September 10th, 2019 by Mike Fulton
Categories: Apple, iOS, iPhone

I remember when Steve Jobs and Apple first announced SIRI, the voice activated… assistant. Yea, let’s call her an assistant…. try to keep a straight face. It seemed pretty cool.

In the nine years since, Siri has come to be known as a somewhat less than precise and reliable means of telling your phone to play some music.

There have been few disappointments tied to the rise of smartphones on a par with the spectacular failure of SIRI to live up to the promise of that original announcement. Let’s have a look into things.

Speech recognition

The first big thing about Siri is that it does continuous voice recognition, listening for your command. In practice, this isn’t always as reliable as one would like. However, the real problem is that Siri doesn’t really do much besides initiate media playback or do web searches. We were promised more.

It Ain’t Privacy

Sure, there ae probably a few neat tricks Siri could do if it didn’t mean someone would scream about “privacy“. But that’s not the biggest part of this problem.

The problem is that SIRI has no real ability to parse text more complicated than a simple verb-object command. So you can say “Play Beatles” and Siri can figure out that “Beatles” means a particular artist and/or song, and then it can perform the “play” action on it. But it has no ability to decipher more complex commands and it has no ability to track a conversation and keep a context of what’s being said. When you get right down to it, Siri’s text paring isn’t as advanced as a 1980 8-bit computer text adventure game like Zork.

Imagine a more interactive scenario.

You: “Hey Siri, what time is that movie playing?”

Sir recalls that you asked about the new Star Wars movie earlier in the day and looks up local showtimes.

Siri: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is playing at the AMC Marina Pacifica at 8:45PM and at 9:40pm, and at Regal Lakewood at 7:55pm. Do you want tp purchase tickets?”

You: “Is that in 3D?”

Siri: “Only the 7:55pm Regal Lakewood showtime is 3D”

“OK get two adult tickets for the 3D show.”

That would be like a thousand times more useful than anything Siri has done since day one, and it’s all done by adding the ability to keep track of the conversation to a very minimal degree.

And there was no personal information in this exchange. So tell me, Apple, why wasn’t Siri upgraded to do this like 8 versions ago? Do we need to call the old Infocom Zork programmers and get them on the team?

Not Just Appple

By the way, while I’m calling out Apple and Siri specifically here, most of this applies equally to Amazon/Alexa, Hey Google, and Microsoft/Cortana. Some o them do better than others at certain things, but none of them is at good as Zork. At least you can kill a grue in Zork.

September 20th, 2013 by Mike Fulton
Categories: Apple, iOS, iPhone, Mobile

The new version of iOS is out this week and it’s quite an update.  There are a lot of changes in the way it looks as well as the way it works.  Reaction to the purely aesthetic changes will of course vary from person to person, but there are a variety of changes to basic operations that I don’t think hardly anybody will care for.  Apple seems to have forgotten what “user friendly” means in a few cases.

These are just some initial, gut reactions to iOS7 after having installed it on my iPad 3.

Wallpaper

One change that is mostly aesthetic is the way your background wallpaper works.  Previously, the background was always a static, non-moving image.  But in iOS 7, Apple has introduced a new parallax scrolling effect that is designed to give everything more of a 3D look.  Basically, as you move the device around, the background shifts position to create the illusion that it’s on a separate plane from the icons and text in the foreground.

Visually, this can look quite nice.  However, the idea has a very significant flaw.  When you go to select an image to be used as the background, you’re taken to a screen to “Move and Scale” the image.  So far this is just like it was before.  However, you’ll notice right away that the image is already zoomed in about 35-40% by default.  Next you’ll notice that if you try to zoom out to see the whole image, it won’t let you.

Clearly, the reason for the default zoom level is so that there’s room for iOS to bounce the image around for the background parallax effect. However, as a practical matter it’s just plain frustrating for the average user who simply wants to use their favorite picture as a background.

There is a way to turn off the parallax feature.  Or maybe you’re just cranking down the volume on it, I’m not sure, but you have to go a few levels down into the SETTINGS screens to do it.  Once you do that, the default zoom level is somewhat less, but I was still unable to set the picture at the size I wanted.  After futzing around with it for a few minutes, I finally gave up, loaded Photoshop Touch, then made a larger version of my wallpaper image with big white borders on all four sides so that I could zoom into the portion I wanted.

Then I discovered that pressing the buttons for “SET AS LOCK SCREEN”, “SET AS HOME SCREEN”, or “SET AS BOTH” didn’t appear to do anything.  There was no change in text highlighting or any other indication on screen that any selection had been made, and even clicking where it said “CANCEL” didn’t do anything.  I eventually got out of the screen by pressing the hardware button on the top of my iPad.

Mail

Before iOS 7, the Email app would load messages extending a certain period into the past, depending on your settings.  I had mine set for 1 week, meaning that when I loaded the app it would retrieve message headers dated within the previous week.  You could also specify the maximum number of messages it would load by default.  You could always load more/older messages by pressing the “Get More Messages” button.

All those options seem to have disappeared.  There’s no longer anything in settings to specify the maximum number of messages to retrieve.  There’s no setting for how many days/weeks/months to go back when retrieving messages.  Now it just goes out and grabs everything it can find on the server.

I do not care for this behavior.  I have a tendency to leave a lot of old messages on my mail server most of the time, periodically doing a big purge.  This habit was perfectly accommodated by the old Mail app, not so much by the new one.

Folders

Apple has changed the way folders work on your home screen. Before, clicking a folder would cause it to expand to show the contents. Each folder could contain a number of app icons equivalent to two rows less than the overall top-level screen.  So if you had an iPhone 4, for example, with 4 rows of icons per page plus the additional row at the bottom that was common to all pages, you’d get 3 rows of 4 icons, for a total 12 items per folder.  The taller screen of the iPhone 5 would give you 1 more row for a total of 16 items.

With iOS 7, when you open a folder, it creates a little window that is centered on the screen, showing the folder’s contents.  Only, now it’s a fixed 3×3 array with multiple pages you can switch between by swiping a finger across, just like the main pages.

I like the ability to have more items in a folder, but the small 3×3 array means that I have to scroll through folders where I previously saw all the icons at once.  That sucks and it’s completely unnecessary. For starters, the windowed area where the folder is shown could be larger.  Within the folder, you could also tighten up the spacing of the icons a bit to make room.  I’m resigned to it staying this way, however… we’re on version 7 now and still don’t have that kind of control over icons on the main page, because Apple doesn’t think users need to worry about things like that.

Sluggish Response

I’m also noticing my iPad seems kind of slow to respond to input now that it’s running iOS 7.  Maybe that is because I was downloading updates, but I don’t recall having seen this before.  Hopefully it will go away once the updates are gone.

Well that’s all for now… more to come once I’ve used it a bit more.