Nylas, an email client for 2016

I have been experiencing an unusual burst of adventure and excitement surrounding some of the tools I use. Over the past week and a half I have been trying out Nylas N1 as my daily email client.

Nylas is an open source, extensible email client. It follows the recent software development trend of editors like Sublime Text and Atom. The app focuses on core functionality and relies on the community to add features and visual themes. As a developer you can build the app yourself and use it for free, but you’re locked out of some of the paid functional. So, I signed up for the free trial to give it a full shot.

Nylas has three features I was most interested in:

1. Social Sidebar

When you open an email, the right-hand view pulls up social info for the sender. Including their Twitter picture and other social links. I thought this would be kind of cool and useful. However, I ended up ignoring it entirely.

2. Read Reciepts

Back in the bad old days of Outlook Express (and beyond), you were able to send a “read receipt” to your recipient. IIRC this depended on a proprietary (or non-standard) attachment. The recipient would have to acknowledge the read receipt, then an email would be send back to you in the background and your local copy of OE would process it and produce a “read” checkmark somewhere in the UI. A horribly Kludgy and inefficient process!

Nylas handles read receipts with a server-side process, similar to the way Mail Chimp, etc track opens and clicks. It’s totally seamless.

I found this to be a compelling, albeit creepy feature. My main complain is that the there was no in-app way to disable the notification. Though, seeing someone open your email immediately after sending it, then not hearing back from them (ever!) is also horribly disheartening.

3. Snooze/Send Later

Prior to Nylas, my email client (both on desktop and mobile) has been Google Inbox, prior to that I was using Mailbox. A key feature with both clients was “snooze,” it allows you to basically resend an email to yourself at a later date (or location). My stress level surrounding email decreased 1000% when I started using snooze, I can’t live without it.

I had assumed that Nylas’ snooze feature would sync with Google Inbox’s snooze. Unfortunately they don’t, so Inbox on my phone had no knowledge of the snoozes I’d set in Nylas. Bummer.

Send later is sort of the opposite feature to snooze. It’s a great way to compose an email to a client at midnight and have it automatically send during regular business hours, for example. In the past I’d used Boomerang to send later with gmail. I had been missing the feature since Boomerang is not compatible with Inbox. Nylas’ send later works as advertised. Bonus.

Conclusion

Nylas is good. It’s been a long time since a decent alternative has entered the email client arena. I recommend you give it a try.

Unfortunately, there’s one big issue. The search, it just doesn’t seem to work right. I found myself switching back to inbox to search almost every time.

And there are a few other minor issues that will prevent me from using it.

  • It’s slow. I found significant lag between issuing a command and it actually being sent to the server.
  • Emails are unsorted. I’ve grown quite accustom to the way inbox groups email by day. Nylas just shows one big ugly list.
  • Minor email rendering issues. Sometimes emails appeared to be super wide and off the screen.
  • Lack of enhanced email. Google Inbox shows useful snippets for certain types of emails (orders, receipts, newsletters, etc)
  • Other minor UI issues. Various parts of the UI seemed a little unrefined. These issues varied somewhat depending on the theme I was trying, leading me to wonder if the theme API is buggy.
  • Read Receipts, snooze and send later are all paid features. It’s hard to argue that these features combined are not enough to justify $9/mo and since they rely on Nylas’ servers they couldn’t really exist without paid support.

These are all fairly minor, I know. But for me they add up to a deal breaker.

Pokémon No

Update: A thread in r/pokemongo addresses most of the game playability gripes i express below. Very useful if you’re new to the game. Check it out.


Much hyped Pokémon Go finally launched in Canada over the weekend (while I was out camping). I downloaded it ASAP, after some expected server issues setting up my account, I fired up the game in a few random places on my way back home. I was able to catch a handful of Pokémon at the random places we stopped along the way and a few at home.

I noticed a Pokéstop down the street so I thought I’d try the walk-around-in-circles-staring-at-my-phone-like-an-idiot thing I’ve been hearing so much about… literally everywhere. The Pokéstop was about 600m away and rewarded me with 3 Pokéballs for my efforts. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I found this to be a disappointing amount. I did not encounter any wild pokémon along the way, so I decided to take a more circuitous route home, in an attempt to stumble across more. I did not.

To be clear, I have no idea how to play this game.

On my walk, I noticed several leaf type patterns pop up on the map, I assumed these represented Pokémon burrowing or scurrying away. So I attempted to follow and capture them.

