» aron cares about Siri

With the launch of iPhone 4S, Apple introduced a new take on the “digital assistant” meme of the last two decades. Siri, as “she” is affectionately called, listens to your natural-language commands and requests then responds by carrying out your desired task or returning the required information.

Officially, Siri is in beta and while performance is beyond expectations, it’s limits are not hard to find. The most obvious such limit is the always-on requirement for an internet connection. Your provider’s coverage and ubiquitous Wi-Fi notwithstanding, the devil is in the details. Put simply, much of the Siri magic relies on an Apple server. Obviously, when your connection goes down, Siri goes down with it. Worse than that, though, is what happens when Apple’s server becomes overloaded due to exceptional usage: Siri responds cryptically (if at all) about some sort of network connection error.

This is not a show-stopper unless it’s Monday morning after the weekend’s launch of the new iPhone and you’re trying to show your co-workers what Siri can do. As often is the case, you will resort to anecdotal evidence about the time you told Siri to wake you up from an afternoon nap or the iMessage conversation you had without touching the keyboard (both of which the new iPhone handled with aplomb).

We can assume that as usage normalizes and Apple adjusts, this limitation will become less of an issue. Still, as long as a remote server is required, you can expect Siri to stumble when there is a drastic increase in usage. My prediction is that the first major update to Siri will cause another bout of sluggishness as users are again attempting to find Siri’s boundaries.

Another limitation of Siri is the “lack” of 3rd party app support. If you cared about this sort of thing in 2007 when the original iPhone was announced, then this probably feels awfully familiar to you. Just like the original iPhone, there is a specific list of apps with which Siri is capable of interacting. Also like the original iPhone, there is 3rd party support it’s just not in the way everyone is expecting.

The original iPhone launched and it’s 3rd party app catalog was essentially limited to Google’s greatest hits — those being Maps and YouTube. Today’s iPhone has capability limited only by the imagination of the platform’s developers thanks to the launch of the App Store in 2008.

The storied success of the App Store has everyone begging for Siri’s integration with their existing collection of apps.

The storied success of the App Store has everyone begging for Siri’s integration with their existing collection of apps. Siri’s natural-language interpretation is so good, you actually feel like you should be able to say things like “send a tweet” or “check in at my current location.” Siri feels so natural but is confined to certain apps and because apps make the iPhone capable of anything, Siri feels held back in comparison.

This limitation, though, is not necessarily a bad thing. For now. Special care needs to be given to the handling of 3rd party app support for Siri. The App Store is replete with apps that mirror or improve existing functionality of iOS apps that are included by default. Thus, the problem becomes, how does Siri handle such requests as “remind me to call my mom in an hour” when it’s possible to have multiple apps for reminders.

I think that what will happen is that Apple will repeat what it did with the original iPhone. Sometime in the next year, Apple is going to release an SDK for the Siri platform. And, as with all iOS apps, Apple will retain strict control of what apps can and can’t do with Siri.

It seems obvious that Siri will eventually be able to integrate with other services like Facebook or Fandango. What is less obvious is how to deal with overlap. I envision Siri add-ons being categorized and given access to certain classes of commands/requests. However, it seems very un-Apple-y to have to say which app or service you want Siri to work with so the roll-out of 3rd party support is likely to move forward at a slow and careful pace.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say “Siri will eventually add 3rd party app support,” this is because it is already integrated with data sources outside of Apple’s control. For example, Yelp is used to list and rank nearby restaurants. Also, Wolfram Alpha handles a lot of information requests not related to what’s stored on your iPhone (i.e. How tall is Mt. Everest?). Siri already has a carefully selected group of 3rd party apps baked right in just like the original iPhone did.

 

Clearly Apple’s goal is to make Siri as much a part of iOS as touching the display is today.

 

Clearly Apple’s goal is to make Siri as much a part of iOS as touching the display is today. Because delighting customers in a consistent way is tough business, Apple is not going to want there to be any confusion. For example, it would be unacceptable for Siri to ask the user “which Twitter client should I use to post this update?” Just like with iOS’s touch navigation, the goal will be to simplify. If iOS is about reducing the complexity of a touch interface, then Siri is about reducing the complexity of a voice interface.

If forced to guess I could see some sort of settings panel to specify defaults to handle such overlaps in functionality. But even that is a bit of a stretch and could become overly-complex very quickly. That said, Siri will definitely be able to do more in the near future.

I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of frustration playing with Siri. I really think that just like iOS and multitouch changed the way people think about interacting with their phones, Siri is poised to do the same.

» Apple: falling from grace or rising to greatness?

