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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Google Now vs Apple Siri

Google Now vs Apple Siri

I never thought I'd be telling my phone what to do. But I often find myself talking to various digital assistants - Siri on the iPhone and Google Now on Android devices - to request driving directions, restaurant recommendations and answers to all sorts of nagging questions.
Until recently, I harboured a small prejudice against this kind of voice technology. I've long been annoyed by automated phone systems that make you speak instructions rather than enter them with a touch-tone phone. These technologies tend to hear me incorrectly and slow me down as I try to make a train reservation or check my credit card account. I also feel odd talking to my phone, rather than with a real human.
Even when smartphones started letting you search the web with voice commands, my instinct was to stick with typing, however awkward touchscreen keyboards became.
My attitude slowly changed. A key turning point came during a 230-mile (370-kilometer) drive from Charleston, West Virginia, to visit friends outside Cleveland. I needed to pick up wine for my hosts and was pleased when Siri found a winery in Dover, Ohio. The shop was about 50 miles (80 kilometre) away from where I was, but relatively close to the highway I was on.
A traditional search might have located places that were closer in distance, but more out of the way. More importantly, I was able to perform that search while cruising on the highway. (Yeah, I know I shouldn't be doing that, but using voice commands beats typing while driving.)
Of course, neither Siri nor Google Now is flawless. During the course of my trip, Siri responded to a request for directions to Marygate Drive with a list of movie theatres named Mary. Google Now tried to look up Fort Museum rather than the Ford Museum. As for that search for wine shops, one of Siri's recommendations was about 120 miles (190km) away in the wrong direction. It took a few tries to find choices closer to my route.
Another complaint: Both require internet connections for the most part -even for tasks that don't involve looking up anything, such as setting the alarm on your phone. The exception is Google Now's ability to make phone calls anytime by saying "Call Tom" or another name on your contact list, but in those times when you don't have a data connection, you're not likely to have voice service, either.
But if you don't need perfection, both Siri and Google Now are decent assistants, especially considering that typing on small touchscreen keyboards can be frustrating.
Siri is chattier - and feistier - than Google Now. She'll always respond with something, whereas Google Now often gives you no more than a list of websites, as if you'd just conducted a regular web search. Only occasionally does Google Now give you a spoken-aloud response.
Ask for the assistant's name on the iPhone, and she responds, "My name is Siri, but you know that already." Google, being Google, responds with websites with "What is your name?" in them.
The digital assistants offered two very different responses when I asked: "Why is it too cold?" Google Now's list of websites starts with one on biking in cold weather. Siri speaks out the current temperature and shows me a graphic with forecast for the next several hours, while insisting, "I don't find that particularly cold."
I had the most fun asking both about the meaning of life. Predictably, Google Now returns links to a bunch of websites, plus an ad on top for the Mormon Church. Siri is armed with more than a dozen witty responses. One is "42," a punch line from the novel "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Another time, she tells me it's chocolate. Yet another, she responds with a dictionary definition of life.
Siri excels with restaurants, in part because of Apple's partnerships with the reviews site Yelp and restaurant-reservation service OpenTable. Ask for Italian restaurants and Siri offers you several - with information on price range, average user ratings on Yelp and distance from your current location. Ask for GOOD Italian restaurants and Siri sorts those restaurants by rating.
Ask for reservations and Siri gives you a few choices with open spots, whether you're looking for something tomorrow night or this weekend. Just tap on one to complete the reservation through OpenTable.
Google Now sometimes gives me a link to OpenTable or information from Google-owned Zagat, but other requests simply lead to restaurants' websites and paid ads.
As for movies, both will give you movie showtimes and let you buy tickets, though for tickets iPhone users will need a free software update to iOS 6.1, which came out in late January. In addition, Siri can only buy tickets through Fandango, not MovieTickets or other rivals.
Both correctly give me latest sports scores, though I stumped Google Now when I asked how a particular team was doing. Google Now simply gives me the latest score, while Siri tells me where the team is in the standings. When I asked about the Detroit Lions a few months ago, she preceded the response with "Uh, oh." I chuckled at the phone when I heard that. The Lions finished the 2012 NFL regular season in last place in the NFC North division.
Siri is better at integrating with the phone's calendar and alarm clock. When I ask for an alarm for "tomorrow night at 7," Siri tells me she can't set anything more than a day ahead, while Google Now simply sets one. Imagine the embarrassment should my alarm clock go off while out with friends at a show.
I asked Siri whether I'm free on Monday. In a recent reply, she said my calendar is clear, while Google Now gave me a website discussing "murder-free Monday." Google Now is smarter, though, in creating a calendar reminder for movie plans with Tony, as Siri stumbles trying to find a movie called "plans with Tony." She does successfully create one for dinner with Tony, after warning of a conflict on my schedule.
Siri is better with answering such questions as who won the Oscars for best picture in 1996 and who won the Nobel Peace Prize. As usual, Google Now returns standard web results.
Both directly answered me when I asked when Memorial Day is. Siri added, "I hope you get the day off." Thanks for looking out for me, Siri.
What I also like about Siri is that she's always a click away - just tap on the home button on the iPhone. Google Now is like a disappearing act: Sometimes you see its search box and the microphone button; sometimes you don't.
By now, you might be wondering, why bother with Google Now?
Although Siri performs better in many situations, Google Now isn't bad if you have an Android device. Apple has had more time to refine its service, as Siri has been around for more than a year - and longer as a start-up before Apple bought it. Google Now made its debut over the summer in phones running the Jelly Bean version of Android, and it continually gets new capabilities.
In addition, Google Now does more than voice search. Over time, it's supposed to know about your interests and give you information without asking. If you have the necessary permissions turned on, you can search for a sports team on a desktop computer and find the latest score waiting for you on the phone after the game. Walk by a movie theatre and see showtimes automatically pop up. Commute along a certain route each day and Google Now will check traffic and offer alternative driving directions when appropriate.
That's smart.
But Google Now isn't wise enough to figure out that I typically take public transit in New York and don't even own a car. I had to set that manually. And Google doesn't have a good way to distinguish a casual search about a company from actual interest in automatically getting its stock price at the end of the day.
What's clear from my test is that we're just at the beginning of seeing what voice search and virtual assistants can do.
It's easy to get caught up on the mistakes these services make interpreting our voices. But Siri and Google Now are enticing enough that I can't wait to see what they do in the months and years ahead.
-Times of India

