When to take Siri Seriously

I’ll like the idea of Siri. I’m still not convinced, notwithstanding the lack of UK data and the usual UX shyness issues – you know – how stupid you look talking to a phone when everyone knows there’s nobody at the other end of the line. It’s so dictaphone, of which I’m sure there must be some app, skeuomorphic as hell.

I’ll take Siri seriously, really seriously, when it can help me with this kind of request:

“Siri, I want to order the Kubrick Blu-ray box set when it includes Dr. Strangelove and Spartacus at a lower price than the incomplete box set currently available on Amazon”.

Siri should respond with “Would you like me to place a conditional order with Amazon right now?”

And when both Siri and Amazon get me what I want, having warned me of its impending arrival, I’ll be a happy man, and probably an iPhone 5 owner. Until that time, I’m going to remain a curious iPhone 4 owner.



iPhone vs Android Antenna

At the RA.ONE premiere at the Greenwich O2 on Tuesday night, my colleague looked unhappy because he was getting no 3G signal on his Samsung Galaxy SII. I showed him my iPhone 4 with its healthy 3G signal. He wasn’t too happy.

Earlier, he had been talking about his pleasure at finally figuring out how to turn off the annoying camera sound on his phone, having delved deeply into his settings. He wasn’t too happy when I pointed out that this was all available instantly, with no menus of any kind on my iPhone.

My friend was gracious though, and I was gentle. I did suggest that his screen was bigger than mine, and that it would be easier to type on such a large screen, but that’s something we’ll have to put to the test another time.

Oh and he had one game on his phone. I have about two dozen and they’re all excellent and were ridiculously easy to find – without having to pile through dross and malware and fakes. I accept that this is a more provocative and possibly less considered point. I am nevertheless happy with my phone and see no reason to change it for anything else for the foreseeable future.

I’m struck with the notion that over a year after its release, the only phone that’s better than an iPhone 4 is an iPhone 4s.

Apple Lovers Hammered by Notifications

Iphone notification

I use the expensive, but essential Omnifocus on my iPhone, iPad and various Macs, with the database synchornised using Dropbox. It’s fantastic in every way, except one. During the evening, I have OmniFocus triggering a notification with corresponding alert sound on all my gathered devices. It’s like World War 3 breaking out. I have all my devices with me, practically all the time.

I don’t think there is a simple way around this. Geolocation doesn’t have the resolution (and besides, won’t work on the iPad and Mac all the time anyway). I suppose the easiest way is to have it only on my phone, but during the evenings, I like to use the Mac and leave the phone a metre or so away.

Another option would be to have a flag in the Dropbox sync file that tells me which devices are currently checking in and if I’m stationery (check the iPhone GPS) for more than say, 5 minutes, and the Mac is on and OmnFfocus running, it would display a Growl notification on the Mac only. If the Mac were not on, and the iPhone GPS were showing me as stationary for 5 or more minutes, it would notify me on the iPad only. If the iPhone GPS indicated movement of more than say 20 metres a minute, only the iPhone would notify me.

It would perhaps be an over-clever solution that would trip up over some really trivial test cases, when the real answer is to have a better notification system at OS level. Even that isn’t going to be a panacea.

And no, I haven’t done my pull ups, despite being reminded three times, by three different devices.

A Day in the Life of an iPhone

Today it dawned on me that technology and I are hopelessly intertwined. I’ve given up on working out where I end and technology starts. So here’s a run-down on how often the iPhone and I are indistinguishable in a single day. Odds are, more of you know me through my iPhone than in real life, though using the term “real life” is also becoming meaningless by the day. Take a book for example. It’s a series of interconnected ideas transmitted from one brain to another essentially. The paper book and its production, distribution and so forth were material interjections into that essentially ethereal process. So “real life” is a human being affecting, or being affected by another.

Having checked the time for Fajr (the Muslim dawn prayer) the night before using iPray, I set my alarm for a reasonable time between dawn and sunrise. My day begins with the built-in Clock app waking me up. I tend to vary the alarm sounds to keep me on my toes. Hitting snooze is fatal, so I get up and pray.

When I wake after having gone to sleep after Fajr, my eyes have not yet reached the stage where they can focus properly, but I’m checking my mail on the built-in Mail app. With multiple accounts, the combined in-box makes this straightforward. If I’m on blog moderation duty (which is rare nowadays), I’ll approve any comments in moderation using the WordPress app.

I might have some texts that need responding to, or WhatsApp IMs that need answering and I’ll attend to those in due course.