Boy Genius Report has taken an interesting two-sided stance following the announcement of Apple’s iPhone 4S. One side contends that Apple is falling out of favor with both consumers and investors while the other believes that Apple has truly hit another home run.

Generally, I agree with the “rise to greatness” sentiment. In fact, one particular point that sticks out being that Macs do not receive an annual design refresh and there is no reason to expect the iPhone will be any different. I hadn’t really taken this into consideration and being that the iPhone 3GS did not include a design refresh, it makes sense that the fifth generation iPhone  would also not include a design refresh.

However, the “fall from grace” opinion is where I start to take issue. For example, Zach Epstein for BGR writes:

Apple was a company that could do no wrong. Phones that dropped every other call…

Any issue with calls dropping has more to do with the carrier that you are forced to use than with the actual phone itself. I’ve heard no complaints of such issues with Verizon users where call quality is far above what AT&T is able to deliver.

Location tracking scandals… Antennagate… A week or even a day later, all was forgiven and Apple would continue on its path.

Both of these scandals were only forgiven once Apple collected all of the facts concerning the issue that was reported after which Apple issued a statement that instilled confidence in consumers and investors. Both of these scandals were, in this writer’s opinion, blown out of proportion and were only so explosive due to Apple’s media attraction. Apple is likely the most scrutinized company in consumer electronics and if there was still a problem, you can be certain that the internet would be ablaze with page view-driving link bait.

The piece has several other points that are just as senseless, read on for my take…

Continue reading “» Apple: falling from grace or rising to greatness?”

» aron cares about iPhone marketing

The way Apple is approaching the marketing of the iPhone is very different from how they have marketed both iPods and Macs. iPod commercials focus on music in much the same way iPods focus on music. There is nothing of the iPods interface, just music, music and dancing. The Mac commercials we’ve come to adore don’t show you a Mac or OS X. Rather, they just tell the audience, “Hey, we do the same stuff PCs do, only we do it better!” iPhone commercials, however, not only show you an actual device, they also show you a mysterious finger using the device.

The concept is very similar to what Apple’s employees do for customers when they realize the customer has never used a Mac before. It was also common during the release of Leopad in 2007. The idea was to take the customer on a “ride” of sorts through the operating system’s features. It only lasts a minute or two but the impression left is very positive.

It would be interesting to see Apple employ this same approach with OS X or possibly their iLife suite of applications. I envision an iPhoto commercial where a camera is connected, events are created, faces is used to identify/tag individuals, places is used for geolocation and lastly an album is uploaded to either flickr or Facebook. I think all (or most) of this could be accomplished using the same format as the iPhone commercials.

The idea is to sell the OS X platform in the same way the iPhone platform is sold — show them what it can do and they will want to use it.

» iTunes 8 and the ridiculous hardware requirements

I knew Apple hated you if your hardware was old, but I didn’t think iTunes hated you too!  Apparently, if you want to watch HD TV shows using iTunes you are going to need at least a 2.0ghz Core 2 Duo processor.  Now I don’t know about you, but 2 of my 3 Macs (purchased within the last 2 years) do not meet this requirement.  And to be perfectly honest, I’m a little offended!  One of the two is a 2-year old MacBook PRO.  The Applecare hasn’t even expired on that bad boy and already I need to upgrade if I want to watch HD on it.  Wow.

I plan on doing some further testing of this to verify, hopefully the dire warning is all smoke and mirrors.  If there is a true limit I may need to go ape on somebody’s face.

UPDATE: News of iTunes 8 ridiculous hardware requirements were greatly exaggerated.  I tested HD TV shows on a 1.83ghz Core 2 Duo Mac mini and a 2.0ghz Core Duo MacBook Pro and in both cases the episode played without issues.

» iPhone 3G unboxing pictures, now with more indecisiveness

iPhone 3G

Ameoma.com has posted what seems to be the first set of unboxing pictures featuring TWO iPhones 3G of differing color.  Impressive, somebody is doing very well for themselves!  And since I am still unsure with what color I am going to go (you don’t know either!) I thought it would be good to point this out.  Oh, and props to Ameo for taking some cool photos – I need to find out what his(her) setup is.

Update: It looks like Ameo is having some trouble so I am going to help out and mirror the files here.  Check them out after the break.

Continue reading “» iPhone 3G unboxing pictures, now with more indecisiveness”

» Green Plug, a really good idea

Green Plug featured here and here is a new technology from the up and coming startup of the same name.  It’s mantra “One Plug. One Planet.” is indicative of the eco-friendliness on which the company is found.  Green Plug wants to change the way consumers and manufacturers think about AC adapters, batteries, and basically things that plug into the wall.  