Samsung design chief talks plastic and software, says future is in devices with 'souls'

AI at Expand: From a hardware perspective, the Galaxy S4 is largely in the same spirit as its predecessor, but Samsung's American design chief says the future of mobile isn't in form factors; it's in making devices with "souls."


Samsung Design America head Dennis Miloseski, second from left, says the company will continue focusing on software services over hardware.

The South Korean electronics conglomerate's Galaxy S4 debuted to something of a yawn from tech commentators, who were impressed with the device's internals, but were less excited about Samsung's decision to stick with plastic, especially in light of the aluminum casings on Apple's iPhone 5 and HTC's One. Samsung Design America head Dennis Miloseski, speaking at Engadget's Expand conference, played down the importance of materials in handset design, saying that the future of mobile is in creating experiences. 

"Actually, the global design process has been raised," Miloseski said. "We're making devices thinner and lighter, screens more beautiful. With Samsung, it's less about that but more about building a meaningful relationship with technology."

Miloseski's remarks seems to reflect Samsung's mindset in releasing the GS4, which bears largely the same design aesthetic as its predecessor, but has significantly improved internals. In revealing the device, Samsung focused as much on the software additions the company had made as it did on the tech specs, touting features such as eye-tracking technology that can tell when a user is looking at the device.
life companion

The market for premium smartphones is thought to have largely matured, with Apple and Samsung taking the lion's share of profits for the segment. The coming years, according to many observers, will see manufacturers moving to grab as much of the growing lower-priced smartphone market as possible. The real value, then, is in making mobile devices smarter, not in focusing on materials. 

"As these devices become smarter, letting them sense where you are and adjusting to that, it's known that design will improve over time," Miloseski said. "But now, we're thinking about: how do you create a soul for a device."

At the unveiling event for the GS4, Samsung touted the device as a "life companion": a device that learns its owners behaviors and adjusts its features and behaviors accordingly. Miloseski left open the possibility that Samsung would move on to other materials beyond the plastic that covers its current devices, but he maintained that Samsung's focus was more on the "life companion" aspects.

"The design process doesn't start with a material," he said. "It doesn't start with us saying, 'Okay, we're going to make a device that uses metal.' The design process starts with a story. For a device [like the GS4], which is global and sells around the world, it's a matter of going into many different tastes."

As the mobile industry moves forward, Miloseski says advances in connectivity may see users interacting with their devices in different ways, meaning that both materials and form factors may continue to evolve. 

"As the technology moves forward," he explained, "we may find we're taking these devices out of our pockets less and less, so you may see different form factors arising from that.

"I think over time, though, it's all of our responsibilities not to put more layers of hardware and glass in front of our users. I think the evolution of mobile is moving closer to connecting people to people, and the technology moves out of the way. There's also room for mobile to change, to reconnect us with the world around us."

