The Critical Path #88: Siri in the Driver's Seat

In the second part of our WWDC wrapup, we delve into the large-scale shift represented by iOS 7. Siri guides us on the journey from navigation to consumption in our latest AsymCar segment, and Horace examines what iWork for iCloud means.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #88: Siri in the Driver’s Seat.

  • neutrino23

    iWork in the cloud and the new Mac Pro both point to an interesting aspect of Apple which is that you can’t look at their products in isolation. If Dell or some other PC company had made a similar gadget it would have been a bit odd. Why invest so much in a shrinking market. Similarly with iWork. Why do this? How does it affect the bottom line? Who could start a business like this? With Apple you have to imagine that the Mac Pro feeds the developers who then influence other purchasers and who develop content for the rest of the products. Similarly, iWork in the cloud adds value to the rest of the products making it more likely that someone would buy an iPad or MacBook Pro or Air or an iMac.

    This ties in with Horace’s recent discussion about the structure of Apple. If iWork had to stand on its own it might not survive as it would not generate much revenue. Perhaps the same fate would befall Apple TV and the Mac Pro. The problem with cutting away all of your low revenue generating products is that you also cut away value from your ecosystem and thereby devalue what you consider to be your main products.

  • Jacob Willliams

    I believe apple is disingenuous by continuing to label Siri as a beta product. They spent millions of dollars on TV ads that showed Siri being used for tasks that it simply cannot do. It’s my belief they sold millions of iPhones because of these commercials. It isn’t right that they refuse to accept any apps from developers that are considered or defined as in beta. It is odd that the app they promote the most is the only one in the entire iOS system that is distinguished as half cooked. What an excellent strategy to avoid any criticism. “Hey hey, it’s not ready yet.”

    You’d think after ten years in development the beta tag can be removed. I take that back. The beta tag was removed before apple acquired the software.

    • neutrino23

      I didn’t realize it was beta till I checked the web site. It is there in the fine print. I don’t know why they have elected to do that.

      What have you seen advertised that can’t actually be done? I use Siri a moderate amount. It seems to work okay for the things I try.

      • Jacob Willliams

        It’s not in the fine print though. It’s right there on the title display. – Orange rectangle. They want us to know.

        It’s fine, I don’t lose any sleep over it. I’m just waiting for it to be out of beta before I upgrade my iPhone4 to the 4S. 😉

    • Walt French

      I don’t think they’re beta-testing Google’s style of leaving new efforts in “beta.”

      • Jacob Willliams

        Siri is not a better OS. Audio input is inferior to physical.

        When we are with people (meeting, dinner, hanging out, bus) it is awkward and rude to call someone and speak to them on the phone.

        If you believe the act of speaking is more convenient and/or productive then call me on my cell. (435)671-6972

        I think it would be an interesting experience. Maybe we can record it and post a link to the MP3 file into the comments.

        Mmmmmm. Horace, interesting way of reinventing the comments section. You do have a larger demographic of “listeners” after all. More people coming to your site to listen to follow-ups.

        Audio comments section. Ask for it on all 5by5 shows.

      • Walt French

        Voice is a disruptive technology because it is not as good for existing functions. Instead, it enables new ones that the older tech, which is refined for old tasks, cannot address.

      • The point of disruptions is that they are worse, not better, than what they end up replacing.

      • Jacob Willliams

        The fallacy I see here is in the assumption that Siri isn’t used because the technology is not evolved to the point of making it usable.

        It’s my belief that the technology isn’t used because we humans (the biology of us) also our habits and how we live life don’t fit into the framework of an audio/spoken OS.

        Our brains don’t consume or produce data that way. Information transfers fastest through light. Thus our brains evolved to think visually.

        A good example to strengthen this point; It’s almost meaningless to try and listen to a spreadsheet, a graph, or a pie chart. When we can see multiple data points mapped, when each line or point can be viewed side by side, and their relationship to each other, that is when substance and insights can be found.

        I think approaching technology from a “what can this tech do” stance is the wrong approach. We can put people on the moon. It doesn’t mean we’ll keep doing it.

      • JaneDoe12

        Our brains don’t consume or produce data that way. Information transfers fastest through light. Thus our brains evolved to think visually.

