Archive for October, 2011

You can change your mind

October 21st, 2011 No comments

Google’s Android chief Andy Rubin thinks that talking to your phone isn’t such a great idea. I’ve expressed some reticence here as well, arguing that it has to actually work well (unlike the existing features on Mr. Rubin’s Android phones, no wonder he doesn’t like it) and it really won’t be useful in every situation. In a cube-farm office, for example, dictating e-mails to your is silly, and mildly embarassing, as well as a disturbance for your colleagues. And, lo and behold, dictation has been around for a while, but I’ve yet to find an office using it.

With all the attention Apple’s Siri is getting, you might be forgiven if you thought Rubin is just expressing sour grapes that his primary competition may have leap-frogged him for a while. Instead, I think there’s a marketing lesson there for us. Rubin worked at Apple once, maybe there he learned a few things from Steve Jobs who often did the same thing that Rubin is doing now: dissing the competition’s technology.

Mr. Jobs has told us that no one wants a netbook, and released the iPad. No one wants a 7″ tablet, but who knows if there is one on the drawing boards. What Jobs often meant by these observations is that there is something wrong with the technology on the market. It doesn’t meet customer’s expectations in some way and he and his team at Apple are going to figure out what that is, and if it’s a worthy market, they’ll solve the problem, likley calling it something else entirely.

Rubin is likely playing the same game. Today he can tell us that people shouldn’t be talking to their phones, but to a person on the other side. Tomorrow, he may very well reveal a technology that works ‘just like a real person on the other side.’ I can imagine Google combining their artificial intelligence solution with search and crowd-sourcing to make this very argument. That unlike Siri, Google’s voice activated assistant compiles the information knowledge of real people–you’re not talking to an AI, you’re talking to the millions of fellow internet users.

Market leaders really need to shoot down their competition and promote their own products, even in the face of weaknesses. The lesson that Rubin may have borrowed from Jobs is to be out there, aggressively taking a position, ignoring the accusations of hippocrite and sour grapes, because, at the store counter, few are thinking about the mood of the CEO when deciding if they really need the latest Andriod phone or Apple iPhone.

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Smug satisfaction of being right

October 5th, 2011 No comments

So that is why people like to predict the future. It’s because of the overwhelmingly smug satisfaction we get from being right! After all, we rarely highlight being wrong, so I get to claim an unblemished record for now.

Yesterday I made some predictions about the tech moment of the day: the Apple iPhone announcement. I predicted Apple wouldn’t change the form factor, that they’d upgrade the hardware making it faster and improving the camera, and that the presentation would focus on the new software, iOS 5 and its capabilities. I even mentioned that voice activation might be the surprise that steals the show.

I guess you could say I nailed it. But wasn’t it too easy this time? Frankly, I am not such a huge fan of the current form factor for the iPhone. The glass on the back of my phone is cracked, the phone is less comfortable to hold and more difficult to tactily find the front/top of than it used to be. Tech pundits didn’t want to solve any of these problems, they wanted a bigger screen, because, well, other phones have a bigger screen.

The iPhone has a fantastic screen. Probably the best screen out there. It’s not bigger, but it does display more pixels than almost any other, and I am quite surprised, actually, that folks really want to carry around even bigger phones. Isn’t miniaturization one of technology’s magic bullets?

Apple did exceed my expectations though. Check out what they’ve done with their acquisition of Siri for voice control. I am dubious about talking to my phone as I see people do on their Android phones. It goes like this: press a few buttons and load the application. Stare at the screen for a moment to ensure that it’s ready. Speak your phrase into the phone, slowly and carefully: “F i n d p e e t z a h” Wait. “F i n d p e e t z a h” Wait. “F e y e n d p e e e t z z a a a h”, go to the maps application and type pizza into the search field and continue on with your business. It barely works, not terribly convenient when it does, and it’s a bit odd and certainly unacceptable in a wide variety of situations to ask your phone for that sort of thing. I have “voice control” on my phone. I’ve used it, let me see, never.

