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What Google Photos Could Do Next

Mat Honan, writing for BuzzFeed, interviewed Anil Sabharwal, vice president of Photos at Google, on the future of the service. It sounds like they're thinking of more ways to let artificial intelligence make photo management and sharing smarter:

Google refers to these auto-generated moments as “creations.” According to Sabharwal, the company has made 1.6 billion of them in the past year and has big plans to do more. “I think there’s a really great opportunity to mix the machine learning and creations together,” he said. “One [creation] we love is the concept of ‘rediscover this day’ — where we present to our users meaningful moments on a particular date in previous years. Rather than ‘here’s what happened a year ago,’ it’s here’s a set of photos from the last time you were with these people, or the last time you were at this restaurant.”

Sabharwal also said Photos might become smarter about the albums and movies it creates by giving them a stronger perspective and point of view. It might, for example, automatically select a wedding shot in which you and your partner are looking at each other for the hero shot in an anniversary album.

The success of Google Photos doesn't surprise me. Unlike other Google products, it's focused, updated often, and it distills the best of Google (machine learning at scale, speed, online backup) down to a clear, user-friendly product. I think it's the best consumer service they've launched in years.

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Swysh Review: Control Your Music with Gestures

My phone sat locked when "Clarity" by Zedd played through my headphones. But like on so many other occasions, I decided that I was done listening to the song far before its end. I picked up my phone and, with a quick flick to the right, moved to the next song.

The functionality comes from Swysh, a $0.99 app to completely alter the way you interact with your music. I've been listening to my music with Swysh for the past week, and what I've found leaves me satisfied, albeit with some caveats.

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Comparing Siri and Alexa

Rene Ritchie at iMore, in an article titled "Siri vs. Alexa is hilarious to people outside the U.S.":

Imagine if, on a weekly basis, you saw or heard "Xinghua" being compared to Siri. But "Xinghua" was available only in China and only to people who spoke Mandarin. How meaningful would those comparisons really be to you in the U.S.? That's about as meaningful as headlines comparing Amazon's virtual assistant, Alexa to Apple's Siri are to the vast majority of the world's population.

Right now Alexa is solving only for people in America who speak English. That's an incredibly small subset of what Siri, which just recently added Hebrew and several other languages in several other reasons, solves for.

With all due respect to Rene, I think this is a disingenuous way of defending Siri from the comparisons to the Amazon Echo's Alexa.

It is, of course, a fair complaint that the Amazon Echo is not available in countries outside the United States, and that it can only understand US English.1 But I do not think it is legitimate to imply that the Echo's geographic and lingual limitations somehow undermines the advances that the Echo offers in other areas such as its integrations with services which is seeing it receive praise from all-corners of the industry in recent months.

A large part of the praise of the Amazon Echo is because in 18 months it has gone from a product that didn't exist, into one that many in the US find incredibly useful. Also significant is that in those 18 months it has evolved rapidly, adding great new features that make it even more useful. That is why people are comparing it to Siri, which launched in 2011 and has undoubtedly improved, but at a much slower pace and in less substantial ways (multi-lingual support aside).

I'm an Australian and I don't think this Siri vs Alexa debate is "laughably US-centric", I think it's important, even if I can't personally use Alexa. Just last week, Google announced that it will be releasing a very similar product later this year, and credited Amazon for their pioneering work with the Echo. I am certain Apple has taken similar notice of Amazon's (seemingly successful) efforts with the Echo, and if Apple acts on those observations, then everyone with access to Siri will benefit.

So I'm not laughing, I'm grateful, if a little envious that my friends in the US are (yet again) getting a taste of the future before me. But I know it'll reach me soon enough, whether it's via Apple, Google, Amazon, or even Microsoft.


  1. I regularly make these kinds of observations/complaints about various products and services. Two years ago I even spent days researching and putting together this extensive examination of just how far ahead Apple was in terms of the availability of media content in countries around the world, so I understand this frustration very well. ↩︎
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Canvas, Episode 11: Travelling with iOS

With summer - and WWDC - coming up, Fraser and Federico bring you advice on the equipment, apps and tweaks for your iOS devices that you need when travelling with your iOS devices.

The the travel bags are opened to reveal the essentials within. Fraser and Federico share their favourite travel accessories, techniques for getting online abroad and their preferred iOS settings tweaks and Apple Watch complications for having fun and staying safe abroad.

This week's Canvas is all about traveling. We share our favorite gear, best practices, and tips for using iOS devices and apps when you're on vacation. You can listen here.

Sponsored by:

  • Airtable: Organise anything you can imagine.
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Workflow 1.5: App Store Automation, Trello and Ulysses Actions, Audio Metadata, Safari View Controller, and More

In seven years of MacStories, few iOS apps fundamentally changed how I get work done as much as Workflow. Pythonista, Editorial, and Tweetbot are in that list, but Workflow, with its ongoing improvements and deep iOS integrations, continuously makes me question how I can optimize my setup further.

Nearly two years (and an Apple Design Award) later, Workflow is reaching version 1.5 today, an important milestone towards the road to 2.0. Unsurprisingly for the Workflow team, this release adds over 20 new actions and dozens of improvements. Some of them are new app actions based on URL schemes, while others introduce brand new system integrations (such as iTunes Store, App Store, and Safari View Controller) and web actions for the popular Trello team collaboration service. Workflow 1.5 is a packed release that is going to save heavy Workflow users a lot of time.

After testing and playing with Workflow 1.5 for the past month, I've been able to streamline key aspects of writing for MacStories and managing Club MacStories. With a bigger team and more Club responsibilities, we've been thinking about how to improve our shared tasks and creative process; Workflow 1.5 has played an essential role in it.

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Pixelmator 3.5 Adds Selection Tools and a Photos Extension

Pixelmator 3.5 was released today with three new tools - Quick Selection, Magnetic Selection, and a retouch extension for Apple’s Photos app. Pixelmator has been my go-to image editor for a long time. I use if for everything from screenshot editing for MacStories and creating assets for my own website, to retouching family photos. As many readers may know, we started a Telegram channel a couple months ago called The MacStories Lounge. One of Telegram’s strengths is its media integration. I figured, what better way to test the new Pixelmator selection tools than to create a Telegram sticker – of Federico.

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The Similarity of Differences

Seth Clifford:

Apple and Google, in the eyes of the general public and many tech bloggers, have been at war for many years, and in vague terms, both companies sell fancy mobile phones. But the implications of those businesses are so far beyond the face value of what we see. And what I’ve realized is that they aren’t zero-sum or mutually exclusive. What I’ve come to understand is that the more the two companies seem to have been battling, the more the individual directions of each company become unassailably concrete.

Different directions toward the same destination. But I would also add fundamentally different cultures and focus. This is what makes observing both companies so fun these days.

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Lookmark for Apps

Lookmark is a great utility by Claes Jacobsson to bookmark apps for later and download them when you can. Today's 2.0 update to Lookmark, which I've been testing over the past few days, adds the ability to bookmark any iTunes content and a solid extension that can add bookmarks directly from Safari.

It's quite impressive: if you try it on a website that mentions apps like MacStories, the extension will scan links on the webpage and you'll get a popup at the bottom to save apps for later.

Also new today: a Price Watch subscription service to be alerted of price changes for bookmarked apps. That's going to come in handy for @MacStoriesDeals.

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