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The rise and rise of the femme bots

Wednesday, 22 February, 2017 0 Comments

Joanna Stern, writing in The Wall Street Journal: Alexa, Siri, Cortana: The Problem With All-Female Digital Assistants. Snippet:

“You get the point: The virtual assistants popping up in our lives sound overwhelmingly female. ‘I’m female in character,’ Amazon’s Alexa responds if you ask her if she is a woman. In their own clever ways Google, Apple and Microsoft’s voice assistants will tell you they’re genderless…in unmistakably womanlike voices.

As femme bot after femme bot has invaded our phones , speakers, cars, TVs — even our refrigerators — I’ve been left wondering: Where the man bots at? And why do these hunks of plastic and electronics need to be assigned a gender at all? My Amazon Echo doesn’t have any reproductive organs.”

Apple’s Siri, by the way, is the only one of this bunch of bots with a male voice option: “Siri may default to a female voice in the U.S. but Apple provides both male and female voice options for iPhone and iPad users to choose from. In fact, on iPhones where the language is Arabic, French, Dutch or British English, Siri defaults to a male voice.”

Men and women may prefer female voices for their digital assistants, @WSJ writes, but adds, “it’s about time we had more male options.”


iPhone: It was ten years ago today

Monday, 9 January, 2017 0 Comments

“iPhone is an essential part of our customers’ lives, and today more than ever it is redefining the way we communicate, entertain, work and live,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “iPhone set the standard for mobile computing in its first decade and we are just getting started. The best is yet to come.”

On this day in 2007 in San Francisco, Steve Jobs casually took out of his pocket a product that would change how millions of people communicate. Everyone knew it was going to be a phone, but no one outside Apple had any idea what kind of phone. The “respected” technology commentator John Dvorak had this to say in response to the presentation of the iPhone:

“Now compare that effort and overlay the mobile handset business. This is not an emerging business. In fact it’s gone so far that it’s in the process of consolidation with probably two players dominating everything, Nokia and Motorola…

…The problem here is that while Apple can play the fashion game as well as any company, there is no evidence that it can play it fast enough. These phones go in and out of style so fast that unless Apple has half a dozen variants in the pipeline, its phone, even if immediately successful, will be passé within 3 months.”

And Nokia and Motorola phones today? Exactly. And Apple? In Cupertino on 27 July last year, Tim Cook announced that the company had sold its billionth iPhone.

iPhone


Apple and Tesla at Trump Tower

Thursday, 15 December, 2016 0 Comments

Here’s the context: “After Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Cook of Apple and Mr. Musk of Tesla stayed at Trump Tower to meet privately with Mr. Trump.” It’s a small detail but the Wall Street Journal has it and none of its rivals, either by omission, commission or lack of access, does.

At the start of yesterday’s meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, the “tech titans” introduced themselves individually in a breaking-the-ice ceremony. “Larry Page, Alphabet and Google, probably the youngest company here,” said Larry Page.

Donald Trump: “Looks like the youngest person.” [Laughs]

Mr. Page: “Really excited to be here.”

Larry Page is 43, so one can understand his boyish enthusiasm. The CEO of Apple is 56 and less excitable, however. “Tim Cook, very good to be here. And I look very forward to talking to the president-elect about the things that we can do to help you achieve some things you want.”

As many have pointed out, he was the only leader who didn’t say what company he worked for. But when the others had left, Mr. Cook of Apple and Mr. Musk of Tesla stayed at Trump Tower to meet privately with Mr. Trump.


10 Years in 10 Seconds

Friday, 21 October, 2016 0 Comments

When Apple celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year, it made a commemorative video titled 40 Years in 40 Seconds. So, will it release a 10-second video next year to mark the 10th anniversary of the launching of the iPhone? Steve Jobs unveiled the magical device to the public on 9 January 2007 at the Macworld convention in San Francisco, and the first generation arrived in the shops on 29 June. Ten years later, it remains the best mobile phone on the market.

One school of thought believes Apple will ignore the anniversary completely and focus on the future, while another thinks that it will names next year’s version the “iPhone 10” and turn the anniversary into a major branding event. The feeling here is that the occasion will be marked in a special way on 9 January.

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been — well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career.
Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.
In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry.
In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and… it didn’t just – it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.
Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class.

The first one: is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.
The second: is a revolutionary mobile phone.
And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.

So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device.

An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?
These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.
Today, today Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.”

