Are you Siri-ous?

Google FTW! Siri is awful! That’s the typical opinion throughout the tech sphere, and one Matt Bircher aims to nix in his video.

Bircher makes plenty of good points, although largely showcases all of these AIs have a long way to go. Mostly, I’ve discovered Siri’s shortcomings while trying to use the thing in the car.

Naturally, I’m not a massive idiot when it comes to driving. I reduce technology usage as much as possible, and avoid touching my iPhone’s display. But maps are pretty important things to have available, not least when you, say, take a wrong turn on the way to the airport and end up zooming towards Gatwick when you should be picking up your wife from Heathrow, thereby very rapidly needing to know the fastest route in the right direction.

Me: Hey, Siri! Get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2!
Siri: Which Heathrow airport terminal? Tap the one you want.

Yeah, thanks, Siri. I’m driving. I’m not going to be tapping anything. And your list omits terminal two, which is even better. Apparently, you cannot comprehend that when I asked for directions to Terminal 2, I wanted directions to Terminal 2.

After two more frustrating attempts, I hit upon a cunning plan:

Me: Hey, Siri! Launch Google.
Google launches
Me: OK, Google, get me directions to Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2.

Done. Instantly. Which of course means Google is amazing and Siri isn’t. Apart from during another car journey where it appears the two had got drunk together.

Me: Hey, Siri! Open Google Maps.
Siri: OK, here’s the App Store.

Me: Hey, Siri! Send a message to my wife.
Siri: You have no new messages.

Me: OK, Google! When’s the next train from Gatwick to North Camp?
Google: spews out a load of web searches for The Train Line and carries on drinking gin with Siri
Me: wishes driverless cars would arrive a whole lot sooner

February 15, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Super Mario Run will cost ten whole dollars. Entitled idiots assemble!

As reported by the entire internet, the upcoming Mario game for iOS, Super Mario Run, now has an official price tag: $9.99/£7.99. Predictably, people have immediately split into three camps (with crossover between the first two): those happy to see Nintendo value its mobile product appropriately (thereby also hoping that means it’s good); developers hoping it’ll impact on iOS pricing as a whole; and entitled furious idiots throwing toys out of their prams at the prospect of a company having the audacity to charge money for an iPhone game.

My inkling is the first of those suggests a game that, at the very least, won’t be shit. Nintendo’s perhaps smartly not bringing existing classics to iOS, nor even a ‘full’ Mario experience, but there’s no reason it cannot create a really great touchscreen-optimised game. After all, two of the four Rayman titles work really well on iOS; of the two that don’t, one is a direct port of an ancient Rayman game, and the other had hope beaten out of it by a baseball bat with ‘freemium’ scrawled across it in pen. By contrast, Super Mario Run has precisely one IAP, to unlock the full game.

I also suspect the second of those things won’t come to pass. Developers might hope a ten-buck game would lead to people’s entitlement and expectation on mobile shifting, but that ship has long sailed. Instead, it will simply prove that Nintendo can charge ten bucks for a game. Unless your IP is similarly famous (the Codemasters F1 title also has the same price), you’ll still be scrapping it out at the low end, or hoping for the best in the $2.99–$4.99 pricing arena that’s laughably referred to as ‘premium’ on mobile.

As for the idiots? They’ll continue being idiots. There are no guarantees about the quality of Nintendo’s game, nor how well it will perform. There’s not even any guarantee that it won’t bump up the average price of iOS games, even though that is extremely unlikely. No, the one certainly is this the free-to-download game will get a slew of shitty App Store reviews from people horribly angry they can’t play yet another game for free.

November 15, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions

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The high price of Apple

Although I’m not the kind of tech journo that blindly cheerleads for Apple no matter what, I do very much like a lot of what the company does. To that end, its events are usually times when I enthuse about new products. I may snark and gripe about specifics, but my mood is mostly positive.

Yesterday was an exception. I can’t remember the last Apple event where I came away actually quite annoyed, but there it was. In part, this was down to a lack of density in the keynote itself. Apple took nearly an hour and a half to announce a new accessibility website (which got only a couple of minutes), a new Apple TV app (only available in the USA), and a new notebook.

But mostly it’s about the money. The inference was Apple’s new MacBook Pro broadly replaces the MacBook Air, and yet the former is considerably more expensive. The new MacBook Pro – impressive though it is – also happens to be spendy for even professional users. And then if you’re British, Apple had another sting in the tail waiting for you.

People complained (and still complain) about the new MacBook Pro prices being a straight US Dollar to Sterling conversion. That’s not actually true. US prices are listed without tax. The UK’s have 20 per cent VAT added on. With Sterling bobbling around the low $1.20s, Apple’s UK pricing on new MacBooks is actually a little less than what you might expect – to the tune of about forty quid when I did the calculations last night. (Of course, given Brexit, a pound might by the time you read this be worth about eleven cents.)

