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. 

Elytra Winter Update Delayed

I had Elytra’s v1.5 build scheduled up pretty tight and ready to go. I submitted it to the App Store for Review and woke up today morning to learn that the binary was rejected because it was crashing. That’s fair. None of us involved want this to happen. 

I checked the crash log provided by the review team and it did not look good. However, a quick run on my devices and reading about this issue (yes! It has already been documented), I have to unfortunately conclude that I’m going to have to delay v1.5 until Apple fixes this issue. 

As soon as an update to Xcode is available, I’ll test things and dispatch a new build. The iOS 13.2 SDK fixes a bunch of issues I’ve been facing since the iOS 13.0 SDK so I hope it is worth waiting. 

iOS 12 Deprecation

Apple recently updated their Support page stating updated iOS 13 adoption metrics. Chance Miller (9To5Mac) wrote about it in detail. With over 50% on iPhones and 30% on iPads, this seems like a good time to deprecate iOS 12 support from Elytra. 

Elytra for iOS v1.5 will be the last pipeline to support iOS 12. v1.6 which is scheduled for Spring 2020 will drop iOS 12 support completely. Some excellent changes await in in v1.6 and I cannot wait to share more details with you. 

v1.4 Fall 2019 Update

Left: Articles List. Center: Folder List. Right: Article Reader.

Dark Mode. Left: Articles List. Center: Folder View. Right: Article Reader.

iPad: Article Reader. iPhone: Feed's Articles List.

Dark Mode. iPad: Article Reader. iPhone: Feed's Articles List.

Fall/Autumn is here and this brings a new update for Elytra with iOS 13 compatibility. Given how the last two updates worked out, seasonal updates with one-time bug fixes updates is working out well, so I’ll be sticking to this schedule.

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.

Now, for the change log:

What’s New

  • Full iOS 13 Compatibility.
  • Native Dark Mode support.
  • Most icons used in the app now use SF Symbols (by Apple).
  • The Reader theme now has a Dark counterpart as well.
  • Pop Menus have been repleaced by Context Menus which are new to iOS 13. Long Press/3D Press on Feeds or Articles to bring up the context menus.
  • New Font: Open Dyslexic. This font is well suited for Dyslexic readers. I personally switch between this and the System font choice.
  • Recommendations now shows a list of “Similar” feeds. Similar feeds are RSS Feeds which are followed by a user who follows at-least one RSS Feed which you follow too.

Improvements

  • Improved networking with support for better caching mechanisms.
  • Improved state restoration performance on iPhone 6S and 7.
  • Since v1.1, Elytra would render only sections of the article at a time. In iOS 13, the scroll bar is now draggable, and Elytra’s behavior would break this interaction. v1.4 will now render all text in an article without any memory overhead.
  • Tapping on theme no longer reloads it.
  • Improved the Gamma point for the Reader theme making it easier to read in darker environments (when not using the system dark mode).
  • improved Voice Over support for Ordered Lists & Unordered Lists.
  • Account deactivation is now handled directly through the API. This no longer requires you to send an email to deactivate the account which further ensures your privacy.
  • Improved how Feed Renaming is handled by the app to ensure updates are immediately processed on screen.
  • Enclosures are now added to the article viewer more reliably. Some articles may contain multiple images as enclosures which will be rendered as a Gallery.

Fixes

  • fixed a crash that would occur when loading Youtube videos. Youtube has changed the API response which caused the crash. The new method is resilient to all such future API changes.
  • fixed a state in the Article reader when using the toolbar where the previous and next article buttons would not update their states.
  • fixed the height of Tweets embedded in articles. When no images are present in the tweet, the Tweet context adjusts to account for this.
  • fixed the copy behavior when highlighting text and then tapping on copy. This used a custom implementation since iOS 12.1.4 and I’ve finally found the issue and fixed it. Took over a year ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
  • fixed the odd behaviour when lauching the app on an iPad would not show the sidebar. This required a custom implementation in iOS 12 to make it work correctly but is no longer needed for iOS 13.
  • fixed sharing of URLs from articles after long tapping on the URL to bring up the Share Sheet.
  • fixed enclsoure images sometimes appearing twice in the feed. This may still happen in some articles (the same image will appear twice because they have different URLs).
  • fixed handling of nested italic and bold descriptors. Previously, only one of the two would be used (latest taking the priority).

