Siri, Why Aren’t You Sassy? – Megan Garber – The Atlantic


Your iPhone, for better or for worse, is no Dorothy Parker.

That could be changing, though. Because Siri, bless her, could be getting a speechwriter. As the blog 9-to-5 Mac reported, Apple recently posted a job announcement for a “writer/editor” for Siri — a listing seeking someone to “develop and write original dialog to support new Siri capabilities.” From the sounds of things, Apple is seeking that someone in order to, essentially, re-write Siri as a sassy sitcom character.

Here’s the job description:

We’re looking for a uniquely creative individual to help us evolve and enrich Siri, our virtual personal assistant. Siri’s known for ‘her’ wit, cultural knowledge, and zeal to explain things in engaging, funny, and practical ways. The ideal candidate is someone who combines a love for language, wordplay, and conversation with demonstrated experience in bringing creative content to life within an intense technical environment.

via Siri, Why Aren’t You Sassy? – Megan Garber – The Atlantic.

New Statesman – Love rectangle (impact of the iPhone)


The iPhone was, in effect, two inventions. The first was a smartphone that was easy to use – a revolution in itself, as all previous smartphones had been very user-hostile. Real ease of use was made possible by the capacitive touchscreen, a sheet of glass with an electrostatic field that is distorted by the touch of a finger. By fine-tuning this distortion, each touch becomes a fantastically precise control mechanism. There are only four mechanical controls on the iPhone. The machine is the screen.

The second invention was much more revolutionary. It was the “app”, short for application. When it was first launched, the iPhone was locked – it could not do any more than Apple intended. But, on 10 July 2008, Apple opened the App Store, which allowed users to download approved apps to their phones. To date there have been over 25 billion downloads of more than 700,000 apps.

The deflationary effect on software prices has been spectacular. When apps were known as applications, they were expensive and came on discs in boxes with fat and incomprehensible instruction manuals. Now they are either free or ludicrously cheap and they don’t need manuals. A wave of geek creativity has been unleashed and, largely thanks to the iPhone, people now expect their machines to do pretty much anything they want.

via New Statesman – Love rectangle.

How the Blind Are Reinventing the iPhone – Liat Kornowski – Technology – The Atlantic


For the visually impaired community, the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 seemed at first like a disaster — the standard-bearer of a new generation of smartphones was based on touch screens that had no physical differentiation. It was a flat piece of glass. But soon enough, word started to spread: The iPhone came with a built-in accessibility feature. Still, members of the community were hesitant.

But no more. For its fans and advocates in the visually-impaired community, the iPhone has turned out to be one of the most revolutionary developments since the invention of Braille. That the iPhone and its world of apps have transformed the lives of its visually impaired users may seem counter-intuitive — but their impact is striking.

Read the full article: How the Blind Are Reinventing the iPhone – Liat Kornowski – Technology – The Atlantic.

Via Kottke

How Sony Fell Behind in the Tech Parade –


Sony recently announced a loss of $6.4 billion. This is the company that used to own the television and computer display market; the company that used to own the portable music player market. But they allowed their lawyers to start dictating their new hardware products, and that allowed Apple to come along with the iPod and begin the process of killing Sony off.

WHAT went wrong is a tale of lost opportunities and disastrous infighting. It is also the story of a proud company that was unwilling or unable to adapt to realities of the global marketplace.

Sony’s gravest mistake was that it failed to ride some of the biggest waves of technological innovation in recent decades: digitalization, a shift toward software and the importance of the Internet.

One by one, every sphere where the company competed — from hardware to software to communications to content — was turned topsy-turvy by disruptive new technology and unforeseen rivals. And these changes only highlighted the conflicts and divisions within Sony.

via How Sony Fell Behind in the Tech Parade –

Cult of Mac » Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy [Update]


UPDATE: the app has now been pulled from the App Store. More about it in this video. Makes you wonder what kind of moral compass Apple has, that it need other people to point these things out. I mean, they ban pornography, but apparently stalking women is okay.