With Siri, though, I started to have the same thought I had when Apple introduced the iPhone. Four years ago I saw the commercials of the way it scrolled and opened applications and above all how effective and useful the web was on it and thought “if it actually works that well, that’s really something I’d get.” At the time I had a Windows Mobile 5 phone that I’d learned was really just a large, blocky phone that got my e-mails. You could surf the web, but you really wouldn’t want to do that to yourself, just as you can use google voice, but it’s not really worth doing.

If, on the other hand, I find myself in an Apple store in front of an iPhone 4S and try out Siri and it really does work like that, well, maybe I’ll stop being such a luddite about this voice stuff. My contract’s got about another year. By then the iPhone 5 (or something really competitive) might be out. I can always talk to my phone in the car. There no one can hear my conversation about not having any friends because I smugly think I am right all the time.

Predictions: check back tomorrow!

October 4th, 2011 1 comment

Predicting the future is a human obsession, but we’re not very good at it. There is a trend on books from business advice to congnitive pychology to highlight our shortcomings and suggest ways to deal with and even profit from the randomness in the world.

Few reading this blog are coming here for up-to-the-minute tech news, but I still feel compelled to resist all the research on embracing unpredictibility and make a prediction–if for no other reason just to see how I did a few hours later when all is revealed. So, without further ado, here’s what will happen today at Apple’s “let’s talk” event.

Apple makes an effort to concentrate on one thing at a time for its events. It’s a good strategy, ensuring focus from the media and customers. As a result, much talk about discontinuing iPods will not be addressed. Is there really any point to making a fanfare about discontinuing a product? Of course, the iPod continues today, it’s simply seamlessly merged with your phone.

There will be a new iPhone and as I own an iPhone 4, it is clear to me that its design is barely an improvment over the previous phone. The shape is less comfortable, and the antenna problem is real. The specs are better, and it’s a thinner, smaller, phone with a superb screen, which is great, but, aside from returning to some variation on the iPhone 3G there is little to go back to. Nope, all the changes will be the usual hardware refresh–on the inside. Faster chips and better camera will enable the phone to take advantage the real news: the new OS while keeping up with specmanship of other phones out there.

Apple believes that the bigger screens of competing phones are more like badly behaving portable tablets. I’ve seen them, and gosh they look great, but frankly, the thing is supposed to be a phone and these lovely devices just look huge. I thought we left that age; like many, I want my phone to slip in my pocket. I would be surprised, indeed, if Apple didn’t agree with me here and chose to go with more screen real estate.

Expect a 4GS. Whatever the name, expect, above all, for people to be disappointed with hardware changes of the iPhone 5–it’s only a speedbump.

Instead, expect new CEO Tim Cook to spend much more time on the real advancements of today. This is the first time that OS5 is being announced to the masses. It happens every year and every year Apple watchers forget that the world wide developers conference, WWDC, is only public because the media shows up for news. It’s not a consumer event. Only now will the results of working with developers for months be shown to the greater consuming masses. And that means iOS5 features and internet cloud integration. We’ll see a long re-hash of what close Apple watchers already know. We’ll see highlight features and demonstrations of cloud-based music (an iPod in the sky!) and integration across macs, iPads, and iPhones. We’ll see how the iPhone will have access to data not stored on it all.

Apple is not alone in finally realizing Oracle’s promise of the thin client. The new Amazon Fire tablet actually embodies this even better, but the cloud is just another name for the client-server model and it turns out that Apple’s smart phones and devices and smarter still when coupled to the internet in the sky. Expect loads of examples of why that is and how Apple’s solution is, in Tim Cook’s opinion, the way it’s done.

There may even be some exciting voice recognition improvements in iOS 5, although I still wonder asking our phones questions in public will really work. Sometimes it’s great, like in the car when you’re supposed to be driving, but screaming into your phone on a crowded New York side walk or in an airport line is bad enough when people can reasonably expect you’re communicating with another human. When they realize you’re just trying to get your phone to stop asking you to repeat yourself, that’s going to get old fast.

So, in short:

  • iPhone 5 = not really. just a speed bump
  • it’s all about iOS5
  • expect the cloud to be the big news
  • some voice recognition introductions could steal the show

Check back tomorrow. I’ll come clean on how good or bad I was at this.

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