        Take a look at emerging economies such as Latin America and South Africa. Consumers there use mobile devices to access the Internet rather than PCs (source: Accenture) The device of choice is smartphones — 60% use them. With the small screens, do you think audio would be at least as good as a touchscreen? They’ll still have screen displays.

        Another angle: almost half in South Africa – 46% – use mobile devices to conduct banking transactions. Standard Bank, operating in 18 African countries, realized they couldn’t bring brick-and-mortar banks to large swaths of the rural population. They use an SAP app to bring their services to these communities. Last year, they originated more than 7,000 new accounts per day and they hope to put a dent in the poverty level across Africa (source: SAP). If rural areas don’t have 100% literacy, I think audio input would be useful.

        In 2011, the Zeeland, Michigan school district bought iPads for every one of its 1800 high school students plus all the grammar school students from 3rd grade up (source: Detroit Free Press). With the younger grades, don’t you think audio would enhance their learning?

      • Jacob Willliams

        My assertion is that audio will have limits. Limits that aren’t due to the technology, but rather those using it.

        We forget that we are biological computers ourselves. We all run similar but different OS’s. We get a little better over time and then eventually become outdated and slow down due to malware and lack of memory.

        It’s simply a fact of life. I’d love for Horace to spend an entire episode on human integration. It’s at least 50% of the system and it’s always ignored. Steve Jobs knew this was the key.

        I was super excited to hear them discuss compelling story telling in the last episode.

      • JaneDoe12

        My assertion is that audio will have limits. Limits that aren’t due to the technology, but rather those using it.

        Yes, audio has limits but so does visual. Visual is fine when people have good reading skills, but for those who need assistance, audio or audio-visual would be better. Here is a big job to be done in the US: teaching elementary and high school students who have fallen behind their grade level, and the millions on the path to citizenship.

      • Jacob Willliams

        No doubt. I agree.

        I got really interesting in this topic so I did my own little study. I spent the whole weekend working on both Siri and S-voice. Here are my results:

        1. Both cannot interpret hang time or tip of tongue.
        “What is fastest um umm what’s it? mammal in the world.

        2. Neither can interpret complex questions:
        “What’s that turtle’s name with the orange bandanna?

        3. Neither can notice a correction in your statement.
        “Where’s the closest McDonalds, no actually let’s do Burger King.”

        4. Neither knows the person that’s talking to them. Huge when you need to know what someone means.

        5. Neither can interpret body language. Again, extremely important.

        If these five are solved then I will be convinced that speaking to an AI can be beneficial to an average individuals workflow.

        I’m not arguing the power of audio. Podcasts are incredible. What I’m arguing is the shortcomings of conversation and feedback from a computer. It’s unlikely given our social norms.

      • JaneDoe12

        2. Neither can interpret complex questions:
        “What’s that turtle’s name with the orange bandanna?

        Great results from your study! I really enjoyed reading them.

        #2 is the hardest so I’ll start with that. I think that audio can interpret complex questions, but we have to ask them in a simple way — e.g. “What is the name of the turtle with the orange bandana?” When I typed that whole question into Google, I got the answer with the first result (from Yahoo) — Michelangelo. So Siri and S-voice could pass whole questions to Google.

        Here’s another one: How do you start a business? When I googled that, the third result was from Forbes — it was “How to Start a Business with Only $100 in the Bank.” Apparently, Google has indexed the phrase “how do you …?” so we can use that and append our subject. “How do you learn to fly a plane?”

        Siri/S-voice can also use APIs. There are more than 9,000 now (here’s a link to API Dashboard: link). E.g. there are 200 for just travel. I think there’s a big potential for AI to benefit the average person’s life.

        For other problems like long pauses during the question, corrections, body language, knowing the person that’s speaking: these are very important for social conversation. But for AI, I think we will have to learn to ask straightforward questions.

      • Jacob Willliams

        Interesting. Thanks for delving into that. It would seem solving complex questions aren’t too far off.

        I don’t know that we can endure the requirement of asking straightforward questions though.

