Tag Archives: apple

My iPhone 4S Review – Why so Siri-ous?

It’s Wednesday night.  I’m driving out of work, when I realize that I never replied to my friend Scott letting him now that I’m on my way to meet for drinks.  Normally, this would require pulling over and writing a quick note on my iPhone.  Except, now I have iPhone 4S.  And, therefore, Siri.

I email Scott with my voice.  Yes, it’s the future now.

I’m on 93 South when Scott sends me a text message with the address.  I have Siri read the text to me.  Because I’m not quite sure exactly the best way to get there, I ask Siri for directions.  Up pops Google maps with directions from where I am to the bar.

I’ll be honest.  I was excited about Siri, but she is better than I expected.  She’s not perfect.  I have trouble sometimes in loud spaces, with background noise.  There have been a few times where she’s been “unable to connect to the network”, which I would guess is attributable to the four million plus iPhone 4S’ that Apple has sold in one weekend.  (What?!)  And sometimes, she does mis-understand me.

Quick tangent:  Dictated reminders, by the way, are the killer feature of iPhone 4S.  I can tell Siri to remind me to do anything.  I’ve already used it about a bazillion times, and am in love with not forgetting things.  Siri knows my work and home addresses too, thanks to GPS, allowing me to say, “Remind me to buy honey when I leave work tomorrow.”  Siri knows what I mean, and she will buzz and alert me when you leave work.  This week alone, reminders have ensured that I bought honey and eggs, captured information from a client meeting, listened to Sister Sparrow on Spotify, and did an email intro.  All these forgettable things, remembered.  Yes, the new “Reminders” app is available for all iPhones on iOS 5.  But there’s something special about thinking of something and saying “Siri, remind me to….”

Here’s the truth about Siri.  She’s way smart, usually damn quick at responding, but I can still navigate my phone faster with my fingers.  The beauty of Siri is that I can be doing something else while interacting with my phone on in a conversational tone.  No keywords, just normal questions and statements.  “Tell my girlfriend I’m on my way home.”  (Yes, Siri knows who the important people in your life are, by asking you and then remembering.)

I find Siri to be great to use when I’d otherwise fumble with the phone — setting a timer while cooking, for example, or texting while driving.  But in a normal setting, I can do any of those things quicker just by picking up my phone and using my fingers.  Plus, you can sometimes tell that she’s in beta — she can’t launch apps, for example.  But what she lacks, she makes up in humor.  Ask her to “open the pod bay doors“, for example, and she responds:

I’d be pleased enough with the iPhone 4S with Siri.  But Apple built voice dictation into any app that has a keyboard.  The voice dictation is even more powerful when I combine it with normal use of my iPhone.  I quickly navigate around normally and then dictate instead of typing it on the iPhone keyboard — a keyboard I have always put up with, but never loved.

And damn, is the dictation good.  I have dictated entire emails, and had very, very few mistakes — to the tune of less than 2%.  And these were long emails, dictated at my normal speed of talking.  My normal speed of talking.  The average person speaks at a rate of 110-150 words per minute.  The average person types between 20-50 words per minute.  That means dictation is, on average, between 300-550% faster.

Forget averages, what about for me?  I type damn fast when I put my mind to it, clocking in at around 70 wpm on two tests that I just took.  I also just timed myself speaking normally, and hit 162 wpm.  Even with my fastest typing, dictation is 230% faster.  Over two hundred percent faster!!! Honestly, mind blowing.  It really feels magical.

(Sidebar: In case you’re wondering, to type periods and commas while dictating, you have to say “period” and “comma”.  It’s actually not as hard or annoying as I thought it would be.  Probably because we actually very quickly think “oh, I need to put a comma here” when typing.)

Between Siri and the voice recognition, my efficiency (and joy) of using my iPhone has increased significantly.

Want more?  There’s more.  The camera is so good now that it makes me cringe to think of companies making digital cameras.  Apple must have spent a fair amount of time on the camera, because it takes noticeably better pictures, especially in low-light situations.  See my two photos below for light comparison, with the difference being the overhead apartment light (click to enlarge):

Flowers - Overhead Light On

Flowers - Low Light, Overhead Light Off

With 1080p video, 8 megapixels, and the upgraded optics, I have no reason to use my Panasonic point-and-shoot.  Point-and-shoots are going to go the way of the disposable camera.  The photos and videos are noticeably crisper and more vibrant.  I showed a friend a 1080p video.  His response, “Holy crap, it’s like I’m there!”

Finally, the iPhone 4S is speedier, in the ways that matter.  For example, there is no lag in launching or using applications.  I don’t think I even noticed lag, but I notice not having them.  Things just seem springier.  For example, I hate the Skype application less because it’s about four million times faster at loading messages.  Also, I’m not much of a gamer, but I launched my copy of Infinity Blade and, wow it loaded quick and ran smoother than before.

