Beekeeping #4

This is a good one! 

Account Management

If you remember the early alpha days, the anonymous account management thing created a lot of issues you and I. Well, that’ll no longer be the case. This has been moved to a more concrete system.

However, do note that this may not correctly work on first run, so I recommend you to copy your account ID and keep it handy incase you need to restore your account.

What’s New

  • There’s a new launch screen that guides you through your anonymous account setup process and subscription setup. During the betas, you won’t be charged for the subscription, so please go along with it. If you do get charged (Apple!), I’ll send you cookies worth the same amount.
  • Access restrictions are in place when a subscription expires or lapses however they won’t be effect during the betas. They’ll get activated once the app releases on the App store.  
  • Animated GIFs now require you to tap on the GIF button to load the image and then the play button to play them. This is done so as to deter the usage of GIFs and save precious power and CPU cycles. 
  • Video elements are now natively supported (including livestream links)
  • When adding new feeds, a visual dialog is now added to let you know that the app is processing your request.

Improvements

  • Gallery items now correct announce captions for images when VoiceOver is enabled. 
  • Improved guided access control for gallery navigation 
  • Fixed an issue where labels of certain buttons were read incorrectly or mixed up.
  • Fixed an issue where Voice Over sometimes did not correctly read the title of the active interface (usually occurs for modals).

What’s Fixed

  • Fixed loading of bookmarks from the server during post-setup syncs.
  • Fixed an issue where the “Move to Folder” interface used to show a checkmark against None even if a folder is selected.
  • Fixed empty states not appearing correctly on some devices.
  • Fixed the Author’s interface showing articles from all authors from that Subscription. 
  • Fixed a caching issue that caused old caches to be displayed instead of the latest information from the server. 

Notes

  • Version: 1.0.0
  • Build 91.
  • Pipe: Beta-04

Beekeeping #3

The betas are coming to end soon. But this isn’t the last one. Not one bit. It is an interesting one nonetheless and builds on the previous beta release. You can read that here.

What’s new

  • Added new fonts: Helvetica Neue, Merriweather Serif, IBM Plex Sans and Plex Serif and Spectral. 
  • On iPads with an external keyboard connected: major parts of the app are navigable via the keyboard directly. More information below.
  • OPML imports and exports are now available. 
  • Updated the Share sheet icon.
  • Empty states are now shown where appropriate.
  • GIFs are no longer loaded and played by default. To load, tap the GIF icon in the bottom right corner of the image and to play it, a new play pause control is added. This is to prevent excessive power consumption and bandwidth usage.
  • Videos are now supported when the video format is supported by the OS. 

Keyboard Navigation

  • In the Feeds or Feed interfaces, use the arrow keys to focus the previous or next item. 
  • Use the Enter key to select the focused row.
  • In the articles interface, the up and down arrow keys are used for scrolling.
  • Use ⌘ + up or down arrow keys to navigate between articles in the articles interface.
  • Use the left or right arrow keys to navigate a gallery when it appears on screen.
  • Other available options can be viewed by long pressing the  key on the keyboard.

Fixes

  • Fixes bookmarks loading from the network again. Bookmarks are mean’t to be available offline.
  • Fixes checkmark appearing in the Folder selection interface for the None row even though a folder was selected. 
  • Fixes background colour on the Feeds Interface header visible in landscape orientations. 
  • Fixes app not working when iCloud Drive was not enabled on a device.
  • The Mark All Read button now only sends articles which are unread for marking. Reduces network usage. 

Notes

  • Version: 1.0.0
  • Build 80.
  • Pipe: Beta-03

Beekeeping #2

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been carefully developing test suites for Yeti which simulate a few scenarios like: casual users, power users, long-form readers and the like. Over all the test suites, one thing stood out: The obscene amount of power wasted in downloading content which was never read in these simulated situations. 

CPU

Every time you launch the app, three things happen:

  • Your feeds are loaded including Folders information
  • If any unread articles are available, those are loaded as well (upto a maximum of 25 in this cycle)
  • Your bookmarks are synced. Any new bookmarks are downloaded. 

Permitted that there is a network connection available, there’s a lot of data transmitted over the wire. Your phone’s modem is responsible for loading this data consuming considerable amount of power. When this reaches the CPU, it converts the data to Elytra’s internal model structures and is cached in the RAM. 

However, in all of the simulated tests, not all articles were read. This lead to a lot of data that was never used. So to reduce this waste, I first decided to make all unread articles load with the content. This was a good first step. To improve this further, I tested again by returning no content on any of the articles.

In both of these cases, the articles were loaded on-demand when the simulated user opened the article. 

Here’s how the CPU was impacted.

CPU consumption across Normal, Stripped Unread and All Stripped datasets.

As you can see, stripping the data from the articles and loading it on demand saves a lot on the CPU processing power. Modern iPhone and iPad CPUs like the A10, A10x and A11 are really power efficient, but if the app can avoid any kind of overhead, it’s always worth stripping it off. 

Data 

Data consumption across normal, stripped unread and all stripped datasets.

