Apple

Amazon’s Alexa Has A Data Dilemma: Be More Like Apple Or Google?

15 July 2017

From Fast Company:

Devices like Amazon Echo could someday turn into a treasure trove for developers that make voice assistant skills, but first companies have to figure out where they draw the line when it comes to weighing data sharing against consumer privacy.

Now that dilemma is heating up: Citing three unnamed sources, The Information reported this week that Amazon is considering whether to provide full conversation transcripts to Alexa developers. This would be a major change from Amazon’s current policy in which the company only provides basic information—such as the total number of users, the average number of actions they’ve performed, and rates of success or failure for voice commands. Amazon declined to comment to The Information regarding the claims, but the change wouldn’t be unprecedented. Google’s voice assistant platform already provides full transcripts to developers.

The potential move by Amazon underscores how it is caught between two worlds with its Alexa assistant, especially in regards to privacy. By keeping transcripts to itself, Amazon can better protect against the misuse of its customers’ data and avoid concerns about eavesdropping. But because Alexa already gives developers the freedom to build virtually any kind of voice skill, their inability to see what customers are saying becomes a major burden.

. . . .

With Google Assistant, developers can view a transcript for any conversation with their particular skill. Uber, for example, can look at all recorded utterances from the moment you ask for a car until the ride is confirmed. (It can’t, however, see what you’ve said to other apps and services.) Google’s own documentation confirms this, noting that developers can request “keyboard input or spoken input from end user” during a conversation.

For developers, this data can be of immense utility. It allows them to find out if users are commonly speaking in the wrong syntax, or asking to do things that the developer’s voice skill doesn’t support.

. . . .

In terms of sharing data with developers, Apple’s Siri voice assistant is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Google. Developers who work with SiriKit get no information about usage from Apple, not even for basic things like how many people use voice commands to access an app, or which voice commands are most commonly used.

. . . .

But keep in mind that Siri’s approach to third-party development is entirely different from that of Google and Amazon. Instead of letting developers build any kind of voice application, Apple only supports third-party voice commands in a handful of specific domains, such as photo search, workouts, ride hailing, and messaging. And instead of letting those apps drive the conversation, Apple controls the back-and-forth itself. The apps merely provide the data and some optional on-screen information.

Because these apps don’t communicate with users directly, there’s no need for them to have conversation transcripts in the first place. Instead, Apple can look at what users are trying to accomplish and use that data to expand Siri on its own.

The downside to this approach is that Siri just isn’t as useful as other virtual assistants.

Link to the rest at Fast Company 

If PG lived in China, he would be inclined not to use Alexa.

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Dear Apple, Please Don’t Give Up on iBooks in iOS 11

21 June 2017

From The Mac Observer:

Here are some ideas I have to improve iBooks in iOS 11, because I want to see it succeed. As an avid reader, I was disappointed that there was nary a mention of iBooks at WWDC 2017. I’m not just talking about the app, I’m referring to Apple’s eBook ecosystem as a whole. I think improvements can be made in both areas, and that Apple could give iBooks a bigger presence in physical Apple stores.

. . . .

When it comes to books—or any type of content—the two most important features for people are discovery and sharing. The App Store is getting a major redesign in iOS 11, one designed to make it easier to discover new apps and games. I’d love to see Apple bring the same attention to iBooks. A new UI could feature eBooks and audiobooks in new ways and make it easier for readers to figure out what to read next.

. . . .

Now, to the iBookstore ecosystem. Apple should make it easier to self-publish on iBooks. I’ve never personally used the iBooks Author app, but the consensus among many users is that it produces gorgeous books, but is difficult to use. Apple should also take a cue from Amazon and make iBooks the premier platform for self-publishing. While it’s possible to self-publish on iBooks today, the process is not as easy as it is on Amazon Kindle.

. . . .

Currently, iBooks has a “More Books You Might Like” section under the Featured tab, but the suggestions are awful and I almost never browse through them. Using machine learning, Apple could scan my iBooks purchases and recommend books based on genre, popularity or other factors. Apple may already be doing this—or something like it—but recommendations on iBooks needs to improve.

