This is the kind of garbage that makes no sense to me anymore. There’s no point to packing more pixels past the point that your eye can see. Maybe a few more than 300 pixels per inch will make a small difference, but why is this a selling point on a mobile display? It makes no sense. It’s like encoding music at ridiculously high bitrates. Most people can’t tell the difference. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people can’t tell the difference. For those who can, there is specialized equipment to let them indulge their senses. Don’t make this war of pixels out to be better for anyone.
Something that I heard a significant amount of with the release of the new iPad mini, as well as the new iPhone, was this idea that Apple can’t have any more “Just one more thing” moments, mostly due to their inability to mask the movements of their supply chains. Truth be told, it’s difficult to build an economy of that scale without drawing someone’s attention. The eyes of the world are on Apple right now (as well as Google and Microsoft, of course), and it’s clear that the world is poring over Apple’s supply chains in the hopes that they’ll be able to predict Apple’s next move based on fluctuations in part orders and such. The idea is that by scrutinizing Apple’s suppliers, looking at the parts that are coming out of the various manufacturers around the world and being assembled in China, that analysts will be able to stay one step ahead of Apple’s next “big thing”.
Here’s where I disagree with that idea, however. While analysts may be able to look at Apple’s current supply chains and see where they’re headed with their current products, they can’t find what they don’t know what to look for to begin with. We all know that Apple produces smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, and displays (as well as other things). Here’s the thing about their products though: while they’re currently “predictable”, there weren’t always that way. No one really saw the iPhone coming, and they didn’t really know what was up with the iPad before it was the iPad. One might look at those examples and say, “Well, sure, but we saw the iPad mini coming, and we’re able to predict the new iPhones before they’re out…” and so on. Of course people can predict those things because they know what to look for. Analysts have their eyes fixed on display shipments (and the size of those displays), processors, logic boards, and more. They’re looking for all the things that make up the current generation of Apple products, and, since they have a pretty good idea of how those things fit together right now, they can make some pretty good guesses as to how those things fit together, and “predict” the next apple product.
Let’s look at this another way, though. Let’s say an applesauce manufacturer orders a lot of sugar and a lot of apples. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that they’re making applesauce, and there’s the rub. Analysts look at the current state of Apple products and say, “Hey look! They’re making applesauce! I’m so smart!” Except they’re really not. What they’re doing is putting the words on the page together to form a complete sentence, and they’re screaming from the rooftops that they’re literate. While that’s a great accomplishment, it’s only the first step to being able to truly analyze information and synthesize some new ideas.
Apple’s ability to have “Just one more thing moments” hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Their ability to innovate isn’t waning at all, in my opinion. The true innovation will appear where people aren’t looking, and will manifest itself in a way that people aren’t expecting, utilizing components that people aren’t expecting to see. Or, alternatively, they’ll take components that people understand and put them together in an unpredictable or disruptive way.
We can’t know how those things will take shape, because we don’t know what to look for yet. But, I’d be willing to bet that, when it does happen, people will still be just as surprised, and it will make all of the so-called analysts look like third grade children trying to read Chaucer.
I’ve been reading a significant amount of backlash agains the iPad mini event focusing specifically on the lamentable lack of the “one more thing” moments of old. The typical banter has something to do with leaks coming from places that Apple has a hard time monitoring (China), and that it does everything it can to keep things hush hush in a world in which money talks, and loudly. My main point of contention with this sentiment is that it implies that Apple can’t keep anymore secrets about its new products.
I think that’s a silly idea.
Consider, for a moment, the scale of manufacturing that has to be brought to bear in order to manufacture products for Apple on the scale we are currently seeing. It has to be massive, and requires the coordinated efforts of millions of people, literally. From product inception, design, fabrication, and manufacture, there are literally millions of people involved, taking care of everything from the actual design and sourcing of raw materials to the shipping to your doorstep. Truth be told, their job isn’t even over when you have the product in your hands; they still have to support it and continue developing new software. The human life energy devoted to the manufacture and support of a single iPad is immense.
