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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