August 2019 Update

Web Service

Over the last couple of days, I have been testing a new way for reliably fetching and caching RSS data from your favourite RSS feeds. 

Ironically, my preliminary implementation of this reliable method wasn’t all that reliable usually not adding new articles to the database. Luckily, I caught this issue within 24h and has now been patched. 

This change matters for two reasons:

  1. Although this new method is slower by almost 50%, it uses less resources like CPU and RAM, so I was able to downsize the server that runs this process. This means a small reduction in operating costs for me. 
  2. I have improved logging across the board so now I’ll know exact reasons why a particular RSS Feed failed to update. So the next time if you reach out to me telling me a feed wasn’t updated in a while, I should be able to resolve it quicker. 

iOS App

The progress on this has been slower than I had hoped. iOS 13 is changing a lot across the Betas, and has been one of the buggiest releases in recent memory. I have all the major things covered but I’m most likely not going to release the iOS 13 release of Elytra until the iOS 13 GM becomes available. 

macOS App

Yes, this is planned. But in the mean time, NetNewsWire is out in Public Beta. Definitely give it a shot. 

Summer 2019 Update

The summer is here (monsoons, for us lucky folks in India) and this brings a new update for Elytra. 

Visually, this isn’t a very big update but I have been able to improve a couple of a things in this release which is detailed below:

New

Toolbars

Using the newer longer iPhones becomes a task when handling them with a single hand, especially the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS Max. I personally run into a lot of issues with my iPhone X. These are big devices and reaching actions at the top in the navigation bar becomes a task by itself. So a new option has been introduced in Elytra v1.3 which enables you to bring all of these actions in the toolbar towards the bottom of the screen.

 Toolbars on the iPhone XS across various primary interfaces in Elytra.

Toolbars on the primary interfaces on the iPad Pro 11 inches and 12.9 inches

Some actions like sharing an article or opening it in the browser are still left to be in the navigation bar. I hope to enable y’all to determine which actions appear in the toolbar and which appear in the navigation bar in a future release. 

Menus

In v1.2 of Elytra, I publicly released the new Extended Layout which was supposed to improve compatibility on iPads and be able to extend the layout to two columns of articles. This was achieved using Collection Views. This introduced a unique problem for me where swipe actions was no longer directly feasible. To address this shortcoming of the app, I’m introducing menus in this release. They bring shortcuts to the Articles interface in Elytra making accessing common actions a little more accessible. 

Menu support on the iPad Pro 12.9 inches and iPhone XS

Improvements

Faster Rendering

I’ve reworked certain sections of the Article renderer so I can add more supported sections to the article reader in the future. But the immediate effect of this is improve rendering speeds on older devices like the iPhone 6 and 6S. The performance improvements are huge when compared to the v1.2 builds but don’t take my word for it, if you try it on any of these devices, let me know your experience. You can email me or send me a tweet on twitter.

Another advantage of this change is to bring change logs to the article viewer. I’m working on enabling this so that changes made to an article can be visible so you can see corrections, updates and deletions if you’re interested in that sort of a thing. 

Improved Networking

I’ve reworked certain sections of the app to improve networking with Elytra’s sync server. This change is extremely opaque to users but what it does is avoid fetching information it does not need at all. This reduces the amount of data transferred from the sync server and helps save on bandwidth. 

Improved Image Rendering

If you start to notice more vibrant images in articles, you got to thank the improvements UIKit Engineers @ Apple have made in iOS 12. As this will be the last version that will support iOS 11 (iOS 13 Betas are either already out or will be out soon), I thought this would be a good opportunity to improve on this. Any images hosted and served by blogs which support the DCI-P3 colour space are now resized according to your specifications while preserving all of that extra colour information. 