Excerpt: Transcript — Steven Jobs, iPhone Keynote, 9 January 2007


Samsung up in smoke; HTC and Huawei burned

Tuesday, 11 October, 2016 0 Comments

In business schools all over the world, the Samsung Galaxy Note7 case study is guaranteed to be popular. Case studies about the fall of video-rental companies or the rise of low-cost airlines are interesting in their own way, but because so many business students have a smartphone made in Asia, this one is, like, personal.

Fire Today’s press release headline is worthy of study: “Samsung Will Ask All Global Partners to Stop Sales and Exchanges of Galaxy Note7 While Further Investigation Takes Place.” One can almost sense the trust people have in Samsung’s products going up in smoke as that was being typed, and the jokes have started: “Galaxy Note 7 — the smartphone that doubles as a lighter.”

It’s the cover-up that gets you, they say, and it seems all the initial work Samsung did to undo the Note 7 damage has been undone by its ongoing denial that the phone was still dangerous. With its aggressive, can-do culture, this world leader in electronics could not imagine making a disastrous safety mistake… Twice!

Samsung’s nightmare does not automatically mean good news for HTC, however. Google has picked the Taiwanese electronics company to assemble its new Pixel smartphone, but by becoming for Google what Foxconn is to Apple, HTC has lost status. “HTC, You Loser” wrote Bloomberg technology columnist Tim Culpan: “After spending years building its design and engineering chops, HTC has been demoted to water boy. Supplying Google with smartphones isn’t a victory — it’s an embarrassing end to HTC’s decade-long campaign to break out of that contract-manufacturing business and stand on its own two feet.”

The catastrophe at Samsung and the degrading of HTC should work in favour of Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecommunications giant, but David Ruddock of Android Police pours cold water on that one:

“Google began talks with Huawei to produce its 2016 smartphone portfolio. Google, though, set a hard rule for the partnership: Huawei would be relegated to a manufacturing role, producing phones with Google branding. The Huawei logo and name would be featured nowhere on the devices’ exteriors or in their marketing… According to our source, word spread inside Huawei quickly that global CEO Richard Yu himself ended negotiations with Google right then and there.”

Meanwhile, Apple has brought forward its earnings report for the fourth fiscal quarter (third calendar quarter) of 2016. “Due to a scheduling conflict, Apple’s conference call to discuss fourth fiscal quarter results has been moved to Tuesday, October 25,” the company announced yesterday. It’s not clear what the conflict is, but there’s no smoke without fire. Also yesterday, Apple’s share price bounced 1.75 percent, hitting an intraday high of $116.75, the highest level since 10 December 2015.


iPhone 7 photos

Monday, 12 September, 2016 0 Comments

No, not photos of the iPhone 7; photos by the iPhone 7. The first thing that has to be said is these look like professional magazine photos, not smartphone photos. The depth of field is really impressive. Thoughts: Is this the final nail in the coffin of consumer stand-alone cameras? And will next year’s iPhone 8 camera allow 3D capture for object and VR? Anyway, here’s the story:

“On Sunday, Sports Illustrated photographer David E. Klutho took photos with the new iPhone 7 Plus camera at the Titans-Vikings game. The iPhone 7 Plus has a 12–megapixel telephoto camera that offers new zooming capabilities. Each new model also features a wider aperture and a lens that allows the camera to capture brighter and more vibrant colors in photos and videos.”

iPhone7 photos


Working toward a singular society

Tuesday, 3 May, 2016 0 Comments

“The iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPads.” That was written by a blogger, who does not work with or for Apple. Now, here is the sentence as written by Apple: “iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPad”. The blurb appears on the Apple iPad Pro webpage, and what’s noticeable is the lack of the definite article at the beginning of the sentence and the use of the singular at the end. In a world beset with enormous problems, this is not a critical issue but it was important enough for Philip Schiller, [the] senior vice president of global marketing at Apple, to engage in a debate on Twitter that resulted in the issuing of the following rule: “It would be proper to say ‘I have three macintosh’ or ‘I have three Macintosh computers.'”

According to the “Schiller Rule,” talking about “iPads” is grammatically incorrect. The correct style is “iPad devices.” As the man said, “One need never pluralize Apple product names.” Thinking of using “the” in relation to Apple products? Don’t. Delivering Apple’s results last week, CEO Tim Cook said the company was seeing very high customer satisfaction “for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.”