Similar trends can be observed in Wireless data consumption. By stripping off the overhead, a lot of unnecessary data was avoided from being transmitted, and therefore loaded. This not only saves power, but also saves bandwidth on your devices and this is especially critical if you’re on a metered connection. This also saves me some $$ on server bandwidth costs.

A 8 times reduction in data costs is a huge gain. All these data points are aggregate averages across the various test suites

Overall Power Consumption

As you can imagine, reducing CPU and data usage considerably impacts power consumption. This is not only great for your device’s battery, but also an invisible user experience benefit. 

Power conspumption over 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi across the Normal, stripped Unread and all stripped datasets.

It’s immediately evident that this was a step in the right direction. Not only do we all save money, bandwidth and time, but also should be able to use our iOS devices for a few charge cycles more or at least that’s the vision.

This change is now available in the latest build of Elytra. Apart from this, here are few other things:

  • The dark themes no longer cause jumpy navigation bars. 
  • There is a basic implementation of In-App purchases. You can try it out. This won’t affect anything in the app. Also, you aren’t charged during the Testflight run.
  • Improves memory management for long form articles.
  • Implements Cover images for articles that provide this information.
  • Fixes line height of headings. 

Notes

Version: 1.0.0
Build 73.
Pipe: Beta-02

Beekeeping #1

A few minor bugs slipped through the first beta. So this is a house keeping build that fixes some of those issues. 

What’s fixed

  • On iPads with enough horizontal space, the article helper view is aligned to the right. I’m still figuring out how to work this in RTL modes.
  • When an article specifies a linebreak, Elytra’s text engine added extra space before and after the linebreak view. This is no longer the case.
  • Fixed an odd line-spacing bug that popped up in iOS 11.3.1.
  • Fixed 11.3.1’s kerning bug.
  • Foot links scroll jump to section has been fixed where it never flashed the background colour to indicate the highlighted paragraph.  
  • Fixed a not so rare crash that would occur when removing an article from your bookmarks. 
  • Improvements to Attributions controller. 

 

Notes

  • Version: 1.0.0
  • Build 69.
  • Pipe: Beta-02

The Betas of Elytra

Elytra's new App icon

Something is off? Something doesn’t sound right? Something doesn’t look right!

That’s it, it’s the new name and App icon. Yes, Yeti still remains our internal codename however, since this is the first Beta build, I couldn’t think of a better time to finally reveal the actual product name we’re going with: Elytra.

There’s also a new domain name. An .app domain. I’ve been waiting to acquire this domain so I can finally release the Beta.

Well, here’s what’s new in the first Beta;

What’s new

  • Dark Theme for iPhones & iPads
  • Black Theme for iPhone X.
  • Serif type (Using Georgia at the moment, please email me your font suggestions).
  • Improved Memory management.
  • Lowered disk usage (and therefore lower power consumption) when a post has lots and lots of images.
  • Image galleries are now accessible including controls.
  • Improved Quotes design.
  • Improved code blocks rendering.
  • Improved text rendering performance.
  • Improved “Add To Elytra” (previously, “Add to Yeti”) share extension.
  • Moved the Article Helper interface to the right edge on iPads. It moves to the left for RTL idioms.

What’s fixed

  • Galleries with images with no height information are now rendered correctly.
  • Galleries with more images than what can be fit horizontally (page control) are now rendered as groups of 5 photos per control.
  • Fixes unread pull-to-refresh crash.
  • The Title & author text is now aligned correctly with the rest of the text in the article interface.
  • Fixed the “Add to Elytra” (previously, “Add to Yeti”) share sheet extension crashes.

Known issues

When working on some features and fixing some bugs, I ended up running into a lot of UIKit bugs. Following are some of the known issues Elytra will present which we have to depend on Apple to fix:

  • When using a dark theme, the navigation bars will misbehave and present a lot of unexpected states and behaviours.
  • When searching inside an article, the highlighted area is often mis-positioned to the left or right (this depends if you’re using a LTR or RTL idiom) however, scrolling up or down a little positions this highlight correctly.

Alpha – The finale

The final epoch has been rung. 

What’s New

  • Folders support
  • Added GIF and webP support
  • Improves lists rendering
  • Blockquotes are now rendered more scemantically 
  • Added support for citations
  • Added support for mark elements to highlight text in paragraphs and blockqotes

Fixes

  • Fixes footlinks jumping to the wrong section
  • Fixes a crash when an article has a lot of content. Like, over 10000 words! 
  • Attributions page is now fully functional. 
  • Fixed search for Feeds
  • Fixed search for articles

The final alpha build is out. I look forward to hearing from you lot on the new improvements. As I now slowly work towards polishing the app up and work on the macOS app, I look forward to your criticism, feature requests and love/hate emails. Have a fun weekend, and enjoy reading. 

Alpha – Week 5

I suppose I underestimated myself when I wrote this.

