Federico Viticci

8791 posts on MacStories since April 2009

Federico is the founder and editor-in-chief of MacStories, where he writes about Apple with a focus on apps, developers, and mobile software. He can also be found on his three podcasts – Connected, Canvas, and Remaster.

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Connected, Episode 124: A Bunch of Enterprising Italians

This week, the aging hosts of Connected remember their first reactions to the iPhone and talk about the value of independent blogging.

If you ever wondered how I got my very first iPhone, this week's Connected has the answer. You can listen here.

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Steven Aquino on AirPods and Siri

Some interesting thoughts about the AirPods by Steven Aquino. In particular, he highlights a weak aspect of Siri that isn't usually mentioned in traditional reviews:

The gist of my concern is Siri doesn't handle speech impediments very gracefully. (I've found the same is true of Amazon's Alexa, as I recently bought an Echo Dot to try out.) I’m a stutterer, which causes a lot of repetitive sounds and long breaks between words. This seems to confuse the hell out of these voice-driven interfaces. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that if I don’t enunciate perfectly, which leaves several seconds between words, the AI cuts me off and runs with it. Oftentimes, the feedback is weird or I’ll get a “Sorry, I didn’t get that” reply. It’s an exercise in futility, sadly.
[...]
Siri on the AirPods suffers from the same issues I encounter on my other devices. It’s too frustrating to try to fumble my way through if she keeps asking me to repeat myself. It’s for this reason that I don’t use Siri at all with AirPods, having changed the setting to enable Play/Pause on double-tap instead (more on this later). It sucks to not use Siri this way—again, the future implications are glaringly obvious—but it’s just not strong enough at reliably parsing my speech. Therefore, AirPods lose some luster because one of its main selling points is effectively inaccessible for a person like me.

That's a hard problem to solve in a conversational assistant, and exactly the kind of Accessibility area where Apple could lead over other companies.

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Testing the Operating Range of AirPods and Beats Solo3

Steffen Reich ran some tests to determine range differences between AirPods, W1-equipped Beats headphones, and older Beats models:

Much has been said about the virtues of the W1 chip Apple started baking into their latest wireless Beats line-up and of course the AirPods. By now we know for sure that W1 facilitates a much faster pairing process, as do we know that the chip significantly amplifies both battery life and conservation techniques. What’s less prominently talked about – at least from official sides – is the operating range of these wireless headphones and the presumed effect the W1 chip addition has had on that benchmark.

Obviously, walking a straight line in a park is no replacement for the kind of wireless interference you'd have on a train, in a crowded street, or in an office with walls and other Bluetooth devices nearby. Also, the AirPods are a new category altogether – I'm not sure how relevant a comparison to non-wireless Bluetooth buds can be.

However, these base results are in line with the excellent range I also experienced with the Beats Solo3, which makes me wonder how impressive (range-wise) future Studio Wireless headphones will be.

I keep wishing Apple would license the W1 chip to third-parties – especially on large headphones, it makes pairing and range performance so much better than regular Bluetooth.

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“The Best 1.0 in Tech History”

Marco Arment:

Not only was it truly mind-blowing at the time, but in retrospect, so much of modern computing was invented for that first iPhone phone and revealed to the world for the first time in that hour. Just watch the software demos: most modern UI mechanics and behaviors, large and small, began that day.

When it shipped six months later, it was possibly the best 1.0 in tech history, followed by a decade of relentless hardware and software improvements with the highest success rate and fastest advancement of any product line I’ve ever seen.

Regardless of modern UI design trends, we're still living in the era defined by the first iPhone.

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Facebook and Google Dominate the List of 2016’s Top Apps

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

Mobile applications from Facebook and Google dominated the new list of the year’s top apps released today by Nielsen. Not surprisingly, Facebook again grabbed the number one spot on the list, with more than 146 million average unique users per month, and 14 percent growth over last year. In fact, Facebook scored several spots on the top 10 chart, thanks to Messenger (#2) and Instagram (#8) – the latter which also showed some of the highest year-over-year growth, up 36 percent from 2015.

Messenger came in second place this year, with over 129 million average unique monthly users, followed by YouTube with over 113 monthly uniques.

However, it was Google, not Facebook, that grabbed the most spots on the year-end chart.

I assume that Nielsen's study accounts for both the App Store and Google Play Store (iOS and Android apps), but their findings match the general state of the iOS App Store's top charts. Notably, the only Apple-made app to make it into the Top 10 is Apple Music, which launched in June 2015 and has 20 million paying subscribers, though Nielsen reports over 68 million "average unique users" for it (Free users? Non-subscriber usage? Family accounts? I'd love to know their methodology for this).

See also, from two years ago: No Ecosystem Is an Island.

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Phil Schiller on How the iPhone Changed Apple

Steven Levy, writing for Backchannel, interviewed Apple's Phil Schiller for the tenth anniversary of the iPhone's introduction:

“If it weren’t for iPod, I don’t know that there would ever be iPhone.” he says. “It introduced Apple to customers that were not typical Apple customers, so iPod went from being an accessory to Mac to becoming its own cultural momentum. During that time, Apple changed. Our marketing changed. We had silhouette ads with dancers and an iconic product with white headphones. We asked, “Well, if Apple can do this one thing different than all of its previous products, what else can Apple do?’”

In the story, Schiller also makes an interesting point about Siri and conversational interfaces after being asked about Alexa and competing voice assistants:

“That’s really important,” Schiller says, “and I’m so glad the team years ago set out to create Siri — I think we do more with that conversational interface that anyone else. Personally, I still think the best intelligent assistant is the one that’s with you all the time. Having my iPhone with me as the thing I speak to is better than something stuck in my kitchen or on a wall somewhere.”
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“People are forgetting the value and importance of the display,” he says “Some of the greatest innovations on iPhone over the last ten years have been in display. Displays are not going to go away. We still like to take pictures and we need to look at them, and a disembodied voice is not going to show me what the picture is.”

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Airmail 1.5 Brings Custom Actions, Workflow Integration

Airmail, the most powerful email client for iOS and my 2016 App of the Year, has made integrations with third-party apps and services the central element of its experience, allowing users to deeply fine-tune their email workflows. With version 1.5, launching today on the App Store, the developers at Bloop are further expanding Airmail's integration roster with the ability to create custom actions as well as Workflow support to craft automations tailored for messages shared from Airmail.

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Amazon’s Alexa Is Everywhere at CES 2017

I try not to obsess over every single announcement from CES, but it seems like "Alexa everywhere" is a common theme of this year's event. Jacob Kastrenakes has a useful roundup of Alexa devices and integrations at The Verge – but there are also smartphones and cars launching support for Amazon's assistant.

It feels like Amazon is taking the "Netflix approach" with Alexa – to be on as many devices as possible and gain mindshare through convenience and simple user interactions (like Netflix, primarily in English-speaking countries in the first couple of years). I wonder if we're going to see a proper Alexa app for iOS this year to issue commands from an iPhone. I wouldn't be surprised to see something along the lines of Astra, only made by Amazon itself and integrated with most of the skills supported by the Echo speakers.

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Connected, Episode 123: 2017 Apple Predictions

Myke, Federico and Stephen draft their predictions for Apple’s 2017 before talking a little bit about some resolutions for the new year, tech-related and otherwise.

If you want to know what we think is going to happen in the Apple world this year, you don't want to miss this week's Connected. You can listen here.

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