Elytra Blog

The simple RSS Reader. This blog publishes release notes, engineering and design details.

Elytra Winter 2019 Update

Winter is coming… soon. The Elytra Winter 2019 update is already here though. If you feel generous and have a couple of minutes, please leave a review on the App Store. It makes a huge difference for me. Thank you in advance. Here’s the change log:

iOS App

What’s New

Elytra's Updated Sign In Interface

New Push Notifications Interface

New Image Viewer Interface

  • Added a new Bookmarks Manager. This is much more efficient system compared to the previous system and is much more scalable. This is a non-UI update so you’ll see a lot of performance benefits from this.
  • Sign in With Apple. If you’re new to Elytra, you don’t need to take any additional steps. If you’ve been using Elytra and are updating to the latest version, please head over to Settings > Account and link your account from there.
  • Image Viewer: Tap on an image in an article to open it in a full screen image viewer. All images from the article are gathered in single place for easier viewing.
  • Push Settings: View a list of publishers you’ve subscribed to receive push notifications from.
  • Added Settings Sync to work in tandem with the web app. More on this soon.

Improvements

  • Adding a new feed from the search interface now increments the unread count.
  • Removing a feed now decrements the unread count.
  • Recommendations interface now correctly shows the custom Feed name if one is set.
  • Improves how the app handles & reacts to memory pressure warnings from the OS.
  • The Author Interface now shows the author’s name prominently and defers the blog’s name to the subtitle.
  • Drastically improved managing of unread counts in the app.
  • Improved behaviour of the app when marking backdated articles as read.

Fixes

  • Fixes push notifications opening the wrong feed.
  • Fixes push notifications not opening the article on iOS 13.
  • Fixed a bug where the app would re-sync all bookmarks even if they existed locally.
  • Fixed the Settings icon for the Push Notifications row not showing up on some devices.
  • Fixed the activity indicator persisting on screen when only one or no page exists for unread items.
  • Fixed a potential crash when opening new feed interface.
  • Fixes loading of unsupported image formats. Loading an SVG image would cause the app to crash.
  • Fixed last updated date not matching the actual refresh date when manually refreshing through the User Interface. This only updated when fetching via background refresh.
  • Fixed an issue that would cause a corrupted navigation bar in iOS 13.
  • Fixes a crash which could occur when the Trial Interface was presented.
  • Fixed linked images which would not render if they were contained inside an anchor blog with multiple other elements. These other elements were usually line-breaks preventing the entire block from rendering properly. Affected blog: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal..
  • Removed webp support.
  • Images are loaded using the same extension from the proxy as the source image.
  • Fixed a small bug with the unread count when marking read automatically from the article reader.
  • Fixed an issue with image loading preferences. “Never Load Images” now works properly in the Articles List & Article Viewer.
  • Fixed some really nasty memory leaks.
  • Fixed a crash that would occur when launching the app. This was a regression introduced in Build 275 of Elytra and OS 13.1.2.
  • Micro.blog posts with images now show the image as a thumbnail in the articles list when settings are enabled for it.
  • Fixed the colour of the summary label (iOS 13 only, correct on iOS 12).

API

I have been discussing with a few developers across platforms to open Elytra’s API to them so they can also build apps on top of it. I hope this takes off because that’ll mean more and more apps will be using a more private and secure way to read their favourite RSS Feeds. 

Other than that, I have made some significant changes to the API and RSS Feed Poller in this update. Here’s a quick change log of things which affects us as Elytra’s Users:

  • The RSS Feed Poller now fetches more frequently and now fully complies with all HTTP caching mechanisms. Previously I only used ETags to know if a feed document was fresh or stale. But this sometimes resulted in unnecessary requests. If a Feed now tells that the content is to be considered fresh for a day, that will be respected. 
  • Improved the WebSub protocol support. If you write on your own blog, I urge that you check if whatever engine runs your blog supports WebSub. If you’re using WordPress, there are plugins with enable this feature. It’s simple to setup and you get free real-time notifications for your readers.  

Thank you for your continued support and feedback and criticism. I will continue to work on the iOS and Web apps through November. I’ll be unavailable on email in December but please feel free to get in touch, I’ll try to reply to you during that time whenever possible. Happy holidays. 

Last round on me!