As such, consider the original iPhone, first introduced in January of 2007, but released in June of the same year. That’s a 6-month gap from introduction to purchase. In contrast, iPhone 5 was revealed on September 12, went on pre-sale two days later, and was available for retail purchase one full week after the introduction, on September 19th. The full implication of that is that Apple’s manufacturing machine has to be at work for months before the device truly sees the light of day. In short, more human beings (see above) are aware the device exists for more time before the general public can purchase the device.
With the original iPhone, Apple had the luxury of producing prototypes and testing them in relative seclusion. Apple no longer has that luxury because it works on some of the tightest schedules a person can conceive of.
Think about it; If Apple wanted to prototype a totally new product using in-house fabrication today, they could do it. They could show a working device to a room full of awed spectators who had no idea that such a thing existed, but they wouldn’t be able to put it in your hands until months later, and that isn’t something that Apple wants to do–they want you to make a decision and strike while the iron is hot.
So when you’re done watching the reveal of a new Apple products from another Apple device that’s barely a month old, remember that things weren’t always this way. You can’t manufacture your cake and be surprised by it, too.
Well, the iPhone 5 has launched and has been the center of a great deal of attention, most notably since it was timed to follow shortly after the release of iOS 6 (and the shift to Apple’s much-maligned mapping data). To say that Apple’s hardware releases garner a great deal of attention is an understatement, but the scale of the press attention and media frenzy that gets whipped up around their new devices is indicative of something greater, perhaps, and I’m both nervous and hopeful about what this may portend for the consumer electronics space in general.
A conversation I had with a friend recently had us circling back to the topics of patents, lawsuits, and innovation vis à vis the other two. Discussions of this sort are always minefields, since there are so many aspects to the total picture that may not be immediately visible to any one person. Perspective, also, plays a huge role in the idea of “intellectual property”, in this case as represented by Apple’s lawsuits targeting Samsung for patent infringement. While the results of our discussion are, for the purposes of this article, largely irrelevant, the conversation itself is what was interesting to me. While it could have been easy for us to start the age-old “X [company] is better because of Y!” type arguments, we didn’t go there. What we focused on instead was the difficulty in the enforcement of these patents, and the slippery slope that is created when the judicial system starts enforcing these patents.
To be clear, my opinion is that there is something about Apple’s hardware, software, and culture that is incredibly appealing to many people. This appeal lends itself to a significant and conspicuous presence in American consumer culture. Manufacturers, thus, faced with the need to sell products that look good and perform powerfully, tend to copy Apple’s designs. Apple, clearly fed up with the practice, decided to put the kibosh on the whole thing and started patenting various components of their designs. Some of these patents were software patents. This is where things start to get…difficult.
I understand what’s going on here. Apple has designed a product that leapfrogged a generation of mobile devices. While the mobile device landscape eventually would have seen the introduction and proliferation of these devices in the marketplace, Apple got there first and wanted to make sure that they stayed there long enough to establish some sort of market dominance. Strategically, it makes sense. The central issue in this discussion, I believe, is the importance of innovation, and the theoretical stifling effect that these patents will have on it.
The argument is this: Apple’s patents will slow innovation, because other companies will be unable to push forward in a space that is controlled by a competitor who guards it fiercely with litigation.
I see that, I do. I understand the fear that other companies will suffer as a result of these lawsuits and the potential resulting damage awards or judicial decries. What I disagree with at the core is that anything Apple does will hamstring progress in the mobile space.
Assuming that all of Apple’s patents are enforceable (I don’t think they really are), other companies would have to (theoretically) tread lightly in the mobile space.
Except they really don’t.
Apple didn’t tread lightly, did they? No, they didn’t, because they set out to define a subsection of the mobile space that basically didn’t exist. There were cellular devices, and there were PDA devices, and there were “tablet” devices (Nokia N800, N810, etc.), but all were based off of the wrong paradigms. Cellular devices were all basically phones, with buttons and functions tied to the physical layout of the phone. Those devices that were moving away from the idea of buttons with hard-coded functions still were tied to buttons, in general (the Palm Treo 700w/wx springs to mind), and the non-button user interface was generally clumsy and not designed to be used with a finger. Many users used these devices with fingernails¹, and there were many software development companies that made their bread and butter off of developing software that would make the user interface a little more “finger-friendly”. To unpack that a little more, the user interface of Windows mobile-based devices was greatly lacking², in my opinion.