What irked more was discovering Apple had quietly upped the pricing of its entire range of Macs in the UK, despite them not being updated. So not only do we get no new iMacs, MacPros and Mac minis but models cost about 20 per cent more than they did prior to the Apple Event.

Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don’t recall Apple doing this before in the UK. And I certainly don’t recall Apple doing the opposite during those times when Sterling rapidly rose in value (Please comment if so, and I will update this article.) On new units, rebalancing seems fair enough. These things happen (as Brits buying iPhones discovered with each tier being £80 high than 2015’s offerings). But it seems a bit rich to whack up the price of an iMac by three hundred quid, when the tech inside it is a year old.

What concerns me about all this is that my reaction isn’t nearly unique. I’m seeing a worrying number of industry professionals and home users starting to look elsewhere. Creatives were wowed by Microsoft’s new desktop/touchscreen system, and look at the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar less favourably. Moreover, everyone’s looking at the pricing, eyes darting across to broadly equivalent PCs, and thinking it feels an awful lot like the 1990s again.

Of course, this isn’t entirely down to Apple. Brexit has knackered Sterling’s value, and it’s now one of the worst-performing currencies in the world. Even so, Apple hiking prices of existing kit in the UK isn’t going to win it any new friends – and could lose it a number of old ones.

November 9, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Reduce Motion coming to ‘OS X’, in macOS Sierra

I’ve been regularly writing about motion sickness and vestibular issues in computing for years now, on this blog and elsewhere. The problem is poorly understood and broadly ignored by designers and engineers alike, who thrill at the prospect of infusing interfaces with dynamic movement, without pausing to consider how this affects a sizeable proportion of the population.

Apple’s response has been better than most, but still half-hearted at times. iOS is an exception. Although niggles remain, Apple’s iOS team has clearly worked very hard to ensure the iPhone and iPad interfaces are truly usable for all. But on tvOS, Reduce Motion does relatively little, and on the Mac, the system does not exist at all. This is something I find maddening, given how prominent animation is within OS X, how long Apple’s had to fix the problem, and the fact underlying settings have existed for years — but clearly in a half-finished state that users could not easily access.

Last October, I posted the following on Twitter:


Hey, Apple: this —
☑️ Reduce Motion
— would fit almost perfectly in the area I’ve outlined in red.

System Preferences pane with area marked out where Reduce Motion setting could go


It turns out all I got wrong was the placement. At WWDC 2016’s keynote yesterday, while no mention was made of Reduce Motion in macOS Sierra, I’m informed it’s coming. In fact, I was sent the following image:

Reduce Motion checkbox in macOS Sierra

I’m told when this box is checked, major system animations switch to crossfades, much like on iOS. This includes entry/exit animations for Mission Control, Launchpad and full-screen apps, along with swiping between spaces. I’ve no idea whether other integrated and problematic animations are also affected (such as full-page swipes in Safari and Preview), but there’s a checkbox there. It’s a start. It’s something to build on. It’s something to report feedback on regarding improvements rather than it’s very existence. And I’m delighted.

As much as it might irritate John Gruber, I really think this one merits a finally.

June 14, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Design, Technology

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The subtle march of bad posture — how I got new RSI from the iPhone 6s

I’ve had RSI in various forms since the late 1990s. Much of this arose from truly appalling working conditions at my first proper job, where managers seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to give everyone a crap chair and a tiny desk, the latter of which in my case had two towers and a CRT monitor on top of it. Things gradually changed, but not before I ended up with regular shooting pains up my back and along the length of my arm.

Since then, I’ve become wise to such problems, and attempt to stave off potential issues. My home office set-up includes a decent chair, very carefully positioned, a large screen at the optimum height, a trackpad as a pointer, and also a stylus touchpad for when I need precision pointer control. The mouse is banished.

The problem, though, is that although you do get a very abrupt message when old issues flare up, new ones take a lot longer to bed in. This past week, I’d noticed an issue with the little finger on my left hand. It often feels slightly numb or painful. At times, it feels like it’s been wrenched back, as if I’ve been playing baseball or cricket and messed up a catch. Of course, it’s all down to the iPhone.

My current iPhone is a 6s. I’d previously been using the 5s, and have the habit of, for the most part, using the device in one hand. But the 6s is much larger, and therefore ends up sitting differently in my hand. I quite often, as it turns out, use my little finger to balance and stabilise the iPhone, but since the device sits quite low (in order for me to reach enough of the screen easily), my finger gets stressed and stretched, but so slowly it’s difficult to notice it happening.

I’m fortunate at least to realise this now, and I can take appropriate action. One wily editor suggested “a lawsuit”. But this is Britain, and so the reality will be inwardly tutting, grumbling about the weather (even though that’s entirely unrelated to the issue at hand), and then using the iPhone a little differently. Still, it’s always a good time to take stock of these things. How often are you using electronic devices, desktop computers and notebooks? When did you last think about your own set-up in front of them, rather than just the set-up inside the machines? If you can’t remember, perhaps today’s a good day to start thinking differently about ergonomic and posture yourself.

June 1, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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