This is most likely the last build of Elytra which will be going out to the Public Beta testers. It mostly contains a few minor fixes and two new additions. Read on to learn more.

New

  • Long tapping on the All Read button (Double checkmark) in a Feed’s interface will enable you to mark all unread articles as read, including articles not currently loaded in the interface. This is especially useful when you add a new high frequency feed to your list.
  • You can now optionally use a Dark Application Icon for Elytra. A new Miscellaneous section has been added under settings.

Fixes

  • Tweaked the Application Icons to render correctly on displays which use the sRGB colour profile.
  • Updated the footer text in the Subscriptions Interface to be compliant with Apple’s requirements. This is critically useful for you as well as I have come to realise. (I’m secretly hoping Elytra passes Apple’s review in the first go, as we all do :D)
  • Fixed application launch on iPads when running Elytra for the first time on the device.
  • Scrolling to load the next batch of articles now consumes less power. This is done less frequently now by using an alternate system API.
  • Fixed the status bar being dark (when a dark theme is selected) for the Move Folder interface.
  • Tapping on the Close button on iPads now deselects the currently selected article.

Notes
Version: 1.0.0
Build 127
Pipe: PBeta-04

Public Beta – Round 4

Elytra Build 110 is now available to all beta testers. This is a sizeable change-log so get ready. 

Whats New

  • The Publisher title is now included in the Article view. This is very useful when browsing through articles in the Unread or Bookmarked section.
  • New Subscriptions interface. You’ll see it once during the beta. You won’t be charged for the subscription when you install builds through Testflight. 
  • Off by default, you can now toggle to have Article cover images show up in the Feed interface. To manage this setting, open the App’s settings > Image Handling, scroll right to the end. Articles without cover images will continue to behave as they have always done.  

Improvements

  • Improves handling of folders when deleting a feed from a folder or deleting the folder itself.
  • When importing your OPML file, the File Picker Interface will now allow for selection of files saved with the .opml extension as well. 
  • Improved the functioning of the OPML interface for imports and exports.
  • Improved system for managing unread counts on the Feeds interface. 
  • Code blocks now support dynamic type. 
  • Removed the subscriptions interface from the Introduction interface. The subscriptions interface will now popup once after you add your first feed.
  • Tapping the search button in the Article’s Interface will dismiss the Search bar if it’s already active. 

Fixes

  • Fixed a memory consumption issue caused when really long articles are opened.
  • Fixed an issue where the cover image of an article would render twice, once as the cover image and the other as an image inside the post.
  • Fixed padding of code blocks.
  • Fixes height of rendered tweets. 
  • Rotating to a new orientation no longer causes a black out in the Article interface. 
  • Fixed a rendering bug for new lines and extraneous spaces in paragraphs.
  • Fixed handling of push notification taps. 
  • Fixed the width of the search bar (in the Articles interface) on iPads.
  • When you update the theme on the iPad and if an article is open, the article will refresh to accommodate for this change. 
  • Fixed the appearance of the New Feed and New Folder inputs. 

Notes

  • Version: 1.0.0
  • Build 110.
  • Pipe: PBeta-04

Broken Promises

Sometime last week (or perhaps the week before that), I made some minor changes to how RSS feeds are polled. This made the “engine” more efficient by running in period bursts so as to not block your requests from taking priority. 

I did however change something: The older variant used a callback system while the newer variant used Promises. I did not have an integration test to check how this change worked with the WebSub mechanism. 

Earlier today when I published the Public Beta 3 notes, I was wondering why I did not receive a push notification. Almost 6 hours later I hit my, “ah ha!” moment. 

I have patched the issue and now have an integration test for this incase I break it in the future. 

If you are subscribed to Push Notifications for the Elytra blog, you should have received one. If you didn’t, you should totally subscribe. 

Public Beta – Round 3

Elytra Build 104 is now available on Testflight and I’ve added another batch 100 testers to the list. If you still haven’t received your invite, this could be the week.

I spent a small part of the weekend fine tuning things on the server side so it can accommodate more feeds and serve more people without needing to be upgraded to a bigger size. 

This update includes a lot of visual fixes and some underlying fixes to how Elytra functions.