Samsung's design cues have been the source of much discussion and litigation, especially with respect to Apple's products. The physical design of the South Korean company's earlier Galaxy products was the source of much of the legal trouble between the two companies, and the appearance of Samsung's products is thought to have contributed a good deal to the eventual $1.05 billion verdict levied against Samsung in the United States. With the Galaxy S III, Samsung revealed a new aesthetic, markedly different from previous Apple and Samsung handsets.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Walt Disney World pilot test replaces turnstiles with Apple's iPod touch

Family vacation mecca Walt Disney World is in the midst of a trial program that has replaced old-fashioned turnstiles with employees toting Apple's iPod touch for a more personal, friendly ticketing system.


A Disney cast member scans a park pass with an iPod touch. Photo by Alexandra Hughes.

Visitors to the Magic Kingdom in Central Florida will notice that Disney has begun to eliminate old-fashioned turnstiles at the park's entrance. Instead, some visitors are greeted by the company's "cast members," holding iPod touches in their white-gloved hands.

The change is part of a larger initiative by Disney known as "MyMagic+," which has the ultimate goal of making the company's theme parks even more convenient and inviting for those who visit.
Disney's cast members have been equipped with Apple iPod touches as part of a test to more easily provide services to guests.

A Disney representative who spoke with AppleInsidernoted that because the program is in a trial stage, there's no guarantee that the company will ultimately adopt the iPod touch as a long-term catch-all connected solution for its cast members. But for now, cast members are utilizing Apple's iOS device with a special accessory case and accompanying software that allow passes to be scanned and information to be quickly accessed if a visitor needs assistance.

Disney's Magic Kingdom is the most visited theme park in the world, having hosted 17 million visitors in 2011. It's the centerpiece of the Walt Disney World Resort located near Orlando, Fla.

Officials hope the changes at the Magic Kingdom make it a more welcoming visit: Instead of structures that block people from entering, visitors are simply greeted by a Disney cast member as they walk into the park. Eventually, all guest tickets will be radio-frequency enabled to further expedite the process.

The new ticketing system means that a full family with two strollers and two adults can now go through at the same time — something that was impossible before.

Disney's use of the iPod touch at its Central Florida resort is similar to what Apple has done at its retail stores, where checkout counters and cash registers are a thing of the past. Instead, employees at Apple's own stores are also equipped with iPod touches that can be used to finalize a purchase and scan a customer's credit card.

A closer look at Disney's iPod touch ticketing system.

At the Walt Disney World resort, 50 percent of the previous turnstiles at Disney's parks remain in place, while the other 50 percent were converted to use RFID. As the MyMagic+ plan expands, Disney plans to provide customers RFID wrist bands — known as the "MagicBand" — that will do it all, acting as a visitor's hotel key, park pass, Fastpass card, and even a way to authorize transactions tied to a credit card.

The company's plans were detailed by Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in January, when he noted that his company has "devoted considerable time and resources to create a more immersive, more seamless and more personal experience" for guests.
The Magic Kingdom is the most visited theme park in the world, having hosted 17 million guests in 2011 alone.

"This collection of tools is another step forward in the ongoing evolution of our guest experience, giving us even more ways to help friends and family create the unforgettable Disney memories that they want most," Staggs said.

Other crucial parts of Disney's changes also rely on iOS. Last year, it was revealed that the iPad was being used as part of a test pilot for Fastpass ride ticketing at the Magic Kingdom. There's also the official My Disney Experience application for iPhone and iPad, which offers Walt Disney World maps, official Disney Parks-provided wait times, Fastpass return times, and the ability to view menus and book dining reservations.

An iPod touch is shown being used as part of Disney's forthcoming Magic Band service.

Disney has plans to continue to roll out its revamped ticketing system at other Central Florida parks, and potentially at its other destinations around the world. However, the company told AppleInsider that because all of its parks are different, the program will not look exactly the same at each location.
The changes are part of a larger initiative at Disney known as "MyMagic+," which will eventually employ an RFID-equipped wrist band known as the "MagicBand."

The ultimate goal, the company said, is to make the experience more seamless, and to allow Disney cast members to more easily focus on the needs of visitors. Rather than requiring customers to go to a guest service window, as they have done in the past, someone in the park with an iPad or iPod touch would instead help that person on the spot.

Disney's embrace of Apple products is not new, as the two companies have had a close relationship for years, driven by the fact that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs also helped to found the movie studio Pixar Animation Studios, responsible for Disney's blockbuster franchises such as "Toy Story." When Pixar was bought out by Disney, Jobs became the largest shareholder of Disney stock.

Disney CEO Bob Iger also joined the Apple Board of Directors in late 2011. Iger worked closely with Jobs to bring Disney's content to iTunes, at a time when other studios hesitated to ink a deal with Apple.