To singularize, or pluralize, that is the question

Monday, 2 May, 2016 0 Comments

The Rainy Day copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the twelfth edition, dates from 2011 and it’s beginning to show its age. Take the word “singularity,” which all nerds know is the approaching era when “our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today.” According to our Concise Oxford English Dictionary, however, the definition goes like this:

singularity n (pl singularities) 1 the state, fact, or quality of being singular. 2 Physics & Mathematics a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially a point of infinite density at the centre of a black hole.

The entry on “singularity” is followed by the definition of “singularize” or “singularise”, which is a verb, “1 make distinct or conspicuous. 2 give a singular form to (a word).” Its counterpart, “pluralize/pluralise”, is defined as “1 make something more numerous. 2 give a plural form to a word.” And this brings us to GitHub, the largest host of source code in the world, with 12 million users and some 31 million repositories, where Blake Embrey has added a module titled “pluralize” that uses “a pre-defined list of rules, applied in order, to singularize or pluralize a given word. There are many cases where this is useful, such as any automation based on user input,” he says.

Who, apart from lexicographers and coders, care about such wordy matters? Apple does, and tomorrow we’ll find out why Apple is at war with the singular and the plural of its product(s). Example: “It would be proper to say ‘I have 3 Macintosh.'”


Don’t pray or cry for Apple

Wednesday, 27 April, 2016 0 Comments

On 12 December 1980, the Apple IPO saw 4.6 million shares being offered at $22 each. Steve Jobs made $217 million that day, and when the closing bell rang on Wall Street, the stock price had jumped 32 percent to $29, giving the company a market value of $1.7 billion. Lotsa bubbly. Champagne times.

Fast forward to this day, 27 April, in 1997, and sobriety had set in. The Apple share price closed at $17 and the doomsayers were so emboldened by this decline that Wired magazine published a famous cover story in June urging distressed Apple fans to Pray. The company needed divine intervention due to “a confusing product line, little inspiration from the top, software developers fleeing.” 101 solutions were offered, starting with, “1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game. Outsource your hardware production, or scrap it entirely, to compete more directly with Microsoft without the liability of manufacturing boxes,” and ending with, “101. Don’t worry. You’ll survive. It’s Netscape we should really worry about.”

In between, there was “27. Relocate the company to Bangalore and make it cheap, cheap, cheap,” “52. Return to the heady days of yore by insisting that Steve Jobs regrow his beard,” and “81. Merge with Sega and become a game company.”

All of this is by way of background to the news that Apple has reported a fall in quarterly sales, the first time its revenue has fallen in 13 years. Apple shares were hovering around $104 when the company released its report yesterday. Half an hour later, the stock price had declined eight percent to under $97. For those prone to panic, it’s worth noting that Apple has a cash hoard of $233 billion, which is more than all the foreign currency reverses around the world, and with a market capitalization $575 billion, it’s the world’s most valuable publicly traded company. Hold those tears.

People have become impatient with Apple because it doesn’t produce something amazing every 12 months. The reality, however, is that major technological innovation is the exception, not the rule. Iteration of the existing product line is the pedestrian norm. Apple has some big cards up its sleeve, however. The company is said to be working on an electric car, stealing engineers from Tesla and looking for test locations in California. It is also filing patents that suggest it’s toying with some kind of a virtual reality device. There’s no need to cry or pray for Apple.

Wired Apple Pray


Siri says Jon Snow is…

Wednesday, 13 April, 2016 1 Comment

HBO made millions of people happy recently when it announced that Game of Thrones Season 6 (The Winds of Winter) will premiere on 24 April. The talk now is that the show will need at least seven, if not eight seasons to complete the “journey,” to use our jargon Word of the Day. GOT could run for another five years, in other words.

Because the presence of the charismatic character Jon Snow is uncertain in The Winds of Winter, Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, has been pressed into service and lots of news sites are hawking stories about what happens when you ask Siri if Jon Snow is dead. No spoilers here, however. Our question was oblique.

Siri


Apple is 40 today

Friday, 1 April, 2016 0 Comments

Apple was established on 1 April 1976, by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne to sell the Apple I personal computer kit, which was designed and hand-built by Wozniak. The company was incorporated on 3 January 1977 without Wayne, who decided to sell his 10 percent share back to Jobs and Wozniak for $800. Note: A 10 percent share of Apple Inc. would be worth $60 billion today. Two other numbers: Apple has 110,000 employees, but they’re dwarfed by the 300,000 developers supplying its App Store.

“Was Steve Jobs smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical… History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.” — Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs