“Web” Category

The Republican Study Committee’s Excellent Paper On Copyright

The Republican Study Committee published an excellent paper criticizing current copyright law (PDF):

Today’s legal regime of copyright law is seen by many as a form of corporate welfare
that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer. It is a system that picks winners and losers,
and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value. We
frankly may have no idea how it actually hurts innovation, because we don’t know what
isn’t able to be produced as a result of our current system.

It’s cogently written and insightful. I highly recommend reading it.

Unfortunately, the RSC pulled the paper after only a day. Here’s their reason why:

“On issues where there are several different perspectives among our members, our policy briefs should reflect that. This policy brief presented one view among conservatives on U.S. copyright law,” said RSC spokesman Brian Straessle. “Due to an oversight in our review process, it did not account for the full range of perspectives among our members. It was removed from the website to address that concern.”

Perhaps. And if it re-appears soon along with arguments as to why our current copyright laws should be maintained, that will be fine. But if that isn’t the case, it’s shameful that the RSC pulled a smart paper.

November 19th, 2012

Walmart’s iPhone App Has “In-Store” Mode

Walmart is taking advantage of mobile devices to make their stores less sucky:

If you opt in, Walmart will use your location to provide you with an app designed specifically for that store. Head to another Walmart and your app will work for that store. It has useful features: You can make a list by speaking into the phone. You can search a product by typing in a word or phrase — tissues, say, or light bulbs — and the app will show you what aisle to go to. It has an interactive map. It shows you promotions specific to that store. And Walmart is testing a feature called “Scan & Go” that would you scan can items as you shop, so you can go quickly through self-checkout.

Cheers to Walmart for embracing mobile computing to make their stores better, and especially for using it to make the checkout process better. I go out of my way to avoid Walmart because, among other reasons, their checkout process is dreadful.

November 14th, 2012

Siri’s Future

Kontra:

A transactional Siri has the seeds to shake up the $500 billion global advertising industry. For a consumer with intent to purchase, the ideal input comes close to “pure” information, as opposed to ephemeral ad impression or a series of search results which need to be parsed by the user. Siri, well-oiled by the very rich contextual awareness of a personal mobile device, could deliver “pure” information with unmatched relevance at the time it’s most needed. Eliminating all intermediaries, Siri could “deliver” a customer directly to a vendor, ready for a transaction Apple doesn’t have to get involved in. Siri simply matches intent and offer more accurately, voluntarily and accountably than any other method at scale that we’ve ever seen.

Siri could undermine mobile advertising as a whole because it knows (or at least can know) what the user wants. There’s no need to display ads, because the user’s desire is already known: all Siri needs to do is connect the user to the appropriate service.

Fascinating point from Kontra. In large part, by only connecting users with services or vendors when they ask for it, this approach also avoids much of the privacy creepiness that Google’s approach entails. The user affirmatively requests Siri to do something for them, and then it uses their information to take an appropriate action.

November 13th, 2012

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

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 Verge’s Google Now Profile

The Verge’s Dieter Bohn has a terrific profile of Google Now, which attempts to provide information you want before you ask for it.

Google Now is one of the things Google’s working on that has me most excited.

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

Languages

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

October 25th, 2012

Thinking mini

Federico Viticci:

For work or leisure, I can’t help but being curious about the iPad mini. There have been times I wished I had a smaller, more portable iPad.

I’m just as curious as Federico. I use my iPad 3 a lot. Every morning, I read the New York Times, read my RSS feeds, and catch up on Instapaper. In the evening I use it casually for browsing the web or reading books. During the day, I use it in class, and sometimes use it to write.

So I primarily use it for reading, and the iPad Mini’s size is obviously ideal for that. It’s small and should be easier to hold for a while. But, of course, it isn’t retina—and I do love reading text on the iPad 3′s retina screen. And without testing one, I don’t know how well the on-screen keyboard will work for writing.

For now, I don’t think the iPad Mini could replace the regular iPad for what I do. In a couple years, though, my bet is it could.

October 24th, 2012

Letterpress

Letterpress is Loren Brichter’s new iOS game, and it’s available for free on the App Store now.

I’ve been playing it this morning and it’s a very good game. It’s fun, engaging and quite attractive. I don’t play a lot of games on my iPhone, but I like Letterpress a lot.

October 24th, 2012

Microsoft’s Position of Weakness

Microsoft didn’t do so well last quarter:

The software company, based in Redmond, Wash., said net income for its fiscal first quarter which ended Sept. 30, dropped 22 percent to $4.47 billion, or 53 cents a share, compared to $5.74 billion, or 68 cents a share, for the year-earlier period.

Windows revenue dropped 9 percent and revenue from the division which is responsible for Office dropped 2 percent. IDC reported that PC shipments dropped by 8.6 percent in the same quarter.

Some of this is absolutely due to Windows 8′s impending release, but it’s also clear that the PC market is in decline and Microsoft’s revenue and income is along with it.

Microsoft is releasing Windows 8 and Surface from a position of weakness. It must be a success, because while the traditional PC will continue to sell well for years, there’s no growth left in it. It’s hit the high water mark. Growth, today, is in mobile—smartphones and tablets—and Microsoft’s smartphone business is terrible. They’ve been left behind and now they have to catch up.

Windows 8 is not only a transition for Windows, but it’s a transition for Microsoft as a company. This is the point where they have to move from sitting back and minting cash from the PC sales, and try to create a new future for their company.

October 19th, 2012

Craig Mod’s Fitbit Mind

Fitbit changed Craig Mod:

To my surprise, that initial feeling of “neat” never wore off. Each day I dutifully clipped on the Fitbit. Correspondingly, each day I felt my awareness grow. “How should I move through the city?” it continuously forced me to ask myself. And later, looking at the data, I was able to relive those decisions.

As you’d expect, it’s a terrific piece. Interesting how something as small as tracking steps can change how you look at regular day stuff so much.

File this away under “Wearable computing is coming.”

October 18th, 2012

The New Boxee

Boxee is reinventing itself:

The new Boxee TV is an unassuming $99 device with a surprisingly radical feature: dual TV tuners. Plug the Boxee TV into your existing basic cable line or an HDTV antenna, and you’re watching television using a fast, fluid interface light years beyond anything from a cable company. Pay $14.99 a month and you get access to a second radical feature: a cloud-based DVR with unlimited storage that lets you play multiple shows simultaneously on PCs, phones, and tablets.

Unlimited DVR sounds great, but I think the most interesting thing here is that they’re working closely with Comcast. the new box will only work with broadcast TV and basic cable, but it’s telling that Comcast is willing to work with them. If they can replace Comcast’s cable boxes, they could not only be very successful—they will have made cable a much better product for people.

Neat idea. I still think, though, there’s more long-term potential with the Apple TV—turning the TV into a computer will mean much more than providing a nice interface for cable television.

October 16th, 2012

Apple Hires Amazon’s William Stasior to Run Siri

Kara Swisher reports that Apple has hired Amazon’s William Stasior to run their Siri unit:

Apple has hired major Amazon exec and prominent search technologist William Stasior to run its Siri unit, according to sources.

At the online retail giant, Stasior has been in charge of A9, Amazon’s search and search advertising unit. The former AltaVista exec co-founded the independent company and has run it since Udi Manber left for Google.

Siri isn’t just a feature. It’s a strategy.

October 15th, 2012