I had a broken home button on my out-of-warranty iPhone 4, that would have cost $199 to fix.  That was my rationalization for upgrading.  And, as anyone would tell you, I was excited about Siri.  (For those wondering, while a little surprised, I actually could care less about the unchanged design.  iPhone 4 was already beautiful, plus the design has a nice feel to it.)

But this is better than I thought it was going to be.  Once again, Apple has made it feel like I’m not just holding a piece of technology in my hand, but a piece of the future.

iPad 2? Yes, please. Why I’m buying it and what’s missing.

In August 2010, I mused about why I was waiting for iPad 2 and created a list of  features for my perfect iPad 2.  Tomorrow, the real iPad 2 launches.  Here’s why I’m going to take the plunge and buy one — and what’s still missing.

This post takes my list from six months ago and breaks it into Winners (aka new features of iPad 2) and Losers (aka features that iPad 2 lacks).  Most importantly, it ranks how much I care about each feature based on The Bummer Scale and the Awesomeness Factor.  Meet me for a recap at the end.

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FIRST, THE LOSERS…

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1.  Retina display.
Apple's Retina Display ExplanationWhat I said then:
I like using my iPhone for browsing more than my computer simply because of how crisp it looks.  Put the Retina Display on an iPad and I’d probably never look at a normal computer screen again.

iPad 2 has the same resolution as the original iPad.  Lame.  The big “wow” is supposedly in the the form factor, which has changed to be thinner and lighter.  But as my friend Chris wrote:

Thank God the iPad 2 is 33 percent thinner and .2 pounds lighter. The thing that was keeping me from buying it was it’s bulky over sized frame and it’s exhausting hulk-rendering weight. Seriously, that thing was like a stone abacus. Thank you technology for improving my life.

Zing!  But in terms of the display remaining the same resolution, this was the biggest bummer for me.  On a “Bummer Scale” of 1-10, I give this an 8.

Bummer Scale: 8

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2.  Standalone capability.
Drawing from a real Apple PatentWhat I said then: Right now the iPad is, in functionality, giant iPod/iPhone.  You have to sync it to your computer.  It can’t actually replace a computer — it needs a mothership.  Change this, and you have a laptop killer.

iPad 2 is still an iPad.  This change would have been too revolutionary for this evolutionary refresh.  They don’t need to change things too much right now — just enough to stay ahead.  I mean, Apple barely has any tablet competitors to compete against; it’s almost unfair.

But mark my words.  This will be the killer feature of iPad 3, which I’m sure will launch right when other tablets are actually getting some marketshare.  (The incessant rumor mill even suggests that iPad 3 might be launched this year.)

Bummer Scale: 5

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Apple iOS icon for settings

3.  More storage.
What I said then: 64GB of flash-based memory is a lot.  But I have over 100GB of media & documents on my computer.  More please!

iPad 2 has the same storage options as iPad. This is probably less a function of Apple and more a function of flash media not being economical for a small device like this at greater than 64GB.  I’ll give Apple benefit of the doubt here – maybe iPad 3.

Bummer Scale: 5

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4.  A “One more thing”.
What I said then: Pull a surprise on us, Steve.  Blow iPad 1.0 out of the water.

One More Thing

Nope.  Didn’t happen this time.  Both in that Steve didn’t use the above slide and in that iPad 2 didn’t blow the original iPad out of the water.  This was an evolutionary update.  Not a revolutionary one.  Everyone in the Apple blogosphere knew what was coming, and that’s what came.

Bummer Scale: 5

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5.  Microsoft Office.MS Office
What I said then:
Work with Microsoft on this.  This would be a killer entrance into enterprise.  iWork is good, but a fully compatible MS Office in the App Store would make quite an impression on business folk.

In news that didn’t surprise anyone: This did not happen.  Given the desire of Microsoft to attempt to get in on the tablet space themselves, I’d be surprised if this ever happened.  Apple has iWork and that’s likely good enough, especially with its ability to save as an Office document.  As for me, I’ve already decided this is personal — as in I’m not going to be using my iPad for work.

Bummer Scale: 2

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6.  A 16:9 aspect ratio.WidescreenWhat I said then: Maybe it was a design thing, but it would be awesome if videos took up the whole screen.

iPad 2 has the same form factor as its predecessor: It’s a design thing.  And, it only took me seven months to realize this, but it won’t change.  All the 65,000 iPad apps out there are made for this screen size.  That’s 65,000 reasons for Apple not to change the screen aspect size.  Ah, well.

