“Apple” Category

Siri as the Main Interface

Patrick Rhone:

In other words, what if when we slid to unlock instead of being met with rows and pages of icons we, instead, were met with Siri? What if our primary interaction with such devices was not touch, but voice? What would that look like? What would that feel like?

Exactly the question we should be asking. As voice gets better as an interface for using computers, there’s no reason it should be a supplementary interface—it could be the interface. There would be no reason that devices require a large screen for displaying information and interacting with it. What do those devices look like? How would their purpose change?

The implications for mobile computing are obvious, but one thing I’m wondering a lot about is how a voice interface, combined with applications, would completely change the purpose of the TV. Could the TV be used as a communal computer for basic tasks like getting weather information, movie times, news, et cetera? Wouldn’t it be a very good place to leave notes for other family members (When you get home, the TV could tell you that your spouse went to the grocery store, or that you need to take care of the broken toilet), manage a common calendar, and manage a connected home (lights, heating and cooling, et cetera)? What other uses could a TV-as-computer operated by voice allow that we haven’t thought of?

November 12th, 2012

Apple Exploring ARM-Powered Macs

Bloomberg reports that Apple is exploring ARM-powered Macsk:

Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops, said three people with knowledge of the work, who asked to remain anonymous because the plans are confidential. Apple began using Intel chips for Macs in 2005.

Not exactly a surprise; it’d offer more efficient power usage, it’d provide Macs with another unique advantage over other PCs, and Apple would control another key technology.

November 5th, 2012

Evernote 5′s New iOS Interface

Evernote completely re-designed the user interface for their iOS application in the new version, and I think it looks quite good. Definitely take a look at it; it’s a unique interface design I haven’t seen before, and it looks promising.

November 3rd, 2012

Google Now Is The Future

From Matthew Panzarino’s Nexus 4 review:

Search for your favorite sports team a few times? Now will start to tell you when they’re playing and what the score is. Spend a lot of time in one place and then move a distance away quickly and Now will know you’re traveling and recommend photo opportunities nearby. It’s breathtakingly brilliant and invasive all at once. But it’s also extremely useful.

November 2nd, 2012

The iPod Mini Effect

Dan Frommer:

Based on early reviews, it appears the iPad mini is on the verge of becoming the “real” iPad. That is, the full-size iPad (“iPad classic”?) will still exist indefinitely, but most people will end up buying the iPad mini. It’s less expensive, easier to handle, with the main immediate tradeoff — lower display resolution — something that most people won’t hold against it, if they even notice it.

Something developers are going to have to think heavily about. The iPad Mini runs regular iPad applications fine, but it may end up being the case that it’s used in different settings and used differently than the regular iPad, which could require re-thinking certain kinds of applications.

November 1st, 2012

Jim Dalrymple’s Mini Review

Jim Dalrymple:

Anything that is simply shrunk down or scaled up feels amateurish. The iPad mini feels like an iPad, it’s something you can have fun with and accomplish tasks on.

October 30th, 2012

John Gruber’s iPad Mini Review

John Gruber:

I prefer the Mini over the full-size iPad in every single regard other than display resolution, and though I (and many of you) obsess over display resolution, it’s not an issue in the mass market.

If Gruber is representative of “power” users for the iPad, and he prefers the Mini in every way except for the lack of a retina screen, imagine what regular people will think. It’s a good bet that the iPad Mini becomes the most-bought and most-used iPad. That’s interesting.

It’s especially interesting because while the iPad Mini runs regular iPad applications without issue, Gruber says that typing on it in landscape isn’t nearly as easy as on the regular iPad, as you’d expect. That, combined with less screen space, means it won’t be quite as good a device for writing. Doing things like drawing could end up being less useful, too.

I could be wrong, of course; I’ll know more when mine arrives on Friday. But it’s certain that the iPad Mini being the dominant iPad used will change it as we know it. In many ways, that’s a good thing. The Mini is smaller and easier to hold, so people are probably going to use it more and use it in different circumstances. That’s a good thing for the platform.

October 30th, 2012

A Shift in Apple’s Organizational Structure

Matt Drance:

If this was only about Forstall being a problem, though, Apple would replace him. They clearly aren’t: the same press release explicitly states a search is underway to replace Browett. Not only is this a profound increase in responsibility for all three of these top executives, it’s a profound change in Apple’s organization going as far back as I can remember. There’s a long-standing pattern of separating watershed products important to the company’s future. The Mac and Apple teams. Mac OS X and Classic. The iPod division. iOS and Mac OS X. Suddenly, Tim Cook has pulled the reins in. Federighi owns software. Ive owns design. Cue owns services. Period.

Excellent point. Something I’ve been thinking about since yesterday’s announcement, too, is that under Steve Jobs, Apple had one person tasked with making decisions on nearly every aspect of the company—Jobs. He was intimately involved with product design, negotiations and advertising. While he would listen to what others thought, he had final say—Jobs made decisions and others carried them out. Tim Cook, though, has delegated decision-making power to other people within the company, so there is no one person who makes decisions. This re-organization clarifies these roles; Ive is in charge of design, Cue Internet software and services, Federighi software, and Mansfield technologies. That’s a much clearer structure than before, where decision-making for software was broken up between Federighi and Forstall, Internet services between Cue and Forstall, and user interface design between several people, including Forstall. I wonder if, when Cook’s replaced Jobs, this split of responsibilities led to conflict.

