the use of phones isn’t working. You just have to drive around Auckland to see how rife texting while driving is. “So I came up with this idea of making it as safe as possible to use your phone while driving,” he says. Mr Nelson says anything can be a distraction while driving – including talking to passengers, hands free phone calls, kids and music. In contrast, listening to emails is mostly passive and requires minimal to zero interaction.

Mr Nelson points to a 2008 study from the University of South Carolina showing that speaking and planning to speak is four times more distracting as listening. “I believe designing apps with a driving-safe mode is the way to combat driver distraction. Mobile technology is addictive and is too ingrained in people’s lives to expect people to completely abstain. Making mobile phones as safe as possible is far more likely to be a success,” Mr Nelson says. “There are ways we can safely use technology in our cars. Apps need to be designed for use while driving, and the standard apps which come with most phones simply aren’t. In the future all major apps will have a driving mode – but we have a long way to go.”

Mr Nelson says that since he started using Speaking Email, he personally feels less tempted to sneak a look at texts that come in. “I’ve found having a safe way to use my phone stops me from engaging in more dangerous multitasking. I see other people looking down at their phones as they drive, and they are obviously not using an app that is designed for driving,” he says.

With Speaking Email all text is read aloud from each email in your inbox. Email signatures, disclaimers and reply threads are skipped. You can listen completely hands free. If you have your phone in a fixed mounting you can also use it to triage your email – easy tap or swipe functions allow emails to be archived, flagged or swiped to skip reading. There is also a quick reply feature with pre-loaded text for a ‘thanks’ or ‘ok’.

“We purposely don’t allow typed replies because that is cumbersome and dangerous when people are on the roads,” he says.

Mr Nelson says “low attention interfaces” are the latest trend in technology – where apps require only a quick glance or fast tap to access and review information.

“It’s exciting to have created something that is using the latest technology and the latest trends, but is also a useful product – people need email and they want to make good use of time,” he says.

Mr Nelson says just listening to your inbox helps you keep a handle on what you need to get done. But you can take it a step further and clear clutter from your inbox. A phrase used in email productivity is ‘inbox zero’. “The theory is people with cluttered inboxes and unread messages waste a lot of time. We’ve created Speaking Email to enable decluttering – with a simple double tap anywhere on the screen can archive an email without looking. This way you can clear your inbox on the way to work.”

Speaking Email has the flexibility for users to set it up the way that suits their email use – from speaking all emails, just those previously not read out, or only new emails. There’s also options for using multiple accounts and different ways for users to triage their emails. The app is available for iPhone and will be released for Android soon. It works with Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo Mail, iCloud and most other email servers. Microsoft Exchange support is currently in testing. Speaking Email is currently available free from the App Store, to promote the new product. Mr Nelson says that from October it will be listed at US$9.99. Beweb has been developing websites and web applications for New Zealand companies since 2000. Speaking Email is the company’s first app.

“We saw this as an opportunity to not only create an app that we wanted to use, but to learn the process of creating, launching and marketing an app.

“Every aspect of this project has been a lot harder and more time consuming that we would have thought it would be. But it has also been fun and a great way to learn. We now have a lot more knowledge and understanding of apps, and we are able to share this knowledge with our own clients.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve created. It started off as a small idea – and we’ve funded it all ourselves and created it by ourselves. We haven’t looked for any partners or funding, because we didn’t want to compromise on how we wanted Speaking Email to work.”

For more information and FAQs about the app, see www.speaking.email

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