Link to the rest at The Mac Observer

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Amazon Has a Few Things to Say About Apple’s HomePod

8 June 2017

From PC Magazine:

Apple made its long-awaited debut into the smart home space at WWDC this week, announcing its $349 Apple HomePod connected speaker with Siri. At the Wired Business Conference today in New York City, the exec behind Alexa—Amazon’s SVP of Devices David Limp—explained how he thinks Apple’s connected speaker fits into the landscape.

There’s plenty of talk about pitting the features, pricing, and specs of Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, and Google Home against one another. For Limp, the first thing that stands out about the HomePod is its price.

“It’s definitely a premium product at $350,” said Limp. “From our standpoint, it’s a little different philosophically from how we’re looking at Echo. We see these endpoints for assistants in every room. One of the reasons we came out with the Echo Dot was getting the price to under $50. If you think about putting an Echo in every room times a two-room apartment or an eight-room home…compared to $350 for HomePod you could have eight Dots with our three-pack.”

. . . .

“The second thing we learned [aside from pricing] is that people’s taste in speakers are unbelievably personal,” Limp argued. “It’s like cars. What you like in terms of the bass response, someone else may hate because they listen to classical music and focus on the treble.

“You might like Bose, they might like Sonos,” he continued. “Dot and Echo through Bluetooth and Audio Out can connect to other speakers. A Dot with the speaker of your choice seems like the right path for consumers. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple comes to the same conclusion.”

. . . .

“Our hope and our first efforts are to open up the environment with skills to augment Alexa. Over time you could imagine saying something like ‘Hey Alexa, ask Siri this.'”

Limp said that’s a very real use case, and that the differences between Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant ultimately shouldn’t stop that kind of integration in the future. Amazon’s stance is that it’s open to integrations and making sure its software works with anyone’s hardware.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

PG says he’s using Echo and Echo Dot in different ways around Casa PG since he bought more than one. The more places where he can access Alexa, the more he talks to Alexa. (Like asking Alexa when the next Chicago Cubs game is.)

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How Apple Sees the Near Future

6 June 2017

From The Atlantic:

Without once saying the words “artificial intelligence,” a stream of Apple executives described a vision of the near future in which Siri, the company’s AI avatar, stitches together the company’s many hardware products.

And they introduced a new—and widely anticipated—entry into their lineup: a $349 cylindrical voice-controlled speaker they call HomePod.

After a strangely dystopian video in which Apple’s apps go away and the world plunges into post-apocalyptic violence, Apple CEO Tim Cook led off the company’s keynote at its big gathering for coders, the Worldwide Developers Conference, in San Jose.

The WWDC keynote tends to be a place where Apple showcases all the little incremental “refinements” they are making to their software and hardware. This year, however, there was a thread that ran through many presentations: Siri.

Through the demonstrations and talks, Apple’s vision for Siri became clearer: It is an all-purpose stand-in for predictive, helpful intelligence across all Apple devices. “Siri isn’t just a voice assistant,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior VP of software engineering. “With Siri intelligence, it understands context. It understands your interests. It understands how you use your device. It understands what you want next.”

For example, Federighi said, imagine you’re planning a trip to Iceland. Siri might suggest stories about Iceland within the news app or even suggest the spelling for a difficult Icelandic place name. (Perhaps she’ll suggest some Björk for your HomePod, even.)

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

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Apple Is Manufacturing a Siri Speaker to Outdo Google and Amazon

31 May 2017

From Bloomberg:

 Apple Inc. is already in your pocket, on your desk and underneath your television. Soon, a device embossed with “Designed by Apple in California” may be on your nightstand or kitchen counter as well.

The iPhone-maker has started manufacturing a long-in-the-works Siri-controlled smart speaker, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple could debut the speaker as soon as its annual developer conference in June, but the device will not be ready to ship until later in the year, the people said.

The device will differ from Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Homespeakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple’s product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren’t yet public.

Introducing a speaker would serve two main purposes: providing a hub to automate appliances and lights via Apple’s HomeKit system, and establishing a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into Apple’s network of services. That would help combat the competitive threat from Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers: the Home and Echo mostly don’t support services from Apple. Without compatible hardware, users may be more likely to opt for the Echo or Home, and therefore use streaming music offerings such as Spotify, Amazon Prime Music or Google Play rather than Apple Music.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

PG says competition keeps competitors sharp and is great for consumers.