With more clarified responsibilities for the management team, Cook’s more consensus-based approach should operate better.

October 30th, 2012

The Future of iOS

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is where iOS is going. Apple just released the sixth version of iOS, and after more than five years, iOS is significantly more powerful than when the iPhone shipped in 2007. Then, the iPhone had no GPS (or a location-finding feature at all), no copy-and-paste, no voice control, no push notifications, no third-party applications, no multitasking (except for certain applications like iPod and Safari), and just a short list of ringtones—and that was it. It’s come a long way.

iOS 6 was not a significant update for new end-user features. It brought a new Maps application, updated Siri with new capabilities, and added Passbook—significant updates, but not nearly on the scale of past updates. It’s easy to read this as a sign that iOS has matured, and Apple is simply polishing it as-is without changing much. I think that’s dead wrong.

I think that’s wrong for, among others, two reasons: remote view controllers and Siri. Both of these could make iOS a much more powerful operating system than we are used to. Let me explain why these are so significant.

Breaking Down the Sandbox

In iOS, the application model is quite simple: applications play in their own sandbox, and they can’t play in another application’s sandbox. This design is more secure because applications can’t damage other data on the device, but it is also very limiting. Applications have little ability to work together as a result.1

Earlier this month, though, Ole Begemann noticed something interesting in iOS 6: the Mail compose view, which pops up whenever users want to email something from another application, runs in a separate process from the open application. That sounds rather boring, but it’s actually very important. Here’s why.

Effectively, you can think of the Mail compose view as a mini “application” that, when the user wants to email something from an application they are using (let’s say from Basil), slides in on screen and allows them to do so. As a result, I didn’t have to write anything at all related to email for Basil, and yet my customers can email things from Basil to their heart’s content. Now imagine if I, and any other developer, could write mini applications that add functionality to other applications.

For example, Basil could declare that it handles web URLs. Then, I could build the recipe saving feature of Basil as a mini application (stored in Basil) that users can use from any other application that deals with the web. If someone who uses Basil is browsing recipe websites in Safari, they could tap a “Basil” icon in the action sheet, and my mini application would pop up, save the recipe to Basil and get out of the way—all without the user ever leaving Safari. The same could be true for Reeder (save recipes from cooking websites you subscribe to while browsing your feeds), Twitter applications, or anything else—and those developers wouldn’t have to know that Basil even exists. If their application declares that it works with web URLs and Basil declares it can handle them, users will get the functionality without any special work between me and the other developer.

As a result, applications could work together. This would make iOS a much more powerful system. But it could be even better.

Siri

Imagine if developers could not only build mini applications for use with other applications, but services without a user interface. So, for example, Tapity’s Languages application could write a service for translating words, and declare that it handles language (or some other generalized language-related function). Applications that deal heavily with text would then be able to translate into several different languages.

That’d be great. But now imagine that not only could these services be written for other applications, but could also be written for Siri using a Siri API.2 Using Languages’ theoretical service, users with the application installed on their iPhone could translate words by asking Siri, “What is ‘milk’ in Italian?”3 Or if you have a flight tracking application installed, you could ask Siri when a flight will arrive. Or if you have a news application, Siri could tell you what’s happening right now.

Those are just a few mundane examples, but the important part here is this: it would allow developers to extend Siri’s capabilities. If Apple builds a Siri API similar to this, Siri could become infinitely useful. It would truly be a new interface for all of iOS, and an interface for doing almost anything.


I want to note that while it does appear likely that Apple is building remote view controllers, my second idea—remote services along with a Siri API—is entirely speculation. I have no idea if that’s what Apple is planning. What I want to show, though, is that iOS is far from maturity. Whatever Apple decides on, we could see dramatic changes to iOS as we know it in the next few years.

  1. It’s worth noting that in iOS 3.2, applications could declare that they can open certain file types. By doing so, users can “send” files from one application to another. For example, if you are emailed a PDF and tap on it, you are presented with the option to open the PDF in Goodreader (if you have it installed), because it declares itself for that file type. This feature made the sandbox model less limiting because users can now move files between applications, but that’s all it does—move them between applications. Applications still have little ability to work together. []
  2. This, of course, isn’t exactly trivial; the API would have to identify what the user is requesting, what functionality category it falls under, and then provide any applications which declare they can handle it with the user’s request. This alone is a very difficult problem to solve, and one I might come back to in another article. []
  3. This example may be difficult simply because while the service may be able to translate the word correctly, Siri may not be able to speak it in the new language correctly. But it could, of course, just show the answer on screen. []
October 30th, 2012

Federico Viticci On Ive’s Interface Design Role

Federico Viticci:

Jony Ive will provide “leadership” and “direction” for the Human Interface group within the company. This doesn’t mean Ive will be the one creating pixels behind the scenes. The way I see it, Ive has been chosen as someone who can guide – provide the general direction for where things should be heading. So while Ive won’t sit behind a desk merging layers in Photoshop, he will play the role of a director, instructing people on the “look and feel” of a product. And, in my opinion, that’s the most difficult role to play in a company like Apple. It means having to create both the form and the function. “How it looks” and “how it works”. It’s no easy task, but that’s why Cook picked Ive.