The general idea is that all devices will use a truly universal AC adapter and that this will cut down on waste.  Green Plug takes this idea further by making their plugs “smart”.  Essentially, a Green Plug would feature an LCD status display and when paired with a compatible device provide information about the charge status.  Further, because the Green Plug-enabled device would also be “smart” the Green Plug would cut the flow of power when the battery was fully charged and thus resulting in a reduction of power usage.

Currently there is a movement to standardize mini-USB as a power plug for many devices.  An unfortunate limitation of this tech is that USB simply cannot handle the load required by most devices larger than a cell phone.  Green Plug-enabled devices would be able to notify the Green Plug of its specific power requirements and in this way it is more intelligent and more capable than the USB-powered counterparts.

Green Plug is versatile and wants to be integrated into hubs, shops, offices and even homes.  Aftermarket AC adapter providers like Targus could use Green Plug to create hubs capable of powering multiple devices at a time.  The LCD read-out would provide status information for each connected device.  Retail locations and offices could implement Green Plug to save energy and allow anyone with a Green Plug device to sip some juice from the power grid.

A big benefit that seems to be over-looked is integration with Smart Grid technology.  Smart Grid is an idea being implemented by many major power companies to provide transparency to end-users regarding real-time pricing and usage of power.  In other words, Smart Grid aims to have a household’s appliances use more power when the price of electricity is low and use less power when the price of electricity is high.  Green Plug is smart too and could be integrated with Smart Grid to reduce load based on the information provided by the user’s power company.  Some devices can be charged less quickly by limiting the amount of power that is provided.  In this way it would be possible to charge a device and specify whether charging speed or energy savings are a priority.

While Green Plug has a lot to over come it has the right idea with its focus on energy savings and universal access for the end-user.  Green Plug’s Earth first principles have come at a great time when energy prices are constantly on the rise.

» I’m a consumer whore.

And how!

But in all seriousness, I am.  Last November I bought myself an HD DVD player using my birthday money.  I was convinced that HD DVD would win the format war.  Because, I told myself, WB and Paramount are firmly situated in the red camp. AND! “HD DVD” is such a consumer friendly name that even Joe Wal-Mart would understand the concept.

Well, as it turns out, HD DVD did not win the format war.  In fact, Sony bought the format war with its late-to-the-game Playstation 3.  So bitter was I as I watched HD DVD players plummet in price along with their high definition disc buddies.  I cringed at the thought of having to admit to my home theater that a Blu-ray player would be joining the stack soon.  I assured my many components that a Sony would never be brought home.

Boy was I wrong.  Thanks to a failing economy the government tried to buy me off in an effort to assure me that “we’re not in a recession”.  Whatever – free money to spend on whatever I want.  I faithfully drove to Best Buy on that fateful Saturday with my stimulus money in hand.  After all, I had to spend it; if I didn’t, the terrorists would win!

As it turns out I quickly found myself in the Blu-ray section of the store.  There were so many options to choose, oh but I had done research.  Never content to simply ask a sales person what the best choice for me would be I have to prove I’m the smartest person ever and must know everything there is to know before making a final decision.  You see, I have an addiction – the only prescription is owning the best.  It’s a sick sad life, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m a consumer whore, so you knew this coming in.

It didn’t take long to realize Best Buy didn’t have the model I wanted and a quick search on the internet revealed to me that not only was it not yet released, it was about $200 outside my price range.  My heart sank.  The misses tried to console my broken spirit but I was a lump.

However, our story doesn’t end here!  I happened to run into a dear friend and trusted advisor.  We spoke on the matter and his recommendation shocked and appalled me.  He said he had Playstation 3 and that I should get one.  He said it was a great player and even greater value!  I was incredibly surprised by his recommendation – how could I even consider purchasing something that was a) Sony and b) not a stand-alone Blu-ray player!?

Well he was right.  I bought one and I haven’t regretted it yet.  Speaking from a purely un-objective standpoint, it’s pretty cool I have to admit.  The picture and sound quality is far and away fantastic – I was/am very surprised.  All in all, I’m very satisfied with my purchase.

What did I learn from this whole experience?  Well, first of all, I learned that I can’t stick to my “feelings” when it comes to purchasing the latest and greatest tech gear.  I need to go with the facts and not care about any loyalties or biases I may have.  For a long time I didn’t even consider the PS3 because it was a Sony product – and I think that was just lame.  I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had just opened myself up to whatever possibilities presented themselves rather than letting other things get in the way.  The other thing I learned is that I’m a consumer whore.  I don’t think that needs any explanation because it’s just a fact.  I am – deal with it.

UPDATE3000:  PS3 as Blu-ray player = teh rocks!