Thus, Apple’s approach to hardware and the software that powered it was absolutely unique. No other manufacturer had created a mobile device in quite this way before. Apple, therefore, would be forgiven for wanting to protect their creation. Since something of this magnitude had never really been attempted before, Apple was assuming a great deal of risk in introducing this untested form of mobile device into the marketplace.
Apple was innovating in a way that other companies were afraid to.
Once the iPhone had been introduced, things changed very rapidly. Device manufacturers suddenly were forced to change their attitude toward design, manufacturing process, and materials. Apple’s phone made use of high-quality glass and aluminum. The feel of the device was unlike anything that had been created previously, and felt like something that would come out of a high-end fashion house, rather than a consumer device manufacturer.
Apple, however, was just that – a consumer device manufacturer. As such, it was uniquely positioned to get this device into the hands of millions of people. Once other manufacturers actually realized what Apple had done (turned the game upside-down), they had to change their manufacturing processes rather quickly in order to keep up.
Unsurprisingly, that’s what they’ve been doing ever since.
This is why I take issue with the idea that “Apple stifles innovation”. If there’s innovation to be had, then innovate. The problem, as I see it, isn’t that Apple is stifling innovation, it’s that Apple is putting a lid on copycats. Instead of letting everyone ride on its coattails, Apple has kicked everyone off their train and is riding it to a future that it is, day by day, defining. If other companies are so upset about it, then create something new. Go out there and design a device that is better than the iPhone, make it out of materials that haven’t even been thought of yet, and integrate it with services that don’t exist. Don’t whine about someone slapping your wrist for copying their hard work. Knuckle up and make something that will take the world by storm.
We’re all waiting for someone to build the future. Will it be you?
1: Since resistive displays would register touch inputs from anything, users were only limited by what they had available. I, for instance, would often use a coffee stirrer since the stylus always had a tendency to grow legs and walk away.
2: Palm did its best to try to create a UI that was inviting and accessible over the standard Windows mobile operating system, but it’s clear that they had difficulty doing that. Attempting to change system settings, or interacting at all with the file system, was incredibly difficult for most users. I, considering myself a power user, would often have to resort to registry changes and such to get the device working just the way I wanted. Purchasing software that made the device mores accessible and user-friendly would typically cost $30-50.
Naturally, I had to do many of the same things with the original (2007) iPhone (read: [Jailbreaking[(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOS_jailbreaking) iOS), but the current iteration of iOS solves many of the issues that I would normally Jailbreak for.
A friend of mine recently asked me what all the hullaballoo surrounding NFC was. This friend, I believe, represents a perspective that a great deal of folks share.
- What is it?
- Why should I care?
These two questions are critical in determining whether or not any technology is really going to catch on with the mainstream crowd.
The answer to the first question is pretty technical, but I’ll break it down as much as I can. NFC is a technology that enables very short range communication between devices. One device reads data, the other stores it for access by a reader. The storage device is tiny, we’re talking minuscule. The wires that act as antennae for this thing are about as thick as a human hair, and are typically wound up to increase their visibility by the reader devices.
The communication part isn’t that interesting, it’s how a device’s NFC technology interprets these NFC signals that’s really interesting.
The overwhelming majority of the discussions that I’ve seen regarding NFC center around using a phone or tablet as a mobile wallet, tying credit cards, loyalty cards, transit cards, and a number of other possible wallet-fattening pieces of plastic to said gadget. Proponents of the technology have long pointed to Japan and Europe, where people have been using their cell phones as subway passes (and, yes, credit cards, etc.) for years. The countries which have seen good NFC adoption naturally have relatively tech-savvy customers, but they also sport solid infrastructure to support the rollout.
It’s this specific component of the NFC landscape that’s been a large question mark for so long in America. There are, of course, businesses that have adopted NFC as a part of normal business (Jamba Juice, Mobil, McDonald’s, to name a few). Their card readers are compatible with credit and debit cards sporting certain logos that have those embedded chips.