October 29th, 2012

Forstall’s Out At Apple

Apple announced a major management shake-up today: Scott Forstall is leaving the company, Jonathan Ive is now responsible for interface design across the company, and Eddy Cue’s Internet Software and Services group is now responsible for Siri and Maps. Oh, and Bob Mansfield will take charge of a new group called Technologies, and will be responsible for Apple’s wireless teams and semiconductor teams, which have “ambitious plans” for the future.

That’s a lot of change. John Gruber suggests Forstall was forced out as a result of tensions within the management team due to disagreements over skeuomorphic UI design and his polarizing approach. I don’t know why, but there’s been a number of rumors in the last year that Forstall’s approach and ambition were abrasive to others in Apple’s team. It appears those rumors were accurate.

I found those reports worrying at the time because they indicated that Apple’s management team, or at least members of it, weren’t working well together and were taking their battles to the press. Hopefully this move will eliminate tensions within the team.

It’s interesting, too, that Ive is now in charge of user interface design. Ive has led industrial design for the fantastic products Apple has released since Jobs returned to Apple, so Ive has been as responsible for Apple’s incredible success as anyone else. Now, he will be responsible for not just the hardware design of their products, but the software design, too. As much as Apple is now Cook’s company, Apple’s products are now Ive’s products. I absolutely think that is a positive change for Apple. I hope, though, that it doesn’t result in too many roles for Ive.

Nearly as important, though, is the consolidation of Apple’s web software and services under Eddy Cue. Cue is now in charge of Apple’s stores, iCloud, Siri and Maps. I think this indicates that Apple believes the web is integral to their future and is working to make it a part of their identity. The web is not just an element in a greater product—it’s going to define Apple’s future with Siri, iCloud and other services. They seem to think so, too.

October 29th, 2012

That ‘High-End of the Market’ Reasoning

Here’s Phil Schiller on the “Apple targets the high-end of the market” thinking:

I noted that for years, pundits thought Apple would, or at least should, start making much cheaper Macs. I said that drumbeat seems to have come and gone, and asked Schiller if everyone finally understood that Apple was content with its strategy of sticking with the high end of the market.

“Our approach at Apple has always been to make products we’re proud to own and use ourselves,” he told me. “…We wouldn’t make something cheap or low quality. When the economy is difficult, people care a great deal about the things they spend their money on. Customers have come to understand that Apple’s products aren’t priced high — they’re priced on the value of what we build into them.”

Useful to keep that in mind when thinking about the iPad Mini.

October 29th, 2012

Languages

Languages is a new app that provides offline translation for 12 different languages, and it looks great. Only 99¢. Sold.

October 25th, 2012

Ken Segall on the iPad Mini Price

Ken Segall:

But any Apple analyst who gets upset over this should be ashamed for failing to understand one of Apple’s core philosophies. The company does not compete on price, it competes on quality. Apple does not sell to “everybody” — it sells to those who appreciate a premium product, and who are willing to pay a premium for it. Build quality aside, iPad comes with a more developed ecosystem, with a bigger choice in apps and accessories. Those who see value in this will pay for that value — as they have for every Apple product that has succeeded before.

I think Segall is assuming a philosophical reason for a higher price when there’s a very simple, pragmatic reason for it: it’s hard to make a tablet device with quality materials and build for a low price while maintaining a decent gross profit margin, and if they’re going to have to drop the price, they would be better off doing that when they know the market won’t sustain it than they would right out of the gate.

Segall is absolutely correct that Apple competes on quality and is trying to build products that fulfill their goal, but where he errs is in arguing that Apple doesn’t also want to sell to everybody. They want to sell to as many people as they possibly can while still making a good product. Their goal is not to make a premium product and sell it to people willing to pay for it; their goal is to make a great product and sell it to as many people as they possibly can.

The original iPad illustrates this. Apple sold it, out of the gate, at $499. For quite a while, this was very aggressive pricing—competitors could not make a comparable tablet, let alone one with the same build quality, at that price-point. Apple took a smaller (but still very solid!) margin in return for making the iPad a more enticing idea for people. They wanted people to think that not only is it a great device, but it’s also a very good price, too.

Apple wants the iPad to be something that nearly everyone wants and can own, but they don’t want to compromise what an “iPad” is to do it. This isn’t about being a premium product. It’s about being a great product. There is a difference.

October 25th, 2012

Apple’s iPad Mini TV Ad

Here’s Apple’s iPad Mini TV ad.

Brilliant ad. It shows someone playing the piano on an iPad, then a second person slides in the iPad Mini and begins playing as well. Very simply, it shows that the iPad Mini does everything the iPad does, and it shows what the iPad can do. This isn’t just about a more convenient way to browse the web—it’s about doing things that just weren’t possible on a PC before.

October 25th, 2012