        However, I’m using the trial for a new keyboard, (omitting the name) it’s interpretations are insanely accurate. So I’m not skeptical that these problems can’t be solved.

        I use a new phone that has a stylus. It’s handwriting recognition of both cursive and print are eerie. I was quite the skeptic of the stylus until now.

        The main refusal for upgrading the the original iPhone and iPhone3G was that people had had bad experiences with touch screens up until that point. If you were on the sales floor you needed to give demos of how “cool” and “smooth” the touching was. You would never need to do that today.

        Perhaps voice needs that kind of revolutionary advance. Something so good that it causes people to second guess their original beliefs.

        So although Horace argues for iterative and evolutionary technology, it is actually the revolutionary huge strides that get consumers talking and sharing.

        I don’t know what you know about marketing an app for the app store, but it’s best to focus all of your marketing budget into one single day. It create more buzz as they say. The reason is that Apple’s algorithms are set to measure daily performances on their charts. A similar approach may be needed for voice. Add improvements and make no fuss about them or that they’re being done. Then let them all go at once.

        It’s like those quarter push machines at the arcade. You’ll notice that there’s a upward lip right at the edge where the quarters drop. This keeps the coins on top pulled back. That way when the bottom quarters fall they don’t bring with them all the coins on top of it. But if you put in multiple quarters at a time and evenly it keeps the top quarters from being able to rolls to either side as all side are being pushed forward.

        Yes, I just made that analogy.

      • Chris Carnel

        Horace… Read this and cotton gin immediately came to mind. Then steam engines. And as I walk through this I think your comment makes sense. I’m sure the very first steam engines, on the whole, paled to ox, cattle, teams of horses. So not worse as in categorically…but worse when they first hit the scene?

      • Jacob Willliams

        Horace is correct when you compare physical buttons to touchscreens. Touchscreen tech existed but wasn’t used because it wasn’t good enough for some time.

        But again, the “input” action is the same for the person. Touching something with his/her fingers.

        Bluetooth headsets have come a long way. What percentage of people use them regularly? Go outside of your social tech bubble and you’ll find maybe 3% at most. Most people buy one, use it for a day or two, and then throw it in the sock drawer.

  • Andre Cheung

    Anther great and insightful podcast! Microsoft builds platforms for people to build bits and bytes. Apple builds platforms for people to build bits and bytes, as well as bricks and mortar!

    The first goal is to acquire new customers. Next are customer loyalty & stickiness and returning businesses. Use accessories to lock up customers! Become successful by making others successful! My most frequent use of Airplay is to stream music to my speakers which are there for 10 years!

    Thank you Horace and Moises!

  • perwis

    Horace, it would be interesting to hear more about your thoughts on the disruptive potential of electric vehicles, especially considering what Tesla is up to: See e.g.;–and-what-it-may-cost

  • Bill Esbenshade

    Horace – Great show as always! I think your comments on design are really interesting, because good design — consistent with Jony Ive’s adherence to Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of good design — seems to prevent overserving products. As you note, good design is also consistent with job-to-be-done thinking.

    One thing I’ve never quite understood re Christensen is why his books always say that products FIRST become good enough re functionality/reliability, and THEN become good enough re convenience, affordability, and customization. I think Apple’s design approach challenges these distinctions.

    Through good design, Apple creates products that are simple, convenient, and easy to use, which allows users to take better advantage of a product’s functionality. This helps prevent functionally overserving products. Improvements in functionality, reliability, convenience, ease of use, etc., do not progress in linear/lockstep order, one after the other — they are interdependent. Apple devices that are convenient and easy to use, with readily accessible features/functions, are less likely to functionally overserve. That’s why Apple products are more heavily used than their competitors’ products.

    Apple may be avoiding certain developing/emerging markets because it knows that the iPhone, without certain infrastructure improvements in those markets, would be functionally overserving. Customers would not be getting good bang for their buck, which would erode customer loyalty (the thing Apple prizes most). Apple only introduces the iPhone when existing infrastructure allows customers to take full advantage of the iPhone’s functionality.

