I get lots of email and need to be up to date. Commute time is not used as well as it could be. If I could listen to my email while driving or sitting in traffic I could think about what I need to do and formulate what I need to go back to people with.

This is what started my search for an app that would read out my email for me that was distraction free and could be used safely while driving. My search resulted in a realisation there was a big hole waiting to be filled by Speaking Email.

How it works

This app is basically an email program combined with speech synthesis. The email technology used is Context.IO and Gmail REST API. We render inline images and scale down fixed width elements to a mobile form factor using javascript and css. The app is built using html5 with Cordova. Users can swipe between emails and perform limited actions (archive, flag, quick reply, pause), intended to be easy to use and distraction free while driving.

Texting and driving is a big issue and we've placed a lot of emphasis on driving safety, making sure there are no complex interactions. Your emails can be continuously spoken, meaning you never need to look at or touch the phone.

Challenges I ran into

We tried doing voice recognition and I learned heaps about phonemes and how that all works, but we came to a dead end and realise we needed to rewrite and use a different library so had to pause on that. I'm keen to get back to it but need to pace ourselves due to too much to do.

Mobile development on Cordova using Windows has been difficult due to debugging tools being a bit faky and general slow code-debug-run cycle that you get with the build process.

Emails are difficult to process with the many complex formats in the wild.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

Getting hot swapping of cordova code working for super fast dev-run cycle was great - annoying that we had to spend so long on tooling but good to manage to get it working well. Layout of emails using css and javascript was much tricker and ultimately rewarding than we expected. Making a cordova plugin using objective C was a good accomplishment.

Getting our first app in the App Store just over a month ago was an exciting moment!!

What I learned

Learned a lot more about email. I thought I knew a lot already, like how inline attached emails and CIDs work, but turned out there was a bit more to it with iPhone emails being multipart mixed and still containing inline images. With gmail api you have to compose messages in raw format - base 64 with mime boundaries which I've never had to do in 20 years of programming!

What's next for Speaking Email

We've just pushed a new version to the App Store, now supporting Gmail,, Yahoo! Mail, iCloud, or any IMAP mail server. We've also built in more customisation of how you manage your email (eg mark as read or move to folder instead of archive). Next up is the Android version and better integration of Context.IO including utilising their Exchange connector. Then possibly voice recognition.

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posted an update

We've hit the NZ media this week with police cracking down on mobile phones being used unsafely while driving.

Here we are on TV3 news online in NZ

And it's been covered by two of Australian's biggest newspapers!

See our facebook for updates:

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