Fixes

I am very glad to report that v1.2.3 was a very stable build. It reported, for the first time, 0 crashes which is a huge achievement for me and the app. So I have nothing to report here. 

Closing Notes

I hope you like this build. I am working on adding a few more smaller improvements and changes through the v1.3 pipeline. Have a great summer and if you’re an iOS or macOS Developer, have a great WWDC! 

Marked Read

In the v1.2 release of Elytra, a few users of Elytra started to report unusual behaviour in the app when marking multiple articles as read especially with the backdated articles setting. 

This was caused due to an issue with the API of Elytra which behaved unexpectedly due to a misconfiguration in the iOS App. Today’s release corrects this behaviour and now works as expected. 

This release also contains a fix which works around a bug in iOS 12.1.x where trying to copying rich text from the Article Interface could crash the app. So at the moment, copying rich text wont work as expected and will default to plain text in most cases. 

I’m trying to isolate the issue on my end as far as possible so I can report this to Apple Engineers if necessary. 

I have also been keeping a close eye on crashes and issues you may be facing. I’m happy to report that over the last one month, App Store Connect has reported zero crashes with a healthy usage increase. This is a huge milestone for Elytra and has been possible only because of all the wonderful and helpful people who have patiently worked with me to get these fixed. 

I’ll detail my summer plans for Elytra in a separate blog post. As of now, Elytra’s v1.3 is shaping up to be a really cool release and I cannot wait to share more details with all of y’all. 

The Spring Update

Elytra’s Spring update has been available for a while on the App Store, but due to personal reasons and prior commitments, I was unable to write this post. So let’s get down to it. 

To celebrate the Spring Update, I also took the opportunity to update the main website as well. I’ll be making a couple of tweaks to it to fix some responsive design issues, but apart from that, I hope you like it. I also tried making the Privacy aspect of Elytra and the pricing structure (thanks to the wonderful people behind Capsicum app for the inspiration) a bit more clear and upfront. 

Version 1.2 has by far been the most involved update I have worked on for any app. On the surface, not a whole lot has changed, but under the User Interface, significant changes have been made to improve rendering times for the Article Viewer, networking, continuous efforts to reduce power and network bandwidth consumption and a whole lot more. 

As for the changes directly noticeable, let’s go through them. 

What’s New

In v1.2, I tried to make finding blogs that match your interests a little simpler. Once again, I did not want to implement a “My interests” based system where Elytra harvests this data and recommends blogs to you. As I noted in my previous post, Improving Discoverability, I harnessed data already available to Elytra to help you find new blogs. You can read all the details in that post. 

The Add Feed Interface now also enables you to search for Feeds that match the Feed's Title or keywords to your text queries.

To further improve upon the same system, adding a new feed now expands to three separate sections: 

  1. The traditional: add by entering a link method. 
  2. Searching by the title of the blog.
  3. Searching by keywords associated with the blog. 

All the information above is made publicly available to Elytra and blogs can change this information anytime. Elytra does not add any information to this so all results you see are Best Match only. 

Apart from this, the Extended Feed Format is now default and the older list format has been removed from the app completely. The newer design and layout can accommodate a lot more information and a variety of settings to show and hide that information with better compatibility. I highly recommend you check out the Miscellaneous section under the App’s Settings for all possible options. 

What’s Improved

Apart from what I mentioned earlier in the post, there aren’t a whole lot of improvements in the app that are visible. Most changes have occurred “under the hood” to improve performance and stability of the app. 

Apart from all the new things and improvements, I was able to fix a lot of bugs from v1.0 and v1.1. As of right now, Elytra has no crashing bugs that I am aware of. This brings it to a level of stability that gives me free time to build other cool stuff for Elytra.

I have one more patch update Waiting for Review in the App Store which will bring the highly requested Reader and Flutter (flatter, but wings, so flutter) App Icon options for you to choose from, so I hope you like them. 

Closing Notes

After the release of v1.2.2, if any bugs come up, I’ll be patching and fixing them in v1.2.3. But if nothing comes up, I’ll commence work on a few other related projects and v1.3 in March. As always, I really appreciate the wonderful reviews y’all write on the App Store and I enjoy reading your emails, so please keep ‘em coming. Cheers.