However, I believe that the discussion of nationwide payment systems employing NFC is a red herring. In fact, I think it’s the most impractical use of the technology that I can think of right now. While it would be neat to wave my phone at a cash register and finish my transaction that much faster (without having to break my IM conversation to pay, mind you), the true usefulness of NFC tech comes in the form of self-created NFC “tags”, much like what Google has included with their Nexus 7 tablet, and that Samsung is touting as a feature of their Galaxy S III.
The draw here is that a user can create “actions” and bind them to these little stick-on “tags”, which they can then use to automate certain actions on their device. For example, a user could set a custom action script that would switch the device’s Bluetooth on or off (depending on current state), put it in pairing mode, and open the Bluetooth settings page to look for other devices. The user could then stick this tag to the back of his or her Bluetooth keyboard, and, by tapping the device against that tag, easily set up pairing between that device and the keyboard, saving the user the frustration of having to manually re-pair a device and the keyboard when switching between two or three devices. Another possible scenario could see restaurants placing NFC tags on tables that users could tap to toggle their phones to “silent” mode. When users are finished with their meal, they would simply tap the tag again to toggle the phone back to its previous settings. A user could check into a venue on foursquare or Facebook, join his or her home or work wi-fi network, or launch certain apps when he or she taps the tag that he or she has stuck on his or her front door.
The point is that NFC, with a little ingenuity, can automate repetitive tasks or common actions that are tied to very specific places. Sometimes GeoFences aren’t enough to allow users that granular control over their location and/or actions. Airplanes could have NFC tags located at the main entrance that put the phone in, well, airplane mode. It would be easy for travelers simply to tap the device against the tag and ease in for takeoff.
Apple cites the inclusion of the Passbook app as perfectly adequate for most consumers. What Apple is referring to, in this case, is the very specific use case of using the iPhone as a credit card or payment device. To their credit, I believe they’re right. The average American doesn’t want to deal with the steps necessary to link a device to a credit card or other account.
But what about all the other uses? I guess we’ll just have to wait until next year.
There’s something strange that’s been happening in the world of tech as hotly anticipated products (primarily of the Apple variety) near launch: the world finds out about them long before they’re unveiled.
I think the entire phenomenon is so strange. When kids are young and looking forward to a hot new toy, they sometimes try to approximate its presence in their lives by creating an ersatz model to take the place of the real thing until they can actually touch, hold, and use the real thing. Strangely, this is happening with increasing frequency to the iPhone. The tech world is so hungry for anything iPhone that they will contract graphic designers to create 3D models of the new gadgets, and even go so far as to build full physical models.
The noise is deafening.
Post after post featuring blurry component photos hits the interwebs, and the tech press gobbles them up like bacon-stuffed donuts. Most folks don’t follow tech blogs, don’t really have a pressing desire to know the internal layout of new gadgets, feel no need to really seek this stuff out. They read what falls in their lap and, usually, are better and more sane because of it.
Then the device hits, and it elicits “yawns” from the peanut gallery because they’ve already seen it all. They make sweeping (often literally global) statements about the reception of the product, about the excitement it’s generated, etc. Their actions are, again, childish, just like the kid whose favorite team gets eliminated from the playoffs really early and starts claiming that no one likes [insert sport here] anymore, anyway.
Ultimately, they’re embarrassed.
Who wouldn’t be? Their phones are either knock-offs or faked. The real deal is just that, and consumers know the difference. Companies will try to illustrate how their products “stack up” against Apple’s iPad, or iPhone, or whatever, but it ultimately just makes them look, again, juvenile. I can make a checklist that makes me look like the best human being ever compared to random people on the street. I could create a checklist of the features of a raw, uncooked potato, and compare it to all the features of a slice of deep-dish Chicago pizza, but comparing those two things would make no sense. “Grows in the ground”, “Has eyes”, “Will sprout if placed in water” are all “features” of the potato that the pizza doesn’t have, but who really cares? I’ll take the pizza thankyouverymuch.
Which leads me back to my point. The leaked specs, the feature parity, the checklists, etc. are all meaningless in the face of true user experience and the whole package.