Here’s a good read, with a couple of follow-ups, about the iPhone app Girls Around Me, which enables anyone with a FourSquare account to log in and stalk women see at a glance where the girls are. For those of us who have been hammering on about how young people don’t care enough about their privacy, this is just one more example of why they should. I can imagine a few people might not care that the guy who approaches you in a bar with your favourite drink, and who seems so perfect because he likes the same things you do, actually got all that information by geolocating you and checking your (open) Facebook page. But I also think that it’s fairly predatory behaviour, crossing the line from chasing into stalking.

Where is that line? It’s the line between a situation in which people wanting to chat each other up do their best to make a connection based on face-to-face communication; and one in which one party has inside information and knows which buttons to push. The article is worth a read, if only because it enumerates all the things it’s possible to learn from somebody’s Facebook account, if they choose to leave it open to the public (even down to pictures of what she looks like in a bikini):

In answer to the first question, I replied that as sleazy as this app seemed, Girls Around Me wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. Sure, on the surface, it looks like a hook-up app like Grindr for potential stalkers and date rapists, but all that Girls Around Me is really doing is using public APIs from Google Maps, Facebook and Foursquare and mashing them all up together, so you could see who had checked-in at locations in your area, and learn more about them. Moreover, the girls (and men!) shown in Girls Around Me all had the power to opt out of this information being visible to strangers, but whether out of ignorance, apathy or laziness, they had all neglected to do so. This was all public information. Nothing Girls Around Me does violates any of Apple’s policies.

via Cult of Mac Mobile » This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy [Update].

Here’s the first follow-up: because of the above article Foursquare revoked access to its API, so Girls Around Me can no longer use it.

Here’s the second: a blog entry by SF writer Charlie Stross, in which he discusses how your privacy has been commodified, and how it’s in Facebook’s interest to encourage you to “over share” information about yourself. They do this by constantly changing their privacy policy and settings, by introducing things like the Timeline. It works because you’re too busy to keep up with this stuff, and you get tired of constantly checking your settings. As the people around you give up and reveal too much about themselves, you also start to think that over-sharing is normal, and that people who don’t over-share are a bit odd. Here’s Charlie Stross’ final paragraph:

But as I said earlier, the app is not the problem. The problem is the deployment by profit-oriented corporations of behavioural psychology techniques to induce people to over-share information which can then be aggregated and disclosed to third parties for targeted marketing purposes.

The Apple iBooks Author controversy


This is why I disagree with the comparison to Microsoft’s embrace/extend/extinguish strategy: Apple isn’t calling the new iBooks Author format “ePub”. They never mentioned “ePub” during last week’s event. iBooks Author doesn’t use “ePub” anywhere in the user interface or documentation.

via Daring Fireball.

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that, last week, Apple released a new software package called iBooks Author. This allows anyone to create multimedia rich textbooks (and other books) for the new iBooks app on iPad. Professional textbook publishers can create highly polished textbooks, and ordinary teachers and professors can also publish course books. (I’ve started working on one myself).

But some people are unhappy with the software, and with Apple, and there are two sources for that unhappiness.

First, some people don’t like the fact that Apple have messed with the standard ePub book format by adding proprietary extensions. In the quote above, John Gruber addresses some of these concerns. This would be a Bad Thing, he argues, only if Apple were pretending that their iBooks format was ePub, but they aren’t. Elsewhere, he’s mentioned that nobody fusses that Amazon insists on a proprietary format for the Kindle.

Standards: you can never have too many of them (J for Joke).

In an ideal world, there would be one electronic book standard, just like there was one printed book standard (well, softback and hardback, but you get the drift). But this is capitalism, and Competition is Good For Us. The problem for an innovative company like Apple is that they don’t want to wait for the world to catch up, and they don’t want a book standard designed by a committee.

