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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More DRM madness as Sainsbury’s exits ebook market

Earlier this year, I wrote about Nook going splat, and libraries being transferred to Sainsbury’s. I said it highlighted how digital books are more akin to rental, and that DRM is pretty awful for anyone who actually wants to own copies of virtual media.

Brilliantly, Sainsbury’s is now quitting the market, and Rakuten Kobo is apparently going to enable customers “the opportunity to transfer their eBook libraries to Kobo’s eReading service”. The press release I received just now adds people will “be able to cherish the books they currently have for years to come”. I won’t hold my breath on that.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, this does mean customers being bounced around will have to use Kobo apps or hardware until such point that Rakuten Kobo also gives up and some other company grabs the library, like a frenzied mash-up of a librarian, venture capitalist and vulture.

September 20, 2016. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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We left your package in a safe place

These days, many people are more likely to receive large packages by mail than things that fit through a letterbox. This presents a problem for delivery services, given that people are often not at home when attempts at delivery are made. When I lived in Iceland, its postal service had a cunning workaround: packages were delivered during early evening, the reasoning being more people were likely to be home. In the UK, though, couriers and Royal Mail alike appear to be doubling down on the following concept: We left your package in a safe place.

The idea is convenience. It’s more convenient for a delivery service to dump your package than try to deliver it again at a later date (or store it at a depot), but this is spun as it being more convenient for the recipient. After all, you get your package sooner, see? Well, probably. Because the tiny snag with a ‘safe place’ is that most people don’t actually have one. Over the past few years, so-called safe places where packages for me have been left include:

  • With a neighbour a quarter of a street away, without Royal Mail actually informing me
  • Inside the recycling bin
  • On our back doorstep (which was freaky, since someone had to climb over the fence to do that)
  • Hurled over a fence into some bushes
  • Hidden behind a black (general waste) wheelie bin while we were away for weeks on holiday, during a typically wet English ‘summer’.

The last of those was particularly lovely. My father, checking in on our house, found a sopping wet package “crawling with bugs”. Royal Mail’s response, initially, was to note that packages was “left in a safe place”, the inference presumably being that the package was safe on account of no-one wanting to touch a soggy box guarded by hundreds of bugs.

The Guardian now reports Amazon and the UK government are exploring the viability of drone deliveries. Columnist and journo Alistair Dabbs snarked earlier that “Amazon wants govt to test whether 8 spinning knives landing on your doorstep is safe”. My reaction is more that it will provide even more scope for creative safe-place ‘delivery’. After all, what could be safer than that box-set you’ve been looking forward to for ages being carefully left on your roof, or at the top of a massive tree in your garden?

July 26, 2016. Read more in: Technology

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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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