A guy I know had his iPhone run over by a car. It was absolutely destroyed, which was sad for him. He was contemplating purchasing a replacement, but decided to wait it out until his contract was up for renewal so he could purchase a new iPhone 4S. In the meantime, someone gave him a Motorola Droid RAZR (or whatever it’s called…these things have the weirdest names). He ditched the Droid in favor of an iPhone 3G. You read that right. He disliked the Droid user experience so much that he went with a molasses-slow (comparatively) phone, simply because the overall user experience was so superior. When you’re on the losing team, shouting really loudly and making a lot of noise is still fun, sure, but it doesn’t win you ball games. Just ask Cubs fans.
At any rate, it’s clear that people are jazzed about the iPhone 5, and all these “yawn” reactions are just the tech news equivalent of Cubs fans getting uppity. People will choose good design and a fluid, beautiful user experience over checklists and noise.
As they say, it doesn’t take a genius.
While my posts haven’t been coming fast and furious lately, I’ve been watching the tech landscape recently and have seen some interesting shifts in where I believe a lot of things are heading.
Whither the iPod Nano?
This has been a perennial issue for me. When the iPhone 4S (aka the iPhone 5), was released, people did two things:
1. Thought that it was an inferior phone because the character “5″ was not in the title
2. Forgot about everything else for a little while.
I, however, did not forget about the iPod nano. Conversely, I began to think more about it, mostly from the perspective of “How can Apple make use of this new Bluetooth 4.0 thing?” While Bluetooth may not be very important to many people in the world, or may be synonymous with “headset”, Bluetooth information exchange technology makes possible a great many things that people basically don’t take advantage of. Case and point, a friend of mine just saw me typing this blog post on a wireless Bluetooth keyboard and said “Wow, a wireless keyboard? I didn’t even know they made those.” Naturally, he’s a little behind the times (friar, vow of poverty), but that doesn’t stop the concept from being foreign to many people. An iPad-toting client of mine didn’t know that Bluetooth could be used to connect an iPad to a wireless keyboard, either (see “headset” equivocation above).
At any rate, that’s where we’re at. Bluetooth having effectively been relegated to another name for “headset”
The iPod Nano has the opportunity to become something so far beyond what it is right now. It can be a gateway to the information stored on an iPhone, a supplement to an iPad (remote control, keyfob, microphone, etc.), and, possibly even more importantly, a front-end for Siri. Naturally, the iPod Nano’s screen isn’t designed for displaying large amounts of information, but that doesn’t preclude it from being an information portal.
When talk of an “iPad Mini” started swirling about, I immediately started thinking about the whole Steve Jobs “people don’t like these ‘tweener’ sizes for tablets” statement. Whenever he says that, you know that a product isn’t too very far away. The issue for Apple wasn’t creating a product in that size, but rather timing their entry into that size category. One of the things that I’ve noticed about a great deal of the other 7″ (ish) tablets on the market is that they lack anything truly compelling for me. I wouldn’t want a Kindle/Kindle Fire because its primary purpose is to read books purchased through Amazon.
The Nexus 7 was almost enough to get me on board until I used one. “Why would I spend any money on this?” I found myself asking over and over. The only truly compelling thing that I saw in the Nexus 7 was the NFC capability, but even that was a stretch. I need a product like that to be an iPad, but smaller, capable of all the things my iPad is capable of. I’m sure there are many people in the same boat.
I’ve been using the iPad to take notes, draw, read, and write since its introduction to the market. People tried to tell me that it wouldn’t be capable of much, and I would just quietly continue working, nodding as I continued to accomplish goals I set out for myself from the comfort of a tablet that I could use comfortably all day.
I knew there was one problem, though: it was too big (and not by much) for me to carry in my hoodie pocket. There were times that I only wanted to carry my tablet with me and nothing else, lack of charging equipment and extra tubes for my bike being reasonable things to forego in favor of a tablet that could slip easily into my back pocket. My iPad was literally a half inch too big, and I resigned myself to carrying the things I needed in addition to my wundertablet.
It was a hard life, I know, but I made it through. Thanks for your concern
Now, however, I feel like Apple is going to make a lot of people happy by creating a device that is perfectly capable of an absolutely ludicrous number of things (vis a vis other tablets), yet still has an extremely portable form factor (as though the iPad wasn’t portable enough).
