Архив метки: Steve Wozniak

Engineering Serendipity

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I don’t know if Highlight, Glancee, Banjo, or any one of those other startups you’re now officially sick to death of hearing about are going to make it, but I know that for the first time in a long time, we’re starting to move in the right direction in terms of mobile innovation. And no, I don’t mean we need more people-stalking apps, I mean we need more passive use of our mobile phones.

Less life lived looking down means more life actually lived.

The trend that strikes me here as being important is not necessarily “ambient location” or even “people finders” – that’s just all we’re capable of today. The real end game is engineering serendipity.

Each of the new contenders, oddly, has decided to go after the same vertical: people tracking. Perhaps this is the more easy and obvious market to first attack, given the apps’ abilities to run on top of existing social structures like Facebook or Foursquare. But arranging serendipitous encounters isn’t always a function of who you know, it should also be a function of who you want to know. Or who you should want to know, even if you don’t realize you should want to know them. That’s a bigger challenge than any of the new socializing apps can address.

Consider this, instead, a giant alpha test in preparation of taking that next step.

To move forward, the metrics these startups should be obsessed with should not just be how many users signed up, how many downloads they have, or how many pings they sent out, but how many real connections between people are actually being made. This is the Holy Grail for engineering serendipitous people discovery: alerting users immediately that somebody is nearby, but also making sure that’s a connection the person actually wanted to make. (It’s too bad all smartphones don’t have a nifty proximity sensor in them that can detect when you’re rapidly closing the distance between you and a fellow app user, for example. That would indicate a real connection! There are ways around this, but they’re far more complex than tapping into a provided sensor like the GPS).

Case in point of what a poor serendipitous experience feels like: one of the top apps alerts me that Steve Wozniak is at the airport, and he’s even in my terminal! He’s having a bite at a nearby restaurant. I rush to the other side of the terminal (which was a hell of a lot bigger than I thought), and scope out the restaurant, but no Woz. I scope out the nearby gates, still no Woz. What happened? A little manual people-stalking of my own and I find his flight took off over an hour ago. Fail, fail, fail, fail. (True story, sadly.)

A good app wouldn’t have even mentioned he was there. A good app would wait until it could say, Steve Wozniak is at the airport…and HE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

So yes, all these apps still have a way to go before they even work correctly at their primary function.

While I know that it’s one step at a time, I worry that the market will see these apps as tools that do only one thing – merely alerting us to nearby people of interest – and will later give up on them when the trendiness wears off. That concerns me because we’ll then lose sight of other, bigger challenges companies operating in this space could one day solve. Challenges that take time. Not months, but years: engineering serendipity is not just about the who, but also the what, where, how and why.

A little history: a couple of years ago, Google’s then CEO, now Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt spoke of a world where our phones alerted us to nearby shops and deals and discounts as we walked down the street, all personalized to our own interests. Serendipitous discovery of the world around us.

Now forgive me for saying so, but a world where Google knows what I want to do before I do it, gives me a chill. Can’t someone else build this first, please? And build it on top of data that comes from everywhere, not just one big Google-owned database?

Apps could start by telling you who’s nearby, then slowly grow, until they could alert you about all sorts of things, and do so just as spontaneously.

One company already doing this, to some extent, is Foursquare. With its Radar feature, Foursquare is branching out from check-ins to become a tool for exploring by suggesting nearby places and alerting you to nearby friends. In terms of engineering discovery of the world, not just people, it’s already ahead of the trendy background location apps. As CEO Dennis Crowley explained, “what we have been doing with Radar is finding a way for people to use the app really without having to actually use it.” BINGO. But this is all such a new game; anyone can still win.

Engineering discovery is a complicated one to solve. For example, it’s a combination of knowing not just where you say you like to shop, but where you’ve actually shopped; not just where you say you like to dine, but where you actually dine. It also needs to know what sort of activities you would want to attend (Concerts? Games? Family friendly outdoor festivals? Dog shows? Plays?), then ping you accordingly. It needs to tell you of a concert only when there are still tickets left. It needs to know personal details like your shoe size, shirt size, dress size, and then check the in-store inventory levels before it ever bothers you about a nearby sale. And so on. It needs intelligence. Otherwise, the damn thing will be way too annoying.

And yes, some of this may not even be possible yet. But it will be, so plan ahead.

Oh, and here’s another tricky part: for any app to be able to truly be capable of serendipitous discovery, it would also have to surprise you from time to time with something that’s just outside your typical interests, but where historical, aggregate data from a wide user base indicates that hey, you just might like this, too.

So how would any app be able to know all these things? Well, APIs, for starters. Many web companies provide them, but apps tend to build on top of only the social three (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare).

How interesting would it be for apps to build on top of your preferred food-sharing and wine-tasting apps, your travel logs, your Amazon purchases, your credit card statements, your daily deal buys, your past check-ins, your Eventbrite ticket purchases, your Meetup groups, your Kindle e-book collection, your favorite shops at Fab and Etsy, etc., etc.? Oh, and all those your friends like too, of course?