What’s New

  1. Authors: Supported publishers have been enhanced with author support. This is currently limited to http://macstories.net and http://sixcolors.com. If you’d like to see support added for your favourite publisher, get in touch. You can now view all posts by a single author and tap on the ⦿ to view information about that author. Author bios in the article interface has been scrapped. 
  2. Push Notifications: Push notifications based on WebSub are finally here. At the moment, only this blog supports Push notifications. As more and more publishers begin supporting WebSub, this list will expand, and automatically. Just find the bell icon in the Feed Interface. If it isn’t there, the publisher most likely doesn’t support WebSub at the moment and therefore, push notifications won’t be available. 
  3. Filters: Maybe it’s Game of Thrones release time and you’d like to completely avoid all spoilers. You can setup keywords under Settings > Filters and these will apply throughout Yeti. Once you add new filters or remove existing ones, don’t forget to refresh your feeds. 

Fixes & Improvements

  • Improved accessibility labels for the “Mark all read” button making it more descriptive. 
  • Fixed rendering of <aside> tags from certain publishers.
  • Some articles wouldn’t display embedded images. This has been fixed. 
  • Improved quote rendering on iPads. 
  • Fixed a rare crash that would occur on the iPad Pros (2017) when marking an article as unread. 
  • Improved sync speed for bookmarks. 

Also, major news: this is the penultimate alpha build of Yeti. After the next build, I’ll be starting work on the Beta feature set (which is small, but contains a larger locale set for testing on my end). Once the alpha run is over, I’ll be freezing the spec on my end for the server side parser. 

This is going to enable me to enable publishers to add new meta tags to their article pages to customise rendering aspects inside Yeti. This is the major component of the beta run. Which means, there will be fewer beta builds, once every 15 days or so. 

Until then, enjoy the alpha. Have fun reading! 

Alpha – Week 4… Delayed.

We all hate delays. Especially when it comes to airplanes and commercial flights. But this is alpha-grade software. Today is Friday. You’re most likely not waiting for a new build notification to pop up on your screen. 

But I do have a very good reason for this. Let me break it down:

1. Bookmarks

I’m not even sure why this turned out to be this tricky to implement. Bookmarks are great when they are online on some server your phone connects to. But Yeti promised (actually, I did) to make them available offline. This is easy when it’s only a single device. Multiple devices is very tricky though and I did not want to spend time on a full fledged sync service. 

But, as always, I have it figured out. Mostly. I have a lot of testing pending on my end (automated and manual). Once those are through, the build will be a third ready. 

2. Author Bios

Why aren’t more RSS readers doing this? It may involve manual work (as in the case of Yeti) or some person smarter than I can figure out a contextual way to grab this information off the publisher’s website. Well, Yeti doesn’t have the time to wait for some popular app to do it. You’ll be able to browse articles by that particular author as well as read about the author towards the end of the article (if you enable it under settings, it’ll be off by default).

3. Push Notifications

I spoke about Realtime RSS here and I’m glad it all worked out to be simpler than I aniticipated. So to bring these advantages to you, I’m working out the interface and potential “fine grain” settings that you can tweak to get notifications about new articles from your favourite publishers. 

So the app itself isn’t delayed. It’s still on track according to my tracker (assuming it’s functioning correctly). What is delayed is the week 4 release. So week 5 will have things from both of these weeks. I moved things around so this will be a big release and I get more time to implement things a little better and make sure everything works smoothly for my wonderful alpha group (*cough* unlike a certain release cycle *cough*). 

Alpha – Week 3

Build 40 just went to all Alpha testers. Here’s the changelog. 

New & Improved

  • Unread feed. All your unread articles in one place. 
  • Articles will now show unread states
  • Changed article lists layout to accommodate better for accessibility preferences. 
  • Improved handling for accessibility content size preferences
  • Improved RTL rendering of text

Fixed

  • List rendering in some cases where a single item had multiple components in it. 
  • Images & Galleries no longer overflow bounds of iPhone screens.

What you won’t see 

I’ve added preliminary support for the Subscriber part of the WebSub1 protocol to the backend. This vastly improves how I fetch new articles. Currently, it’s only enabled for this blog. New publishers, you add to the service, which advertise their hubs will be automatically added. For all existing publishers, I’ll manually check and verify.

 

  • I talk more about this and the upcoming near real-time capabilities of Yeti here

Realtime RSS

Yes, you read that right. Thanks to the WebSub spec, Realtime RSS is not only possible, but wildly scaleable if implemented correctly. Yeti is making an attempt at that. 

It will not only enable Yeti to:

  • fetch posts in realtime from the publisher (your favourite websites)
  • update content stores soon after posts are published
  • spend less resources on polling publisher websites

but also

  • enable you to subscribe to your favourite publishers
  • receive near-realtime notifications1 from these publishers
  • have the app update itself in the background when the system determines so

The implications of the above are grand. 

If the above holds true, which by means of this post: I am looking for feedback on the above, I not only save money, but enable you (and myself) to get real time notifications from publications which really matter to me. As since Yeti will be paid there won’t be any add-on cost you’ll have to pay to get this. It’s all part of the package.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.

  • You can choose which publishers to receive notifications from, just like you would on Youtube.