Here’s the thing, though: Apple needed to time this whole thing. Releasing a 7″ (ish) tablet shortly after the iPad would have been great, and people would have really liked it, sure, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact that I believe it will have now. By releasing an “iPad Mini” now, Apple has allowed all the trash to sift itself out. Plenty of other companies have brought “me too” devices to market, and each has captured some small part of the iPad experience that people love, but left even more behind. Other companies thought that, if they could only have gotten that 7″ tablet to market first, that they would have ruled that space. The issue with that type of thinking is that it leads to sloppiness. Should this “iPad Mini” be released soon, it will be released with the entire weight of Apple behind it. It will have access to the iTunes store, it will have access to the App Store. All the apps that people have already purchased will be available on their device from day one. Their contacts and calendars will be synced through iCloud, and, while the same can be said for any Android tablet in that form factor, a person toting both Android and Apple devices would have to manage two devices with two different stores to shop from, two places to store their media, and no convenient way to slosh purchases around between devices.
With a device having a smaller screen size and profile, Apple will be making their signature store/device integration available in an even more portable form factor. The market will respond, and it will respond favorably.
Keep Your Friends Close
The last thing that I haven’t been hearing much about recently is NFC. Samsung released the Galaxy S III to a mediocre amount of fanfare, touting all of this NFC magic…but I have yet to see anything really interesting come out of it. I love the idea of NFC, but, like the Nexus 7, I see no one using it. I don’t see any stores with NFC tags on their doors, no restaurants with NFC tags on the tables to allow patrons to silence their phones and join their wifi with a single tap. None of this is real because I have a sneaking suspicion that Samsung has no idea what it’s doing. They put products on the market that have checkboxes in all the right places, but no real-world application of any of the things that those boxes relate to. Great job, Sammie, your phone has NFC! Does that honestly play a role in most people’s buying decisions? No, no it doesn’t. A friend of mine recently purchased a new GSIII and, when asked about the NFC feature, had no idea what I was talking about.
Truth be told, I’m not sure NFC will ever be a truly compelling technology, but I believe that, if it is, that Apple will do it right. They’ll do it right because they’re really the only company that can make something as obscure as NFC relevant enough to matter to the world. When the world’s most valuable company throws its weight behind something, you’re pretty safe betting that people are going to pay attention.
All of this assumes a few things
1. Apple is releasing a new iPod Nano.
2. Apple is releasing an “iPad Mini”.
3. The aforementioned products, in addition to the new iPhone, will contain NFC technology.
Those are a great deal of assumptions, but they all seem to make sense. I’m not one to start making assumptions and thinking that I’ve got it all right, but, based on what I’ve been seeing and, perhaps even more importantly, what I haven’t been seeing, I believe that all of these things are very close to reality.
I haven’t even touched on the possible integration with a refresh of the Apple TV, but I think that all those things are around the corner, as well.
It’s gonna be a helluva September
So we’ve seen a lot of rumors regarding this fabled iPad 3 floating around recently. Things about screen resolution, graphics performance, and the like. Then I see something like this, and my brain almost explodes because the whole thing is just so inane.
Wh–are you serious? Instead of the rumored A6 chip? Rumored according to whom, you moron? You thi–oh wait. Hold on, I get it. I see what happened here. Hold on, let me go through this. Correct me if I’m wrong. I know I’m not, but I have to say that anyway.
“Oh wow, Apple is using it’s own chips in this stupid iPad thing.”
(iPhone 4 introduction)
“Hey neat! The iPhone four uses the A4 chip! I get it! Oh man, I figured it out and this is so cool because I know what I’m talking about.”
(iPad 2 introduction)
“This iPad uses the A5 chip? What? That’s so crazy! It’s like…wait a second, that means that the next iPhone is also going to be the iPhone 5! I’m so smart!”
(iPhone 4S introduction)
“Hold on. The iPhone 4S uses the A5 chip? And it’s not called the iPhone 5? Hold on. But…5 comes after 4, right? This phone is dumb because it’s not the right number.”