The second objection concerns the EULA, or End User Licence Agreement, the thing you click “Agree” to when you come to the point of uploading a book to the iBooks store. The problem here is that Apple are saying that you can only sell the things you create using their software in their book store.

This is Apple being Apple, looking to maximise profits, and drive people towards buying iPads. Content is King, which is a fact Apple has always known. Sure, we’d all love to be able to author once and then output in multiple formats, but Apple have a track record of doing what they want with their software.

But there’s another interesting aspect to this. Once the EULA was publicised, it caused quite a lot of upset, but other bloggers have pointed out that what Apple are demanding is no better or worse than you get if you sign a contract with a big publisher, or (if you’re a musician) with a record company. Music history is littered with albums that were never released because the record company didn’t like it, or artists whose careers faltered because the record company wouldn’t release them from their contract.

Bruce Springsteen famously put his recording career on hold between 1975 and 1978 while he tried to extricate himself from his management contract. Tom Petty also went to war in the late 1970s when his record company sold out to another, and he didn’t want to be on the new label (nobody asked him). Young musicians sign bad deals. Young authors sign bad deals. You want an audience and you have no power.

If you’re an author and you don’t want a publisher messing with your work, you have a simple choice: don’t sign. If you’re a musician and you want to keep creative control, you have the same choice. So Apple are being pretty ruthless with this iBooks thing: you don’t have to “Agree”. But if you want the potential audience? Balance the benefits against the costs, as artists always have.

The Cycle Wherein Apple Creates A Product And People Copy It And Then “Improve” Upon The Design And Then People Ask Apple To Do The Same “Improvements” And Apple Doesn’t And Then People Get Mad At Apple And Apple Keeps Making More Money Than Everyone Else « Atomic Trevor


So, what have we learned here? That Apple decided not to put 3G in the first model, and they had record sales. Then they decided not to put a physical keyboard on the phone, and they had record sales. Then they decided to not make a removable battery, and they had record sales. Then they decided to keep the screen size the same, and they had record sales. In fact, a good strategy for Apple would be to do the opposite of their competitors, and they will have record sales.

via The Cycle Wherein Apple Creates A Product And People Copy It And Then “Improve” Upon The Design And Then People Ask Apple To Do The Same “Improvements” And Apple Doesn’t And Then People Get Mad At Apple And Apple Keeps Making More Money Than Everyone Else « Atomic Trevor.

via DaringFireball

Apple Outsider » Microsoft Buys Nokia for $0B


So in the span of one year, we have Microsoft failing to acquire Nokia, “losing” a top executive, and now having one of the most recognizable mobile hardware vendors in the world under its thumb. There’s no question in my mind that the next generation of flagship Windows Phones will come from Nokia, and for that, Microsoft will have unprecedented influence over the hardware that runs its software. We like to think of Steve Ballmer throwing chairs when his executives leave. I think this time he told Elop, “Fine. Go get me some hardware I can own.” Elop did.

via Apple Outsider » Microsoft Buys Nokia for $0B.

Back in the 90s, at the height of the Platform Wars, experts pointed to Apple and said that their problem was that they didn’t know whether they wanted to be a hardware company or a software company. The received opinion was that Apple should get out of the hardware business and licence its operating system.

They did try the licensing thing for a while, but then Steve Jobs returned to Apple and put a stop to it.

For the past three years or so, as the iPhone has defined the smartphone market and the mobile web, the experts have been saying the opposite. The problem for Microsoft is that they can’t give consumers the best possible experience of their mobile offering if they don’t have control of the hardware.

One of the characteristics of the Google Android platform is that there’s no uniformity between phones that run Android. Hardware manufacturers use different versions of it; they don’t make it clear whether the software can be upgraded to more recent versions, and they sometimes put their own software on the phones on top of or beside the Android OS.