Improvements

  • Haptic feedback has been enabled now that I have had a chance to fine tune things. This was previously available in the private beta but disabled during public beta release.
  • Opening and closing folders no longer causes the weird jumpy animation. 
  • Micro-blog posts are now handled in a graceful manner with content snippets shown instead of only the Blog’s title and author.
  • Added a Reset App option under the Settings.app if you need to externally reset the app. If you do this, your account information will be erased from the device. You can still reload the same account by setting up as usual and then swapping the account ID. Please note your account ID if you plan to do this. 
  • Improved the text that is shared when you long tap a linked header to bring up the Share modal.  
  • Handles .ico favicons correctly. 

Fixes

  • The Recommendations Interface in the previous build (103) stopped showing any feeds. This was a regression and has since been fixed. 
  • Fixed a crash where some images came with empty urls and the app tried to load them. 
  • Various minor improvements to the Onboarding flow. 
  • Fixed a dead-lock situation when you try to add a feed (which provides multiple feed options) that you already have in your list. 

Known Issues

There is a known bug when you open the Import/Export OPML interface and later dismiss it. The overlay persists and causes the screen to be dimmed. A restart fixes this issue. I haven’t been able to trace it or reliably reproduce the issue. 

Notes

  • Version: 1.0.0
  • Build 104.
  • Pipe: PBeta-03

Public Beta – Round 2

The second Public Beta of Elytra is now available on Testflight. I have also sent out the 3rd batch of invites to everyone who signed up. 

To clarify how I’m sending out invites:

Every few days, I pick a batch of 100 (in order) and add them to the Testflight Public Beta list. This is allowing me to ensure that the server can handle the load. So far, it’s been smooth sailing. 

Also, thank you to everyone who sent me emails reporting bugs and suggestions to improve the app. It’s been of immense help. As always, if you run into any issues when adding new feeds, send me an email with the link and I’ll take a look. 

Here is the change-log for the latest build.  

Improvements

  • Favicons are now less rounded based on feedback where circles are usually reserved for people’s photos & avatars.
  • Improves Voice over support for long paragraphs by breaking them down into their distinct paragraphs. 
  • Introduced a subtle load-in animation for the Articles interface.
  • Now when searching in an article, you can press the ENTER key to jump to the next result if one is available and the ESC key to dismiss the search context.

Fixes

  • Fixes an issue where tapping on the cancel button in the Subscription Interface would lock up the process. The continue button no longer remains disabled. 
  • Fixed the text errors on the Subscription Interface.
  • Fixed a crash that would occur if you navigated to Unread, then back and then to Bookmarks in quick succession. 
  • Fixed handling of URLs without the http: prefix. 
  • Fixed a Voice Over issue where it would only read the first sentence and the first word of the second sentence in a Paragraph. 
  • Fixed search highlighting on iPads

Notes

  • Version: 1.0.0
  • Build 103
  • Pipe: PBeta-02

Public Beta

A warm welcome to all the new Public Beta Testers. 

Now that the cheesy stuff is out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this release.

What’s new

  • Added a “Open in browser” button to the Article interface.
  • Account Deactivation
  • Implemented Accent colour
  • Recommendations interface 

Improvements

  • Improves the tinting of the refresh control for dark interfaces or after switching the theme.
  • Improved the kerning for the System font for the Article’s title.
  • Vastly improved GIF performance and memory consumption thanks to the FLAnimatedImage library. 
  • Fetching an favicon across all the available images (opengraph, apple-touch-icon and the favicon itself) based on weights. Apple-touch-icon is given a higher preference over the favicon now.
  • When adding a new feed from the app, typing in http/s is now optional. 
  • When a feed has multiple endpoints, the list now uses head truncation so you don’t accidentally add the comments feed. 

Fixes

  • Fixed adding feeds from the share extension.
  • Fixed the position of the popover (iPads) for the long tap interaction on feeds and folders.
  • Added a default handler for the browser scheme when one isn’t selected.
  • Fixed an issue where all buttons would remain in the disabled state if the cancel button in the Purchase interface was tapped during first run.
  • Searching within an article should now work as expected. There is a known issue on iPads where the highlight doesn’t align with the characters you’re searching for. 
    Fixed a rare crash that would occur when dismissing the Unread interface while a page was loading.

Notes

  • Version: 1.0.0
  • Build 102.
  • Pipe: PBeta-01

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