There is no real in-game indication on how you are supposed to do this. I can’t be sure if I was unable to catch one because I was doing something wrong; there was a server issue; or if it’s intended to be extremely difficult to find a Pokémon. When I finally found one, the process of catching a Pokémon was equally non-intuitive. A target appears overtop of the character, so looks like you’re supposed to try to throw balls right at it. But the “catch” animation seems to happen behind the character. But when you throw a ball behind the character, nothing it doesn’t work! Or maybe it’s random? All-in-all I found it extremely frustrating and disappointing.

After finishing this post I’ll do some research, I’m sure I must be doing something wrong. After all a game with such mass appeal must be much more intuitive.


From a more technical perspective, the augmented reality aspects of the game are a little overblown. The game does 2 things that are being called “augmented reality.”

1) Spawning locations and characters on top of a real world map. I suppose this is interesting, but not a ground breaking technical achievement in 2016. It seems to rely mainly on readily available, quality, map data.

2) The Pokémon appear in the real world! Except they don’t really. The game seems to pick a point, roughly on the horizon and the Pokémon graphics are overlaid over the image of the camera, rather dumbly. Pokémon aren’t hiding behind bushes or taking into account the real world in any way. I caught one that spawned on my son’s face.


Overall, to someone who was a few years too old to be caught up by the original Pokémon craze, the most interesting thing about Pokémon Go is the cultural phenomenon. I think it’s popularity can be attributed solely to the popularity of the Pokémon brand.

I’ll be sure to report back with a followup post after I ask a 10 year old how to actually play the game.

 

Peach Came From a Can

Social app Peach hit the interwebs over the weekend, harder than a late 1990s grunge-esque anthem skipping on a discman playing through a cassette tape adapter.

You could write off peach as another social networking app for tech groupies. But you’d be missing a very unique feature.

Chatbots.

(Sorta. They’re almost more like command-line keywords.)

Peach does this one little thing that I’ve never seen an app of this type do before. A series of text commands enable quick access device sensors and various other APIs. For example, `move` posts the number of footsteps the device has recorded today, `gif: keyword` returns a gif search, `here` posts your location, etc.

I’m not sure whether to call this innovative per se, chatbots have existed on IRC for decades and Slack does something similar with third party app integrations.

However, Peach is the first time I’ve seen this sort of thing implemented for purely entertainment purposes and I find it extremely interesting. Mostly likely, an early sign of things to come.

If you do check it out, add me, I’m ohryan.

TeeVee for WP: building Apple TV apps with WordPress Plugins

Imagine you create tonnes of great video content every day and publish it all through WordPress. Your viewer can watch your amazing shows everywhere…on iPhones, iPads, iMacs, but not their TVs. Wouldn’t it be great to have a branded Apple TV app so that all your viewers could watch your content in full screen glory? Well I’ve got just the WordPress plugin for you…

Behold, TeeVee for WP!

A straightforward WordPress plugin I created to allow content creators to use WordPress as a data source Apple TV apps. TeeVee for WP attaches video metadata to blog posts. The metadata is used to to generate TVML1 which gets ingested by a custom/branded TvOS app.

Screenshot 2015-12-06 21.01.03


On the xCode end you simply create a new TvOS single-view application, with an AppDelegate that looks something like this:

Modify the `TVDomain` to point the domain where TeeVee for WP is install and the rest is show business.

The project is up on github here: https://github.com/ohryan/teevee.

Contributions would be much appreciated.

If you have any questions or suggestions hit me up on twitter at @ohryan or email me ryan@ohryan.ca.

  1. TVML is this cool little XML apple created for basic layout – check out Apple’s documentation for more information. []

48 hours with Apple Music

I’ve been a subscriber to rdio for a couple of years, streaming music isn’t anything new to me. So I was very interested to check out Apple’s implementation.

Here’s my take after using it for the last couple of days.

The Good

Playlists:
The curated playlists are feature I didn’t expect to use much, but I’ve spent more time listening to these than anything else. Apple is doing a great job of both selecting playlists I’d be interested in based on my music preferences and selecting tracks.

The only weird thing is that the playlist seem to skew heavily towards older music. I’m not sure why this might be, I don’t typically listen to a lot of old music.

Library:
The selection of available artist and albums is comparable to rdio. I have yet to look for something I couldn’t find.

Streaming Tech:
Apple is doing a much better job of varying the stream based on available bandwidth. We have a few mobile internet dead zones near our place that always trip up rdio, Apple Music has not had any problems in these zones.

Apple Music also seems to be doing a good job of buffering. There is no delay in switching to the next track.

The Bad

Desktop Client Does Not Work: 
I can’t get Apple Music to work in iTunes, period.

App UI:
Rdio has a really great mobile app. Apple, not so much. I find it really confusing and hard to use. More on this in a future post (maybe).

Beats 1:
Beats1 plays the ultra poppy music you’d expect a beats wearing teenager to eat up. It’s not for me.