    The poor usage figures for Android phones may be indicative of bad design, which makes the phones harder/less convenient to use, which effectively makes the phones functionally overserving. It may also be indicative of vendors trying to sell Android smartphones in developing markets, where poor infrastructure makes any smartphone overserving. In developing markets, the way to avoid a functionally overserving product is to make the product simpler, cheaper, and tailored to the specific market’s infrastructure.

    • KirkBurgess

      I think Apples approach to the MacBook Air refresh speaks volumes about what it values in design.

      It could have added the new intel CPUs at the standard clock speed and touted x% improvement in speed etc, but instead it underclocked the CPUs so that there is little to no CPU improvement over the previous model, but massive improvement in battery life.

      Apple has successfully judged what is more useful/valued by its users, and even reviews from tech sites have praised the decision to choose battery life over CPU power.

  • Bruce_Mc

    One new feature of iOS 7 that has not been given much mention is “Native support for Human Interface Devices such as keyboards, mice, and game controllers.”

    I don’t think we will see a laptop running iOS any time soon, but I wonder about Apple coming out with a more integrated keyboard for iPad that includes a trackpad, something like an ASUS Transformer keyboard.

    I think for a long time Apple wanted to teach people that iPads were different than Macs, so they avoided making any sort of crossover iOS product. Now I think people are more understanding and perhaps more ready for such a product.

    • Lun Esex

      A trackpad would mean an on-screen cursor, which is something I can’t imagine Apple adding to their mobile products.

      *Maybe* an on-screen cursor could show up in iOS on the Apple TV if/when it gets apps, particularly for web browsers. Web browsing on a 10 foot interface is very sub-optimal, though (see the fate of WebTV/Microsoft’s UltimateTV). I wouldn’t be surprised if/when apps do come to Apple TV that Apple doesn’t release Safari for it and they intentionally leave APIs for an on-screen cursor out of the SDK, in order to actively discourage people from working on 3rd party web browsers (there’ll still be half a dozen in the app store, each with its own custom cursor code, but with the inclusion of an on-screen cursor API there’d be twice that many).

      No doubt the types of UIs encouraged for Apple TV apps would be menu driven and/or game style, as have been proven to be usable on current game consoles and set top boxes.

      • Bruce_Mc

        “A trackpad would mean an on-screen cursor, which is something I can’t imagine Apple adding to their mobile products.”

        Yes it would. I believe that in Android the cursor is only visible when a pointing device is enabled. I can imagine something like that.

        I think it would also mean having keyboard shortcuts or dedicated keys for various gestures. The goal would be to eliminate the need to touch the screen in normal use with a keyboard and mouse or trackpad.

      • Lun Esex

        Apple is explicitly not going in the direction of on-screen cursors in iOS.

        One of the reasons iOS devices have seen so much success and wide adoption is because of their direct manipulation, touchscreen interface. No doubt from Apple’s standpoint on-screen cursors and pointing devices like trackpads with a goal to “eliminate the need to touch the screen in normal use” go backwards in evolution from this. Note how Apple stopped updating and selling the iPad Keyboard Dock. It was clearly a hedge Apple made against people not adopting the iPad because it only had a touchscreen keyboard. This turns out not to have been necessary, so it was discontinued.

        For people who want or need an on-screen cursor and pointing device, Apple will happily point them to a MacBook. “Oh, what you want is a truck. We still sell those. Right over here…”

      • Space Gorilla

        I expect an iOS Airbook device soon though, the combination of a hardware case/keyboard and touchscreen works very well. I use my iPad 2 like this, with a ZAGGFolio, it is very comfortable and easy to use, feels natural. Touching the screen with my finger has taken the place of the mouse/cursor, and I love it. I edit a lot of text in Pages (and take all my meetings notes), and it’s really nice on the iPad, you’d be surprised how fast you get used to it, now I find the mouse/cursor quite clunky and slow.

        I have a Macbook Pro which I don’t use anymore because of the iPad/ZAGGfolio combo. I was at a meeting with a client a couple weeks ago and I accidentally tried touching his laptop screen to click a browser link, for a moment I just assumed I would be able to, since I can on my iPad/ZAGGfolio. It also occurs to me that the multiple layers (or planes) of iOS 7 will work really well on a larger screen where you can arrange layers ‘beside’ each other.