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Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us

12 May 2017

From The New York Times:

A few weeks ago, I bought a new television. When the whole process was over, I realized something incredible: To navigate all of the niggling details surrounding this one commercial transaction — figuring out what to buy, which accessories I needed, how and where to install it, and whom to hire to do so — I had dealt with only a single ubiquitous corporation: Amazon.

It wasn’t just the TV. As I began combing through other recent household decisions, I found that in 2016, nearly 10 percent of my household’s commercial transactions flowed through the Seattle retailer, more by far than any other company my family dealt with. What’s more, with its Echos, Fire TV devices, audiobooks, movies and TV shows, Amazon has become, for my family, more than a mere store. It is my confessor, my keeper of lists, a provider of food and culture, an entertainer and educator and handmaiden to my children.

. . . .

This is the most glaring and underappreciated fact of internet-age capitalism: We are, all of us, in inescapable thrall to one of the handful of American technology companies that now dominate much of the global economy. I speak, of course, of my old friends the Frightful Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

The five are among the most valuable companies on the planet, collectively worth trillions.

. . . .

 [L]ast week I came up with a fun game: If an evil, tech-phobic monarch forced you to abandon each of the Frightful Five, in which order would you do so, and how much would your life deteriorate as a result?

. . . .

When I went through the thought experiment, I found that dropping the first couple of tech giants was pretty easy — but after that the process became progressively more unbearable. For me, Facebook was the first to go. I tend to socialize online using Twitter, Apple’s messaging system, and Slack, the office-chat app, so losing Mark Zuckerberg’s popular service (and its subsidiaries, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) was not such a big deal.

Next, for me, was Microsoft, which I found slightly more difficult to quit. I don’t normally use any Windows devices, but Microsoft’s word-processing program, Word, is an essential tool for me, and I’d hate to lose it.

In third place, full of regrets: Apple. There’s nothing I use more than my iPhone, and close behind are my MacBook and iMac 5K, which may be the best computer I’ve ever owned. Abandoning Apple would prompt deep and truly annoying rearrangements in my life, including braving Samsung’s bad software. But I could do it, grudgingly.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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Apple cuts App Store affiliate commission from 7% to 2.5%

25 April 2017

From TechCrunch:

Apple just sent an email to members of the App Store affiliate program saying that App Store commissions will be reduced from 7 percent to 2.5 percent on May 1st — that’s a 64 percent cut. While this change will have no effect on App Store users, it has some implications on the App Store ecosystem.

Many websites from the Apple community link to App Store downloads with a unique referral ID in the link. When customers buy apps or in-app purchases using this link, Apple gives back a small cut to its affiliate partner. Developers still get 70 percent of the sale while partners get incentivized.

. . . .

For a $1 app, this affiliate commission is just a few cents. But it can add up if you’ve built a serious audience. And I know this because I’ve experienced this myself.

. . . .

Our little website got something like 15,000 readers per month. And we made hundreds of euros in the first few months with App Store commissions and a Google ad near the bottom of the page. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was a fun little way to make some money as a kid who didn’t want to work during summer break.

. . . .

If Apple drastically cuts this revenue stream, the company could end up alienating people writing for those sites. But it could also indicate that some bigger App Store changes are coming soon.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Elaine for the tip.

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While Apple’s iPad remained the Leader in Tablets for 2016, Innovation is needed to reinvigorate the Sector

18 February 2017

From Patently Apple:

While Apple toppled iPad expectations for 2016, the fact remains that for the year iPad sales dropped 14.1%, more than double the industry as a whole which fell 6.6%, according to the latest TrendForce report covering the tablet market. Apple’s total shipment for 2016 came in at 42.55 million units. Strong demand for iPad in North America and exceptional results from year-end holiday sales sustained iPad shipments last year.

. . . .

TrendForce report Anita Wang pointed out that “Apple has as many as three to four new iPad products lined up for 2017. In addition to an economically priced 9.7-inch model that is ready for market release, Apple will also launch a new 12.9-inch model. Furthermore, Apple will also introduce a new 10.5-inch iPad. This will be a new size category for the device series.”

TrendForce estimates that this year’s iPad shipments will fall by 6~8% annually to around 40 million units. There are reports of a “Pro” version of iPad mini being planned. If Apple decides to release such a product this year, the annual iPad shipments may stabilize and even register growth.”

Adding more “Pro” iPad models is simply means that more iPads will be able to use Apple Pencil.