(iPad 3 rumor)
“This new iPad that hasn’t been revealed yet is supposed to use a chip that I made up because I know how to count! But there’s a picture that shows it doesn’t so that means Apple is dumb! Haha I’m so much smarter than Apple because my iPad 3 would have an A6 chip that would be so much better than Apple’s stupid A5X chip. Because it has a 6 in it. I might even just call it the iPad 6 because it’s so much better. Haha. Dumb Apple. Lulz.”
Go ahead and try to tell me that’s not how it went, and I’ll call you a liar to your face.
When Siri was unveiled with the introduction of the iPhone 4S, there were a lot of very intrigued, very happy people. Already, in my usage of Siri with my new iPhone 4S, I find myself pleasantly surprised with the things I’m able to do, and how easy Siri makes so many of the things I’m used to doing. Naturally, there are some shortcomings. Since I use an unlocked 4S with the T-Mobile network, I’m relegated to EDGE when not on wi-fi (how was this speed ever acceptable?), and communication with Siri is woefully slow. I wish I had the scratch to pull off an AT&T subscription, but I just don’t right now.
This got me thinking, however. Since the 4S relies on a persistent, high-speed network to deliver results to the user, what happens when a person has a slow connection, or is in a wireless dead zone? The ability for Siri to function as an interface diminishes dramatically, leaving a person only able to interact with the data that is already on his or her phone. While this normally would not be a problem, anyone looking for Siri functionality in a wireless dead zone is going to be frustrated, period. Naturally, the last thing Apple wants is unhappy customers, so what can Apple do to circumvent this situation?
I found the answer in the iPod Shuffle.
This little device, as many know, is what one might call one of Apple’s lesser-loved projects. At the time of its inception, it filled a necessary void–that of a low-cost music player bearing the iconic Apple logo and “iPod” name. It was my first iPod, and, I’d wager, the first iPod for many others, as well. The problem with the iPod Shuffle, now, is it lacks features. It isn’t relevant anymore. When the shuffle was introduced, MP3 players, including the iPod Classic, were large and relatively bulky, and their battery life left something to be desired. The Shuffle had long battery life, was capable of syncing with iTunes, and offered people an interesting alternative to the blue-hued screens and click wheels of their larger cousins. The storage was all flash, which meant that it wasn’t prone to hard drive failures in the same way the iPod Classic was, and that it could play all day on a single charge.
Since the Shuffle lacked a screen, however, there was no way for a user to really know what was about to play. Apple solved this with their “VoiceOver” feature, which was able to announce the name of the playing track or playlist, or the remaining battery life. In order to do this, however, the user needs to give up some storage space on their device to make room for the VoiceOver data. For some, this is an easy tradeoff, since it adds a sense of depth to the diminutive device. Tuck that in the back of your mind for a moment.
It was recently discovered that the iPhone 4S contains a dedicated sound-processing chip that enables it to better separate your voice from background noise, which increases its ability to recognize what you’re saying before sending that data off to Siri for processing and language recognition. All this data being sent to Siri means that there are a great deal of sound snippets that Apple has at its disposal to refine and improve its voice-recognition and accuracy. The more people use Siri, the better it gets, and the better it gets, the more people use it. Eventually, I believe, Apple will be able to “distill” certain Siri queries down to their core components, picking out speech patterns and pull user voices away from background noises more easily. Furthermore, Apple will be able to condense certain components of Siri down to include that functionality on devices that don’t have a persistent wireless connection, and significantly speed up Siri queries on devices that do. Naturally, looking up restaurants on Yelp or finding out data from Wolfram is going to require a connection to the internet, but things like setting reminders, calendar appointments, taking notes, and playing music can all (theoretically) be done locally, without a persistent data connection. This would allow Apple to install Siri on all of its devices. When the device has a wireless connection, it would be able to upload usage statistics, and download changes to the onboard Siri database while doing its nightly iCloud backup.
Naturally, the user might have to sacrifice some storage space, but it would allow even the iPod shuffle to become a “personal computer”, with the ability to store notes, read emails, and access a user’s information in the cloud when a connection becomes available. Who knows? Apple may even negotiate a wireless deal with service providers that allow all its devices to connect to a Kindle WhisperNet-style “SiriNet” for free, for the purposes of communicating with the Siri servers.
Until we have ubiquitous worldwide wireless coverage, we can talk to the little Siri in our Shuffle.