» 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.

» Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

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» 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…

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» Year in review: 2008

2008 was a pretty busy year — a lot of things happened that made it quite a ride. I thought I would take a moment to go over some of the more notable events that have occurred in the last 366 days.

UPDATE: It took me almost three months to realize that last year was a leap year. My apologies to 02/29!

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» 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.

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