Elytra November Update

Happy Holidays! October has been a great month for Elytra on multiple fronts:

  1. The app’s first few subscriptions kicked in after the 14-day free trial periods. Many of you’ll sent me emails regarding the pricing, some left App Store Reviews (being able to respond to them is a great feature) raising their concerns. I have been able to take action on this. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.
  2. October brought in a bunch of bug fix releases for the app, while I continued to work on new features and improving the general stability of the app.
  3. I managed to acquire some new Beta Testers who have been really good with giving me feedback on new features. I’d like to work out a way wherein with their explicit permission — include their names in the credits section.
  4. There is a now a subreddit for Elytra if you want to discuss, propose new features or just have a public discussion related to the app.

What’s New

Let’s begin with all the new features and improvements in v1.1.0:

Folder Feeds

Folder Feeds in Elytra v.1.1.

I probably have 14–15 emails in my inbox requesting Folder Feeds. Honestly, I had never considered this. I worked with a couple of them to get the correct implementation of it. I’m very happy with how it turned out. This makes a minor change to how folders work in the Feeds’ Interface:

  1. The previous interaction of tapping on the Folder row now opens the Folder’s Feed.
  2. To expand or collapse the Folder: tap on the folder icon.

Sorting Options

New Sorting Options in Elytra v.1.1

The second most requested feature was being able to sort the feeds in ascending order: oldest articles first. While it sounds relatively simple (and it is, if all the data was locally available on the device), this turned out to be a slightly complicated transaction on the sync server. A single user requesting this information was fine but when I simulated it with at least 100 simultaneous such requests, things quickly broke down. By changing how a few things work on the sync server, I was able to heavily optimize this and also include the ability to only fetch Unread articles for that feed in any sorting order. This is great when you’re going through a large feed and only wish to read unread articles.

Type Improvements

Type Improvements for larger accessiblity sizes in Elytra v1.1

I’ve always invested a lot of time optimising and tuning the Type rendering in the app. I recently found some sections I accidentally ignored with the Accessibility Type settings. The app now respects these settings correctly and ensures you get the optimal reading experience. This is also the precursor to the improved layout engine which is scheduled for the next release.

Corrected Bold Text implementation in Elytra v.1.1

I’ve also taken this opportunity to improve support for the Bold Text setting. The app now respects this setting correctly throughout the app with a sole exception: In the Article reader, when using the Georgia or Merriweather font — these fonts do not offer the correct font-weight used to render text with this setting. The app falls back to using the bold font-weight. If this is not desired, I will recommend using an alternate font.

Image Loading

New Image Proxy options under the Image Loading Preferences in Elytra v.1.1

This version brings a big improvement to how images are loaded. Thanks to images.weserv.nl, an Image Proxy is now available for loading images over a CDN. This is optional and is disabled by default. Some problems we face when loading images:

  1. Most blogs do not provide multiple image options depending on the size of the device.
  2. Some blogs embed massive images which aren’t an issue for Desktop class browsers, but heavily strain memory, battery and RAM on mobile devices.
  3. Some blogs, due to various constraints, cant serve images over a CDN or a fast network which degrades performance for us. By using an Image Proxy, Elytra can work around these problems by:
  4. Based on your Bandwidth and Sizing preferences: load an image of the optimal quality.
  5. Based on your current device’s size: load an image of the optimal width or height.
  6. Utilize the CDN being used by the proxy to download the images from the nearest node. Technical Note: The quality parameter is affected by your image sizing preference, the current device, if you’re using an iPad — the size of the app if being used in multi-tasking mode and the current network type. A combined score is generated whenever any of these parameters change and the new score is used to determine the quality parameter. In my non-scientific testing, I observed significant bandwidth savings, improvements to the energy consumption graphs for the app as well as memory savings since the app now loads significantly smaller images while offering the same visual quality you’re expecting. This also saves some CPU cycles by preventing your device from having to downscale images. Without WeServ’s Free Image Proxy, this would not be possible.