I weigh myself and use WeightBot to record the data. I flick the mute switch to “off” just to hear the wonderful noises this app makes.

A quick look at the calendar will give me clues about what I might need for the day ahead.

Throughout the day I’ll use the Twitter app (much easier than Twitter on the Mac and less confusing than the iPad version). I’ll also check my RSS feeds on Reeder and the news on the still-free Guardian app. I doubt I’ll pay for the subscription version. I don’t like the news much anyway.

I use the camera and the video function from time to time. Tonight at the hotel in Madrid, I took a picture of the tiny condiment bottles. They’re so cute. I’ll use the built-in Camera app, or more and more often now, Camera+, which gets my vote for having the most beautiful icon on my home screen. I also use Hipstamatic and 8mm if the mood catches me, but I can get by most days without them.

OmniFocus pretty much runs my life for me. It’s the closest I’ll get to having a PA and it keeps me honest on iPhone, iPad and Mac. When I’m short on time (which is most of the time), I’ll use the iPhone version, otherwise I will relax with the iPad version, which also gets more use in the office. Not today though.

Note taking duty is handled by Simplenote, probably the most useful note-taking app ever created. It’s so simple, that most of the time it beats a notebook and pen, and that’s saying something given my love for the feel of a decent pen on Moleskine paper. Oh, it works with TextExpander too, which makes it super fast. If I’m in need of the meaning of a word, I have AED to hand.

I use Trickle for passive tweet watching, YouTube when people send me stuff to watch and Amazon UK if I want to check the price of a book I see in a shop. Naughtily, I think bookshops exist now to browse stuff you will buy off Amazon at some point anyway. And even that’s becoming a memory as I tend to buy books from the Kindle Store more and more.

If I need to tune my ukulele, I’ll use the fabulous Guitar Toolkit. I’m about to become friendly with Everyday Looper and I’ve been enjoying the Moog Filtatron, just for making silly noises, immensely. Instant Quatermass. Beautiful. On the bus, I listen to lectures and music on the iPod app. And if it’s a Friday and I’m waiting for the prayer to start at the mosque, I’ll read iQuran Pro. I just wish it had some more modern English translations, but it’s still very beautiful.

I will of course send and receive plenty of SMSs and make the odd phone call. FaceTime also gets a look-in, but sadly, given its insistence on WiFi and my unwillingness to pay exorbitant data roaming charges, it doesn’t get used on the iPhone where and when I need it the most, which is when I’m travelling on business. That’s when I fire the laptop up, connect that to the hotel WiFi and hope for the best. At the hotel I’m at now in Madrid, the connection rate is so poor, that I’ve had to fall back to Skype.

Life without the Kindle reader and Instapaper is unimaginable. Most of my medium-form reading gets done that way. Long form duty falls to the iPad, which seems to have been invented for Instapaper.

And how would I connect to so many log-in-demanding websites without 1Password? Anyone keeping the same password across multiple log-ins is just asking for it.

On the odd occasion I’m driving, I will use the CoPilot App for GPS, but more often in London, I will use Tube Deluxe for network news and Travel Deluxe to plan routes. I use the Streetcar app to book the odd car for short trips and the Bixou app to find me a Boris Bike. Today however, I used the BA app. Having checked in on the bus yesterday, I used it today with my downloaded travel ticket to sail through Heathrow’s Terminal 3. It was like magic. When I’m walking, I’ll use the Maps app and the direction finder, because my sense of direction is so poor that if you spun me around in my bedroom a couple of times I’d get lost.

I regularly use Skype to call my mum and FishText to SMS my friends and my mum abroad. My calculator is the quite brilliant Soulver and my currency conversion comes courtesy of Convertbot. If I ever need to check anything on my Mac at home, there’s iTeleport, but more and more, I can just use Dropbox to keep me in sync wherever I am.

In my hotel room, I will use iPray again to locate the Qibla, or the direction of Mecca so that I can say my prayers. And I will wind down with a book, some Instapaper, or a Jeff Minter game. For the longest time it was Fruit Ninja, but now it’s Forget.Me.Not and Atari Greatest Hits. Naturally, I downloaded the full collection. It’s produced by Jeff Vavasour, with whom I made the wonderful Atari Arcade Hits volumes 1 and 2 in my Hasbro days.

My question: How on earth did we manage before? And do you get why I call these things Human Amplification Devices now? They don’t just amplify me, they amplify others to me. We get to share humanity at a higher energy level than ever before and I absolutely, totally love it.