On Friday, Microsoft and Nokia announced a deal under which Nokia would more or less abandon its own operating system and start using Microsoft Windows Phone 7. As the Apple Outsider says in the quote above: this looks very much like Microsoft have just acquired themselves a hardware company – without having to pay anything for it.

The answer to the question, “Is the iPad a game-changer?”

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Fr...

Image via Wikipedia

…is yes.

Nobody – not even the most pro-Apple pundits – predicted the number of iPads Apple would sell in the year of its launch, 2010.

So-called expert professional analysts ranged in their predictions from 7 million down to 1.1 million. These are the guys who are paid large amounts of money to advise investment banks and funds.

Meanwhile, high profile “amateur” bloggers and journalists also got it wrong, though not as badly as the professionals. Their predictions ranged from 9 million down to 3 million.

Apple sold 14.8 million iPads in 2010.

I sometimes use the phrase “unforeseeable growth” to describe the kind of growth that not even the most knowledgeable observers of a market can predict. It’s usually an indicator that fundamentally transformational change is taking place.

via Unforeseeable growth: Analyst failure on iPad as indicator of disruptive change | asymco.

So, it’s a game-changer. The most accurate professional was over 100% out on his estimate. Apple had 95% of the tablet market in 2010, a market they now define. None of their competitors was able to offer a product of similar quality. Lots of new devices have been announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this month, but nothing is shipping yet. Furthermore, the previous darling gadget of the tech industry – the netbook – is looking increasingly irrelevant, like a new design of horse coming after the launch of the Model T Ford.

“True artists ship” – Steve Jobs.

Even so, even if everybody has a tablet computer on the market in 2011, Apple are probably going to release iPad version 2 this year, and by 2012 – predicts Gruber – they will be ready with a third generation iPad that has a display with double the current model’s resolution (think of the shift from iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4).

So Apple are at least two years ahead of their competitors, in other words.

Upcoming iPad App ‘The Daily’ – a perfect Unit 3 case study?

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Fr...

Image via Wikipedia

John Gruber links to a story from the Guardian about the forthcoming Daily – the first “newspaper” designed for the iPad. Not a web version of an existing title, but a news source you can only get through the iPad.

The collaboration, which has been secretly under development in New York for several months, promises to be the world’s first “newspaper” designed exclusively for new tablet-style computers such as Apple’s iPad, with a launch planned for early next year.

This is an interesting story in itself, but even more interesting for a media student because it’s based on an audience study. It’s a perfect example of how research into audience habits (reception studies, for example) leads to innovation in media forms and changes in the business model of media institutions. That’s three of your key concepts right there. The fourth, representation, will be revealed when we see the actual product, which (and here’s a clue) is said to be ‘Intended to combine “a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence”’.

Hmm. Do I really believe that 79-year-old Rupert came up with this idea, surrounded as he is by much younger tech-savvy people?

The 79-year-old Murdoch is said to have had the idea for the project after studying a survey that suggested readers spent more time immersed in their iPads than they did — comparatively speaking — on the internet, where unfocused surfing is typical. (emphasis added)

So the four key concepts, plus the context of the impact of the iPad on the media industry, the loss of advertising revenue and sales for print newspapers, and the ongoing debate about whether people are willing to pay for content and/or news. You could add in the debate about Murdoch being too powerful, add another one about Steve JobsReality Distortion Field (is Murdoch trapped in it?), and a fourth about whether information wants to be free.

In terms of theories, you could do no worse than look at the power law distribution, and the hard data that shows that iOS users seem far more willing to pay small amounts of money on a regular basis than the users of other operating systems. In other words, iOS users are the whales of content consumption.

Finally, to round off your case study, you could compare the upcoming launch of The Daily with the recent print-only launch of the i newspaper. Different approaches to the same problem? Interesting to note that the i too has a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence, whatever that means

via Daring Fireball: News Corp’s Upcoming iPad App ‘The Daily’ to Pioneer New Recurring Subscription Billing.