. . . .

On the flip side, Amazon’s cheapo tablet market approach allowed them to double sales (99.4% to be exact) from last year and zoom to the number three spot worldwide with 11 million units. Anyone can sell cheapo tablets at a loss like Amazon, so on that count at least Microsoft is a pure competitor trying to innovate and make a profit. Microsoft also doesn’t want to enter the lower end of the model and compete with their Windows partners.

Link to the rest at Patently Apple

PG says disruptive technology always enters and builds in a market from the cheap side up. He doesn’t know if this is Amazon’s strategy, but bang for the buck is a powerful marketing and sales tool.

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Amazon May Be About To Build A True iPad Challenger

13 February 2017

From Seeking Alpha:

Amazon is having shortages throughout its product lineup at present. E-Readers, tablets, streaming boxes, voice assistants and Prime-exclusive phones all have at least one model out of stock for two weeks or more. All but the phones and E-Readers have half or more of their total model variants out of stock.

. . . .

It first came to my attention when I did my customary check of Amazon’s tablet devices this weekend and noticed that the Fire HD8 was now being advertised at a $120 price, $30 higher than it was at launch. At first I thought the price had actually been hiked, something almost unheard of for The Everything Store. But no. Actually, the company had just replaced the baseline variant with the 32GB expanded storage variant, which had always been $120. The reason why is simple: the more popular, 16 GB $90 version is out of stock all the way until April 7th. And the shortages are still spreading. Two of the four color variants of the HD8 32GB are also now out of stock, one until early April again and the other for up to six months!

. . . .

The shortages are also not limited just to the Fire line. They extend throughout Amazon’s device family. The Echo Black is sold out again until February 25th, just like it was over Christmas when sales rose nine times over year ago levels. The White is still in stock, however. Meanwhile, the Kindle Paperwhite has just the opposite problem: the black option is still in stock but the white is sold out. Echo’s $50 cousin, the Echo Dot, is sold out until the same date for the White color option, the black is sold out until March 2nd.

. . . .

The shortages of so many products simultaneously outside the holiday season are somewhat unusual, certainly. Usually, when products go out of stock outside the holiday crunch, it means that the devices are about to be retired and replaced with updated models. But it’s unlikely Amazon is going to literally replace its entire product lineup in the space of a few weeks.

Another explanation is that Amazon devices are just that good, just that in demand. But product shortages have now exceeded those in the heart of the holiday season, which was an unqualified success for Amazon.

. . . .

My interpretation of this data is that we are actually seeing a confluence of a couple of different trends in the device market. While a device-wide shortage might seem to imply a device-wide explanation, I think a few different things are going on. The Fire TV and Echo shortages are simply natural shortages of in-demand products in rapidly growing sectors. The HD8 shortage is probably real, but being exaggerated. The other shortages, however, are something else.

The Echo and Fire TV are really Amazon’s two most successful product lines, even above tablets. While Amazon’s tablets sell well, they are still regarded as just “good enough,” things you buy because the value per dollar is so much better even though they are not top of the line.

By contrast, Echo and Fire TV are widely seen as leaders in their field, things you buy because they are the very best money can buy.

. . . .

The tablet shortage, however, I believe does portend a pending product refresh and potentially a very significant one.

. . . .

I noted before that the HD8, while still not as cheap as its $50 cousin, is actually a pretty incredible engineering feat for Amazon. An HD upgrade used to triple the price of a Fire device. Now, it is only $40 more to get more memory, more processor power, and most importantly to many users, a battery life twice as long at 12 hours or better.

Amazon did a pretty remarkable thing achieving all of that with a 40% price cut in one year. And it has a lot of people telling tablet shoppers that they are really better-advised to spring for the extra $40 for everything they are getting for it.

. . . .

The last shortage, however, has a different cause, I think. Of all of these shortages, only one device is listed positively as out of stock indefinitely. That usually means it is never coming back, and that usually means a product refresh. It came as a surprise to more than a few people that Amazon did not update the HD10 prior to the holiday season, including me. If Amazon is now finally ready to do so, it would explain why the current HD10 is not only out of stock, but out of stock with no projected return date.

. . . .