Disney also turned to Jobs in 2009 in an effort to overhaul its own retail stores located in the U.S. and Europe. At the time, Jobs told Disney executives to "dream bigger," and provided access to proprietary information about how Apple has developed and operated its own highly successful retail operations. Like at Walt Disney World, the changes prompted Disney to utilize iPod touches for mobile checkout.

-Via Appleinsider

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Apple's Cook reportedly meets with Beats CEO to discuss music streaming service

A report late Tuesday claims to have inside knowledge of a meeting that took place in late February, where Cook and Beats Audio CEO and hip-hop mogul Jimmy Iovine discussed a music service dubbed "Project Daisy."

Citing people familiar with the matter, Reuters reported that Apple's chief of media Eddy Cue also joined the meeting, which was said to be "informational" as it covered a wide range of music-related topics including Beats' "Project Daisy" music streaming service. The sources say that while Cook expressed interest in the service's business model and future plans, no official deal was struck.

When outlining the "Daisy" subscription-based service to AllThingsD in January, Iovine let slip that he planned to meet with Cue "soon," but offered no further details on the matter. During the same interview, the Beats chief executive said he pitched a similar idea to late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs in 2001. Jobs was supposedly interested in the concept, Iovine said, but "he didn't want to pay record companies enough," believing that the economics would eventually become more favorable. 

Iovine, who besides co-owning Beats is chairman of music label Interscope-Geffen-A&M, has a long history with Apple and was one of the first industry executives to ink a deal over what would become iTunes. 

Apple has been rumored to be working on building out some type of streaming music service that will compete with the likes of existing offerings from Rhapsody, MOG and Rdio. Some reports even claim an Apple-branded solution will launch by the end of 2013.


Swatch CEO doesn't believe Apple's rumored 'iWatch' is next tech revolution

Investors and tech observers are abuzz about the possibilities of a so-called Apple "iWatch," but the CEO of Swatch is skeptical about just how much such a device could replace Apple's iPhone, saying he doesn't believe such a device would be the next smart device revolution.


Speaking at a press conference on annual results in Grenchen, Switzerland, Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek said that the primary difficulty in having a watch replace a smartphone would be display size. 

"Personally, I don't believe it's the next revolution," the head of the largest Swiss watchmaker said,according to Bloomberg . "Replacing an iPhone with an interactive terminal on your wrist is difficult. You can't have an immense display."

Hayek also noted that watch consumers often buy the items as jewelry items and often like to change them. Such behavior could represent an obstacle for Apple, as the physical style of any potential iWatch would not likely be readily changeable, though the visual possibilities enabled by a flexible display could mitigate that problem to an extent.

Swatch has had dealings with both Apple and Microsoft, consulting with the former on energy-harvesting technology and with the latter on bringing more interactive features to Swatch's watches. Bloombergnotes that Swatch, like Apple, has licensed Liquidmetal Technologies' alloys for use potential products. 

The rumored iWatch is believed to consist of a flexible display that would wrap around a user's wrist, displaying information from the user's iPhone. Apple is said to have a team of about 100 product designers working on the device. 

Rumor: Apple and Intel again mulling partnership to build A-series chips

A report on Thursday claims inside knowledge of reported negotiations between Apple and Intel, saying the chip maker may be looking to build ARM-based SoCs based for the Cupertino company's iOS device lineup. 

Citing a person familiar with one of the tech giants, Reuters reported that executives have over the past year discussed a possible partnership in which Intel's foundries would be used to manufacture Apple-designed chips. A deal has not yet been reached, the source said. 
Teardown A6 Close

Apple's latest A6 SoC powers the new iPhone 5. | Source: iFixit

This is not the first time rumors of an Apple-Intel partnership have cropped up. A report from May 2011 suggested that Intel showed interest in building Apple's A4 and A5 SoCs, though no action was taken and the idea was apparently shelved as the so-called Ultrabook initiative gained momentum. 

Intel is supposedly looking to shift its strategy as PC sales continue to slump as mobile devices, led by tablets like Apple's iPad, continue to gobble up marketshare. The firm has been looking to expand its foundry business, most recently agreeing to fabricate silicon based on technology from chip maker Altera.

While an agreement to start production of ARM SoCs would likely undercut adoption of Intel's own Atom mobile processor, the move might be necessary to keep pace with a quickly changing market. The report also speculates that Intel's replacement for CEO Paul Otellini, who plans to retire in May, may further diversify the company's contract operations in a bid to keep manufacturing facilities working at full capacity.

As for Apple, a move to Intel is easier to imagine, as the Mac lineup already runs on x86 processors. It has also been rumored that the company wants to distance itself from current A-series SoC manufacturer Samsung, with which it is ensnarled in a worldwide patent struggle. The Korean electronics giant is also Apple's biggest competition in the mobile marketplace, with a variety of Android-based devices going jockeying for position against iOS products like the iPhone and iPad.