Extended Layout

Extended Layout on iPad Pro utilising the real estate on the device more efficiently.

After realising that I am not optimally utilising all the available real estate on iPads, I worked on the Extended Layout for iPads (this is also available on iPhones but is disabled by default). This brings two critical improvements to the iPad app:

  1. All Feed Interfaces (Unread, Bookmarks, Feeds and Folder Feeds) now get a two column layout for article lists provided enough width is available. This interface can also now be extended to use the full screen which seamlessly transitions into the Article Reader interface.
  2. This brings preliminary support for changing the active theme for the app while reading an article, although it is still more taps away than necessary. I plan to improve this in the next release. This was deferred for this release as it heavily relies on the Layout Engine improvements I am working on right now.

Apart from the above new features I have also fixed a bunch of bugs, improved VoiceOver support where ever it was broken, and continue to work towards beginning to localize the app. You can find the finer details in the Release Notes on the App Store.

Subscriptions

I mentioned earlier about a lot of users voicing their concerns over the Subscriptions’ pricing and the lack of a One-Time purchase. With the thought of reducing the pricing lingering in my mind, I was unable to justify it with my current infrastructure costs. I recently ran into this announcement from AWS (I probably missed it because I was preparing for Elytra’s launch at the time). After exploring my options, I determined that it is a definitive upgrade for me while lowering my server costs, the benefits of which I am able to pass on to you. With immediate effect:

  1. All subscription prices have been dropped by 1 Tier. This is effectively a 1/3rd reduction in the cost of the subscriptions.
  2. Anyone who has purchased a subscription prior to the release of v.1.1 will be automatically provided with extra days (or months if you purchased the annual subscription) on their current subscription. No extra action should be necessary from you. If this isn’t immediately reflected, restoring your purchases will update this.
  3. All new subscriptions will be available at the new reduced pricing.
  4. An additional Life-Time purchase is also available. This will include all future updates, improvements, dedicated support and a round of your favorite beverage on me when you’re in my town or I am in yours!

My goal with Elytra was to make reading on iOS devices accessible to as many people as I can reach. With your constant feedback, criticism and kind words, I have been able to continuously improve the app. I will be taking a short break from all development work and spending time with my friends and family over the Holidays. I will try my best to reply to your emails in a timely manner and frequent the new Elytra subreddit as often as I can. Cheers!

You can find the discussion around this post on here.

1.0.2 is now Available

Elytra 1.0.2 is now generally available on the App Store. You can read the full change-log on the App Store (I wont repeat it here) but there are a few changes which I’ll be talking about in this post. 

New On-Boarding

When I was Beta testing the app, Craig Hockenberry gave me critical feedback that prompting users for an In-App Purchase when on-boarding them was a bad idea with Auto-Renewable Subscriptions. I agreed with him and changed this later. This was bad because the onus was on you to cancel your subscription in time if you did not like the app. 

With this release however, Auto Renewing Subscriptions are no longer available until I resolve this issue with the App Store Review team. The App now implements non-renewing Subscriptions and offers a single Free Trial period of 14 days. 

Since I was implementing this change, I decided to rework the On-Boarding UI as well. Here’s how it looks now:

New Onboarding - Launch Screen New Onboarding - Private Account New Onboarding - Free Trial Unlock

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

Improved Voice Over Support

I continue to improve Voice Over Support throughout the app and this build corrects a few issues when reading paragraphs, especially if you rotate your device or when paragraphs are drawn as you scroll.

What’s Next

Getting this build out took much longer than I expected. I hit the wall several times with App Store Review but I’m glad all of that is finally over. I can now continue to focus on actually implementing new features and improving the app.

So, I have 1.0.3 in the pipeline already with a couple of more fixes to the actual reading experience before I begin work on 1.1.0. So if you’ve been waiting for a Test Flight Beta Invite from me, you can expect that soon now.

If you love the app and would like to be on the Test Flight Beta, just ping me in the comments on the website or ping me on Twitter or Micro.blog.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and to everyone who has a purchased a subscription: Thank you for supporting my work.