HD10 represents Amazon’s last remaining foothold in the higher-priced market, though still nowhere near full-sized iPad prices. But it is the closest thing iPad has to a direct competitor in the Fire lineup, the one variant that almost comes off as “for iPad lovers who don’t want to pay for an iPad.”

. . . .

The HD10 upgrade may be more significant. If Amazon can reproduce the battery life gains it made with the Fire HD8 and pair them with some higher-powered processors like what it sold in the old HDX lineups, closer to what iPad and high-powered Androids offer, it will mark a new kind of Fire tablet. Or a return of the old kind, more accurately. If it can do this without any price increase and perhaps even with a price cut below the psychologically important $200 threshold – i.e. $199 – it may create a strong new challenger in a shrinking market.

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

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I Wish Apple Loved Books

8 February 2017

From DimSumThinking:

There’s an old joke, “how do you know when your friend is a Vegan.”

“Don’t worry,” the answer goes, “they’ll tell you.”

The same is true about Apple and projects they are passionate about.

Listen to Jony Ive describe the Apple Watch and you know he loves traditional time pieces and was passionate about improving the experience. Look at the Health Kit team and you know they care about improving lives with this device. You’ve got a team involved in imagining what this device can become.

Two years in a row Apple devoted valuable time at their developer conference to Apple Music. There wasn’t an announcement either year that made any difference to developers and yet we heard from Bozoma Saint John this past year and Jimmy Iovine the year before. We saw a video featuring Zane Lowe talking about his years of experience as a radio personality before being wooed to lead the efforts at Apple Music’s Beats 1.

You might like or hate what Apple has done with music but from programming and content, to software, to Air Pod headphones that you can control from your watch – Apple clearly has a passion for music.

. . . .

I’ve joked that if Eddie Cue loved reading the way he clearly loves music, then iBooks, the iBookstore, and iBooks Author would be amazing. Not only aren’t they amazing, they aren’t even good.

It’s like they’ve assigned a committed carnivore to design the meals and cook for Vegans. You need someone who loves and understands vegetables and shares the commitment to not using meat or meat products.

How do you find someone who loves books and reading?

Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

I don’t believe there are a significant number of people who are passionate about books and reading involved in iBooks, the iBookstore, or iBooks Author.

. . . .

iBooks Author could have been a trojan horse into the personal publishing business. It would have been classic Apple. Instead of small authors going to Amazon’s platform, they would have started with iBooks Author. Apple should have made it easy for them to push to Amazon as well. Why? Because these people wanted to publish on Amazon but they weren’t considering publishing with Apple. Thousands of authors would have come to Apple to create content and stayed with Apple after publishing content there.

OK, so iBooks Author is essentially abandonware, what about iBooks and the iBookstore.

. . . .

Yesterday, I uploaded my latest version of my book to Gum Road and to iBooks. Within minutes I was getting email notifications of sales of my book on Gum Road.

An hour later my book was approved for sale on iBooks. This is remarkably quick. It used to take days. I looked online and my book wasn’t on the iBookstore yet. Also, my name was still listed incorrectly.

Sigh.

In the tool for uploading your book to the iBookstore, the prompt for the author’s name reads “Last Name, First Name”. So I entered it that way. So my book appeared on the store as written by “Steinberg, Daniel H” and was not connected in any way to any of my other books. It turns out it’s been like that for months – I just found out about it.

I called customer support and opened a ticket. The person was as nice as can be and said they couldn’t change it but I could upload a new version of the book with my name corrected and then they could fix it.

So I called customer support yesterday after I uploaded the new version of my book to check that the name was fixed.

Derrick told me that it probably was but I couldn’t be sure until the book appeared on the store.

But, I told him, iTunesConnect says my book’s been approved – can’t he check.

Well, he said, it has been approved but it might not appear on the store for a day and I should check back.

As I found out later when the puzzled emails started to pour in to my Inbox, my book hadn’t been approved. In fact, the existing book was pulled from the store for violating Apple policy. The version that had been for sale on the store for two months incorrectly used the word “iBook” as in “When I released this iBook.” Apple wants you to refer to it as a book. Using the word “iBook” in this context violates Apple policy and they had removed my book.

Then they went home.

I fixed the problem within minutes and uploaded it.

Apple rejected my upload. The version number wasn’t larger than the version number of the current book for sale on the store.

Link to the rest at DimSumThinking and thanks to Nate for the tip.

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