This is a good video by Marques Brownlee on where things stand today between Siri (iOS 10) and the Google Assistant (running Android Nougat on a Google Pixel XL). Three takeaways: Google Assistant is more chatty than old Google Voice Search; Google still seems to have an edge over Siri when it comes to follow-up questions based on topic inference (which Siri also does, but not as well); and, Siri holds up well in most types of questions asked by Brownlee.
In my daily experience, however, Siri still falls short of basic tasks too often (two examples) and deals with questions inconsistently. There is also, I believe, a perception problem with Siri in that Apple fixes obvious Siri shortcomings too slowly or simply isn't prepared for new types of questions – such as asking how the last presidential debate went. In addition, being able to text with Google Assistant in Allo for iOS has reinforced a longstanding wish of mine – the ability to converse silently with a digital assistant. I hope Siri gets some kind of textual mode or iMessage integration in iOS 11.
One note on Brownlee's video: the reason Siri isn't as conversational as Google Assistant is due to the way Brownlee activates Siri. When invoked with the Home button (or by tapping the microphone icon), Siri assumes the user is looking at the screen and provides fewer audio cues, prioritizing visual feedback instead. If Brownlee had opened Siri using "Hey Siri" hands-free activation, Siri would have likely been just as conversational as Google. I prefer Apple's approach here – if I'm holding a phone, it means I can look at the UI, and there's no need to speak detailed results aloud.
Google released a nice update to their iOS keyboard, Gboard, earlier today.
Cursor control can now be activated with 3D Touch, which is consistent with the behavior of Apple's keyboard. Gboard can't move the cursor freely on the screen like the system keyboard, though, which makes it more limited when it comes to swiping across multiple lines of text. Also, Google didn't implement haptic feedback when switching between contextual keyboard menus (such as holding down on the dash key), which is another detail that I appreciate in Apple's keyboard on the iPhone 7.
Similarly, Gboard now features Contacts integration to look up a person's contact card directly from the keyboard – but it's not as tightly integrated as QuickType suggestions in iOS 10. However, I prefer the presentation of contact cards in Gboard and I think Google's is a sweet solution as well.
Gboard is shaping up nicely, but I continue to wish Google paid more attention to the iPad layout and built true multilingual support for international users.
Apple has begun working with large US-based home builders, like Lennar and KB Home, to incorporate HomeKit-enabled systems into newly-constructed homes. HomeKit was introduced with iOS 8. Makers of home automation equipment were initially slow to adopt HomeKit, but it has begun to gain momentum in recent months.
With device manufacturers embracing HomeKit in greater numbers, Bloomberg reports that Apple has turned to large homebuilders to help get those devices into homes. One drag on home automation adoption is cost. As Bloomberg points out, a touchscreen deadbolt lock costs $200 compared to $32 for a traditional lock. Another issue is incorporating smart devices into older homes that were not designed with them in mind. To address both problems, Apple is focusing on new homes:
’We want to bring home automation to the mainstream,’ said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of product marketing. ‘The best place to start is at the beginning, when a house is just being created.’
By focusing on new construction, the cost of smart devices can be rolled into a homeowner’s mortgage at the time of purchase, making the cost easier to rationalize. New construction also has the advantage that it is easier to design devices into a home when it is built than to retro-fit existing homes.
This week, Myke goes to the Apple Store, the group reads Pixel reviews and Federico brings back Weekly Picks.
A fun episode of Connected this week, with a brief discussion of Google's new Pixel phone and the return of weekly app picks. You can listen here.
Mark Bramhill, the creator of Welcome to Macintosh: a Tiny Show About a Big Fruit Company, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Season 3 of his highly-regarded podcast about Apple and the community that surrounds it. Bramhill’s show seemingly came out of nowhere in early 2015. In a sea of Apple-themed podcasts, Welcome Macintosh set itself apart by being short and tightly edited. Each episode of seasons one and two focused on a single story or theme from Apple history like skeuomorphism and the time Song a Day Mann made Steve Jobs dance onto stage at the antenna-gate Apple event.
Bramhill previews some of what he has planned if the Kickstarter succeeds:
In one episode, I pitch an emoji for adoption in the international Unicode standard, following it all the way from a concept through the bureaucracy of the emoji-industrial complex. In another, I trace the surprisingly dramatic past of an app that was on the forefront of the MP3 revolution. And there are a whole bunch of others. Beginning next summer: eight brand new episodes for Season 3.
The kind of show that Bramhill produces is time consuming, hard work, and it takes money. So for Season 3, Bramhill has launched a Kickstarter. He is trying to raise $10,000 to cover everything from file hosting, to travel expenses. The campaign is off to a good start and includes some nice perks for backers like vinyl stickers and t-shirts. Mark is a natural storyteller. Check out the past episodes of Welcome to Macintosh and the short episodes he will be releasing during the Kickstarter campaign. I bet if you do, you’ll find yourself on his Kickstarter page backing Season 3.
Julian Lepinski has a thoughtful response to last week's story by Walt Mossberg on Siri's failures and inconsistencies. In particular, about the way Siri handles failed queries:
Apple’s high-level goal here should be to include responses that increase your faith in Siri’s ability to parse and respond to your question, even when that isn’t immediately possible. Google Search accomplishes this by explaining what they’re showing you, and asking you questions like “_Did you mean ‘when is the debate’?_” when they think you’ve made an error. Beyond increasing your trust in Siri, including questions like this in the responses would also generate a torrent of incredible data to help Apple tune the responses that Siri gives.
Apple has a bias towards failing silently when errors occur, which can be effective when the error rate is low. With Siri, however, this error rate is still quite high and the approach is far less appropriate. When Siri fails, there’s no path to success short of restarting and trying again (the brute force approach).
The comparison between conversational assistants and iOS' original user interface feels particularly apt. It'd be helpful to know what else to try when Siri doesn't understand a question.
The PlayStation VR is finally out. Federico, Myke, and Shahid share their views on the hardware, the experience, and the launch lineup.
Sony's PlayStation VR platform launched earlier this week, and we've been playing with several launch titles for the past few days. On the latest Remaster, we discuss our impressions of the hardware, the gaming experience, and its future potential. You can listen here.
This week Fraser and Federico complete the set and talk about Microsoft Office and Google Docs on iOS.
This week on Canvas, we conclude our mini-series on office apps for iOS with a look at the Microsoft Office suite and Google's iOS clients. You can listen here.
- Boom for iOS: Redefine the way you listen to music on your iPhone and iPad.
Google Photos has introduced four new features:
- Google Photos uses faces in your most recent photos to suggest older photos with with the same person in them;
- If you take a lot of photos of the same subject, like a child, Google Photos will create a card of the best ones from the past month;
- Animations, which Google Photos already creates using photos, are also generated from videos now; and
- If Google Photos detects that there are sideways photos in your collection, it will present a card with the photos that it thinks should be rotated.
This is what Google Photos does best. It finds connections and photos that would be like searching for a needle in a haystack if you did it manually with a big photo library.
Each of the new features are available on iOS, Android, and the web.