Scenario: That guy browsing cookbooks at the bookstore knows your friend Julie and is currently reading the Steve Jobs bio (he’s got it on his Kindle, actually). PING!

Scenario: When you were in N.Y., you went to a restaurant your friend Joe recommended and loved it. This local restaurant is owned by the same folks and your friend Jim ate the ribs here two weeks ago and thought they were crazy good. PING!

Scenario: That little black dress that’s been sitting in your Amazon cart for 2 days looks a lot like the one this store is selling. And it’s half off. And they have your size in stock. PING!

Does any of that sound crazy? Then you’re not dreaming hard enough yet.

Or maybe it just sounds terrifying. Well, sorry (old fart?), but the machines are coming and they want to get to know you better.

Unfortunately, not all the data to build a (creepy) understanding of you and your behavior is available via API just yet, but by the time anyone could get around to expanding into all these verticals, that may change.

To be clear, the end result is not a scenario where every store you walk by blasts you with a geo-targeted deal, just one store does, and the result is incredibly, almost disturbingly, relevant. The apps don’t tell you about every possible dinner recommendation, only if the restaurant you’re considering now is any good. They don’t tell you about every person you’re somehow connected to nearby, only the ones you really want to know.

Or in other words: serendipity means you don’t have to manually launch apps all the time to know what’s going on. The apps launch you.

They don’t constantly ping you, and bother you with every little thing. Every time the phone buzzes, it would feel random, but would be meaningful and important to address.

Looking at what we have now, well, let’s just say we’re far, far away from that vision. But in the people trackers, we see the first baby steps.

That’s why they’re interesting.

And, who knows, at the end of the day, maybe such a thing won’t even be an app, but an extension of the handset itself. Maybe that’s what Siri and its VPA brethren will become. A smarter Siri who doesn’t just wake when you need something, but who, like a real-life assistant, would tap you on your shoulder and whisper, Pssst….Did you know?

Image credit: Flickr user ktoine


Engineering Serendipity

Siri And The iPhone’s Physical Keyboard

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The backlash was inevitable.

Siri has had a bit of an image problem this past week. Just like all technology propelled by the tailwinds of hype, it hit the inevitable wall of tech punditry. This magically turned the stream of largely positive stories into a river of negative stories under the guise of things like: “the voice of reason” or the “wake up call”. It’s the oldest trick in the book and it never fails to generates massive pageview energy. It happens 100 percent of the time. But it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

First of all, the downtime issue is a total red herring. Yes, Siri has been wonky on and off for the past few days. God forbid that a service explicitly labeled as “beta” behave like a service still in beta. I understand that this is a bit of a tough concept to understand since companies like Google leave software in beta for the better part of a decade, thus castrating the term. But look no further than how rarely Apple actually labels something as “beta”. They basically never do it. They only do it when they expect a service to be less than spectacular 100 percent of the time.

That’s why stories demanding an explanation for Siri’s downtime are comical. Siri is behaving exactly as Apple has said that it would. Perhaps their only mistake was using the “beta” tag, which again, apparently means nothing anymore. And running a commercial touting the beta feature may not have been the best play right now either.

The more interesting angle of the backlash goes after what Siri is and what Siri is not. A few days ago, Jordan wrote a post entitled “Siri, Why Are You So Underwhelming?” In it, she brings up a few key points that I think are reflective of some frustrations many are having in this post-hype phase. While the broader notion is a bit silly: No, Siri cannot be a full replacement for a human assistant — nor do you have to pay Siri tens of thousands of dollars a year, provide it with health insurance, etc. Some of the smaller points definitely ring true. Siri can’t add contacts. Siri can’t open apps. Siri can’t play TV shows. Etc. But there’s a keyword missing in each of these:

Yet.

Again, see: beta. All of that is coming, I have no doubt.

They key is when Jordan also complains that she can often type faster than Siri can think. That’s undoubtedly true. But the thinking here has to extend beyond the present and your own self. It reminds me a bit of the people who used to say that they needed a physical keyboard on their phone. And that Apple would eventually have to add one to the iPhone. It was a certainty. BlackBerry FTW.

Now all of those people seem to happily be using iPhones (or Android phones) without physical keyboards without problems. BlackBerry? Yeah…

What Siri represents is an extension of computing by utilizing something that (most) everyone has: voice. It’s the same thing with the touchscreens on the iPhone and iPad. They also utilize something that (most) everyone has: fingers. “If you see a stylus, they blew it,” Steve Jobs once famously said. And he was right. Why create something to distance yourself and the machine? In the past, these crutches were needed. We’re getting to the point where they aren’t anymore. Forget the mouse and keyboards, it’s touch and voice.

