Is Apple’s Siri feature anti-abortion?

Articles on MobileBeat and Amadi Talks have sparked an online row that Siri—and by extension Apple—is anti-abortion. This is on the basis that Siri does not respond successfully to questions about abortion clinics or abortion itself. If this really is the case, then Apple’s position here is at odds with its relatively liberal stance. Apple employees took part in pro-LGBT It Gets Better, for example, and it’s to participate in World Aids Day (The Loop); a blanket ban on pornography through the App Store is the only outright ‘moral’ clampdown I can think of.

There are also some things to bear in mind before attempting to rip Apple’s board a new arsehole over this issue (or, if you’re anti-abortion yourself, congratulating the company):

  1. Siri is still in beta. The software is full of holes. If you’re outside of the USA, you cannot even search for any businesses. Even in the USA, it’s full of bugs and often misinterprets input.
  2. Siri isn’t intelligent. Arguments about Siri being anti-abortion and misogynistic appear to have some credence when you’re mindful that it can reportedly infer someone’s demands to go to a strip club, and yet it ignores abortion terms. But Siri’s about one step up from a 1985 Infocom text adventure. The lack of understanding about abortion could easily be a hole in the feature’s ‘understanding’, or something that hasn’t been added, or something that a male-oriented team didn’t realise was important enough to correctly or fully define.
  3. Siri often uses generic answers. One comment I’ve seen is that Siri answers “I just am” if you ask: Why are you anti-abortion? This isn’t confirmation about anything, given that Siri offers the same answer if you say: Why are you a penguin?
  4. You can send Apple feedback. If you believe Apple’s in the wrong and doubt any of the possible reasoning I’ve offered (or simply want to ensure Siri is updated accordingly), visit the Apple website and offer some constructive feedback.

If Siri comes out of beta and it’s clear Siri’s still treating the term ‘abortion’ as a business (as it currently does when you ask “What is abortion?”, although “Define abortion” brings up a short description via Wolfram Alpha) and essentially blocking results to centres and institutions that Google and Bing offer, fair enough: there’s clearly something very wrong at Cupertino. For now, though, I’d argue Amadi Talks offers a perfectly sensible perspective on the issue:

Is this the most terrible programming failure ever? No. Is this worth a boycott of Apple? I don’t think so. What it is, however, is a demonstration of a problem. Especially when certain topics seem to be behind a black wall where information that’s readily available online is not being “found” or presented. This is something that Apple and/or Wolfram Alpha need to address and rectify.

In other words, don’t go crazy just yet, but this is something Apple needs to address.

November 30, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Technology

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Has Samsung really overtaken Apple in the smartphone market?

Kenny Hemphill for MacUser:

There’s been a great deal written over the last few days about Samsung apparently overtaking Apple to become the world’s biggest smartphone handset manufacturer by sales volume. But is it really true?

Spoiler: probably not.

October 31, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Technology

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An explanation of what happened to Apple (AAPL) shares this week

Apple: We’re going to make $LOTS!

Analysts: We predict Apple is going to make $UNICORN!

Apple: Uh…

 

Time passes…

 

Apple: We made $LOTS plus!

Analysts: *NOUNICORNSADFACE*

 

Very little time passes…

 

AAPL down over five per cent.

 

So, Apple is making money hand over fist, and bettered its own guidance, but it fell short of whatever figure analysts dreamed up (MG Siegler provides insight into the main error analysts made), and so Apple’s results are disappointing and its shares have been hit. In case you’re wondering, here’s what disappointment looks like in the world of Apple financials:

  • Quarterly revenue of $28.27 billion (up from $20.34 last year)
  • Quarterly net profit of $6.62 billion (up from $4.31 billion last year)
  • Gross margin was 40.3 percent (up from 36.9)
  • 17.07 million iPhones sold (21 per cent unit increase)
  • 11.12 million iPads sold (166 per cent unit increase)
  • 4.89 million Macs sold (26 per cent unit increase)
  • 6.62 million iPods (27 per cent unit decline)

So, bar the iPod’s inevitable decline (although with half the iPods sold now being the more expensive iPod touch, unit sales aren’t as important as income in that sector), Apple’s doing quite well, unless you’re say, a numbskull analyst or tech hack who believes the words and figures coming from analysts rather than the actual figures.