Everyone is amazed now when they see children interact with the iPad in such a natural way. And they’re even more amazed when they see a child with a physical magazine and it’s extremely foreign to them. The same thing will one day be true with Siri (or any comparable voice technology). What’s easier, teaching a child to type on a keyboard or letting them speak to a computer? There’s a reason why basically every science fiction author in the last century envisioned a future in which we speak to our computers. And there’s a reason why every major technology company has been working on speech technology for the past few decades. It’s a natural thing to do. And it makes sense that eventually it becomes a computing norm. Again, just like touch.

But we’re not there yet. And that’s why we’re seeing some of this backlash. Is Siri perfect? Of course not. It’s probably 1 percent of where it should be if we’re to use it as a regular computing input. But I’m always amazed when people seem to completely discount the fact that the technology will get better over time — and quickly.

But maybe it’s hard to blame them. Again, these are the people who wanted iPhones with physical keyboards. We want what we know. We don’t know voice as a primary method of computing. It’s awkward. It’s foreign. But it won’t be forever. And it especially won’t be for children who grow up learning to speak to computers. Our hesitance to speak to our machines will seem awkward to them.

Does that mean speech replaces text input entirely? Of course not. There are some times where typing is better — when you’re in a noisy room, for example. Or in a place you need to be quiet. Or if you’re saying something private. But there’s also a reason why humans don’t stand with one another and quietly pass notes back and forth.

My point is simply that you should take the Siri backlash with a grain of salt. We’ve seen such backlash before, we’ll see it again. Everything is “stupid” and “useless” until it’s everywhere.

[image: CBS]


Company:
Apple
Website:
apple.com
Launch Date:
January 4, 1976
IPO:

November 5, 1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007.

Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with…

Learn more


Siri And The iPhone’s Physical Keyboard

Apple Promises iOS 5 Update In A Few Weeks To Suck Less Battery Life

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For the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard the same thing over and over again. “The iPhone 4S is awesome, but…” And it’s a big “but”. The battery life. It sucks.

Well, to be clear, it sucks for some users, but not all. For example, I’m not noticing anything out of the ordinary on my device. It’s essentially the same battery life I got with the iPhone 4 running iOS 4, as far as I can tell. But today Apple has acknowledged that some bugs are causing some issues with the battery life. But they say it’s not an iPhone 4S issue, but rather an iOS 5 issue. In other words, it’s software, not hardware. More importantly, a fix is coming.

“A small number of customers have reported lower than expected battery life on iOS 5 devices. We have found a few bugs that are affecting battery life and we will release a software update to address those in a few weeks,” an Apple spokesperson told us today over the phone.

“In a few weeks” sounds a bit vague, but it may actually be a bit sooner than that. This afternoon, Apple issued the first iOS 5.0.1 builds to developers. Guess what’s included? Yep — “Fixes bugs affecting battery life “. They’ll need to test this build with developers for a bit to ensure there are no other bugs, but assuming that goes well, this should be out soon.

In the meantime, we published some tips yesterday to help with battery issues if you’re having them. Again, the good news here is that this is a software issue in iOS 5, nothing fundamentally wrong with the iPhone 4S.


Company:
Apple
Website:
apple.com
Launch Date:
January 4, 1976
IPO:

November 3, 1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007.

Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with…

Learn more


Apple Promises iOS 5 Update In A Few Weeks To Suck Less Battery Life

The iPhone 4S Has Been Jailbroken

jailbroken4S

Listen up, fanboys, because this is one you won’t want to miss. The iPhone 4S has been officially jailbroken.

iClarified reports that the iPhone Dev-Team found a way to get Cydia running on both the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2, though the jailbreak is “VERY preliminary.” There are still big pieces missing and plenty of work left to do, so unfortunately the jailbreak won’t be released to the public. Luckily, we can at least get a peek from this video.

For the uninitiated, Cydia lets users browse and install unofficial apps on their iDevice. MuscelNerd, the lead developer of the iPhone Dev-Team, says this is a userland exploit that occurs after iBoot is out of the picture.

Check out the video below, where you can see the iPad 2 running Cydia:



Company:
Apple
Website:
apple.com
Launch Date:
January 4, 1976
IPO:

October 28, 1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007.

Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with…

Learn more


The iPhone 4S Has Been Jailbroken

(Fly or Die) iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S.mov

Erick and John take the iPhone 4S and its built in voice activated personal digital assistant Siri, for a spin in this episode of Fly or Die.

Right off the bat Erick says he is impressed with reception he receives when using the iPhone 4S and points out how the iPhone 4S streamlines notifications from various sites (Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram) by having them scroll in one fluid stream. Erick also demonstrates how Twitter is integrated into the phone (with sound effects) before having Siri set up a meeting for him and Biggs.

Erick comes away impressed with Siri while John is somewhat less excited, saying the service is “almost a gimmick in one way, but it is also actually fairly useful.”

So where will Erick and John ultimately come down on the iPhone 4S?  Make sure to watch the video to find out.


Company:
Apple
Website:
apple.com
Launch Date:
January 4, 1976
IPO:

October 15, 1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007.

Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with…

Learn more


(Fly or Die) iPhone 4S