Meanwhile, in what’s, surprisingly, not another reality altogether, Yahoo! managed to announce a 26 per cent fall in earnings and watch its shares rise, because the fall wasn’t as bad as investors had feared.

In conclusion:

  • Be hugely successful but not as successful as idiot analysts think you might be, with little justification for their idiot figures: SHARES GO BOOM!
  • Be a crap, directionless company without focus, but don’t screw up quite as much as people think you will: SHARES GO FWEEEEE!

*96 headdesks*

October 20, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Opinions, Technology

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John Dvorak says Apple will release the iPad 3 for Christmas 2011. No, really.

Earlier today, I was noting that Apple rumours tend to be bull. And then I happened across a whopper, courtesy of John Dvorak at PCMag.com:

Data indicates that early Christmas shoppers are preordering the Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet faster than you can say “Tickle Me Elmo.” Various tablet computers will top nearly every Christmas wish list. Therefore, it is very likely that—

A hack will make a really stupid guess?

—Apple will roll out the iPad 3 by the holiday.

Oh no you didn’t.

*rechecks*

—Apple will roll out the iPad 3 by the holiday.

Dvorak tries to argue his case with extra lumps of crazy, in part involving immediate part shortages forcing “lines around the block”. Um, yeah. To be frank, he could have written a slightly more sensible article by copying and pasting the following 500 times:

Argle wargle iPad bargle fargle fweeeee.

October 11, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Opinions

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Think of Microsoft Word as the internet, or: good writing apps for Mac

Dan Frakes last night on Twitter linked to J. Eddie Smith, IV’s Think of Microsoft Word as the internet. Smith argues:

Word is not a writing application. It’s a desktop publishing application. When I start a writing project of any size in Word, it feels like I’m starting to build a house by first worrying about wall colors.

I’m not sure I’d go that far. If Word is a DTP app, it’s a pretty bad one. But I do agree that there’s a tendency with any ‘advanced’ office-style app to worry about presentation and formatting too much while writing. There’s also the issue of lock-in. It’s unlikely Office is going anywhere, but then I once thought the same of other applications I used for writing, such as ClarisWorks. Those old files I wrote years ago are now hidden from view, underneath layers of incompatibility. When DOCX first appeared as a format in a recent version of Word, but first on Windows and not on the Mac, I made a decision to switch to RTF or  TXT, depending on the project. I’d already realised by that point that I disliked Word (bloated, crashy, too much junk on screen) and had been looking for and testing alternatives for a while.

Today, I primarily use two applications for writing:

Scrivener is used for large projects (such as magazine cover features) and also ongoing ones where I have a collection of smaller files, such as the daily news I write for .net’s website. Its container is proprietary but you can easily enough access the package and yoink individual RTFs if you need to.

For shorter pieces, I favour WriteRoom, an efficient, simple full-screen editor. These have become all the rage of late, and the Mac App Store has at least a half-dozen competent alternatives, most of which are cheaper than WriteRoom. But WriteRoom offers, for me, the best balance of usability and customisation. iA Writer’s also pretty good, but its not working with OS X window managers limits its usefulness for me. I also hear good things about Byword, although I’ve not used it myself, and one of my editors swears by Nisus, although that to me feels a little too much like returning to a Word-type app. (This is, of course, in part down to how you set up Nisus, which is a powerful, usable app, but I nonetheless prefer the stark ‘words, count and nothing else’ default WriteRoom set-up.)

As Smith says:

When it comes to writing, I think of Word as the internet. It’s a destination, not a vehicle.

[…]

Words aren’t worthy of cosmetics until they say something. More importantly, each second you spend fiddling with the aesthetics of your document is a second spent not writing. Accumulated over just a few days, that can be a tremendous number of seconds.

I admit I spent some time faffing about with Scrivener and WriteRoom’s aesthetics, to get the defaults the way I wanted them. But after that point, I’ve not touched them, and so I spend my time writing and not worrying about anything else. Because of the efficiency and clarity of the apps, I also concentrate more on the words than anything else, whereas Word was always for me a source of distraction.

Your mileage might vary, of course, but if you enjoy writing or do it as a job, I’d strongly recommend you at least check out alternatives if you’re still using Word. Perhaps you’ll find you prefer Microsoft’s app after all, in which case you’ll at least know you’ve made the right choice for you. But you might also discover better, faster ways of working on words, which don’t involve Word.

October 11, 2011. Read more in: News

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