Bummer Scale: 2

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8.  Included Camera and SD connectors.Apple iPad Camera Connector
What I said then:
I know the design is simple and that it’s in the iPhone family.  But without including a USB port, Apple should simply make it easier – and free – to import into iPad without buying extra things!

Nope.  Sadly, we all still have to buy extra things to get adapters so you can easily import things directly into the iPad.

Bummer Scale: 2

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TV

7.  TV Tuner.
What I said then: It’d be pretty nifty to have a TV app that lets me watch terrestrial HDTV?  I would still use Hulu and Netflix for cable shows.  But I feel that the lossy nature of terrestrial television broadcast isn’t polished enough for Apple.

iPad 2, unsurprisingly, does not sport a TV Tuner.  I didn’t think this would really happen, but we were talking about my perfect iPad 2, remember?  Any TV-like capabilities will be through apps.

Bummer Scale: 1

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AND NOW, THE WINNERS…

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1.  Wireless HD video output.
AirPlay for iPadWhat I said then: I don’t know how this would even be feasible, but damn it would be cool.  At the very least — and more reasonable — wired 1080p output.

BOOM.  (As Steve would say.)  Granted, you have to have an AppleTV, but with AirPlay, I can wirelessly broadcast video and, as of iOS 4.3, apps on the big screen.  Additionally, they’ve announced a wired method.   You can now mirror your iPad on the big screen through a dock connector.  Too bad this isn’t entirely free.  For AirPlay, you have to have an AppleTV ($100).  For mirroring, you have to have the HDMI Connector ($40).

As an aside: Bets on how long it takes before AppleTV is marketed as a gaming console?  Picture developers making games that broadcast the game itself to the big screen and your iPad/iPhone is a controller.

Awesome factor: 8

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2.  The ability to stand it up.iPad 2 Smart Cover
What I said then:
For many uses, the iPad needs to be vertical.  I’m sure there’s a way to have a stand in the back that would be flush with the metal unless you pulled it out. (Imagine: a picture frame meets the battery removal mechanism of the unibody MacBook Pro.)

Smart Covers simply blow my metal stand idea out of the water.  Just watch this video.

Again, they are not included and cost extra ($40-$70), which dings their awesomeness.  But just the fact that iPad 2 was designed with them in mind sets the bar high for other covers/cases.

Awesome factor: 6

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Facetime

3. A front camera.  With FaceTime.
What I said then: You know this is coming.  It’s a given.  Apple just saved the unveiling of FaceTime for iPhone 4.

No surprise here; iPad 2 has a front camera.  FaceTime on iPad!  Which is great, and I love the idea, but I use FaceTime about twice a month.  (Also, the latest FaceTime icon reminds me of a duck.  Just saying.)

Bonus:  iPad 2 has a rear HD video camera, which is awesome, even if the stills are inexplicably 0.7 megapixels.  No, that’s not a typo.  It shoots 720p video but it takes crappier photos than my 2003 camera.  Granted, that camera was the size of a small brick, but I digress.

Awesomeness factor: 5
(Am I really going to use my iPad to video-record?)

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iOS Multitasking

4.  Multi-tasking.
W
hat I said then: Oh, shush. I know it’s coming to iPad as soon as next month.  But I still wouldn’t be able to go back to an iOs without multi-tasking after using iPhone 4.

This happened on the original iPad, as we all knew it would.

Awesomeness factor:  5
(It’s more awesome than 5, but it’s been around for a while.)

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5.  The ability to print.AirPrint for iOS
What I said then:
Seriously, this is a drawback.  How can you have a content creation device that doesn’t print?

iPads can kiiiinda print, with AirPrint, but that currently only works with select printers. As I said, I will not be using the iPad for work, and I cannot remember the last time I wanted to print something at home ever (and I don’t even own a printer).  But it’s good to know that if I really wanted to, I could buy the right printer and it would work.

Awesomeness factor:  5

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7.  Some sort of built-in “My Documents” system.
What I said then:
I would love to be able to simply have an iOS-default app that stores all my documents that I would create in iWork.

DropBox for iOS

It’s been pointed out to me that this exists in other apps (free ones, even).  And iWork has it’s own built in file system.  Given how unsexy it is to organize files, I doubt we’ll ever see a default iOS app that manages documents.

Awesomeness factor:  4
(Win for the App store, though.)

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6.  GPS.iOS Maps Application
What I said then: I know the 3G models have Assisted GPS.  But how about the real thing?

Um.  Yes.  Evidently assisted-GPS is the real thing.  The reason it’s called that is because cell towers assist the GPS in finding the general location of the device before locking onto it.  This is done in a few seconds, for a process that (without cellular assist) takes minutes.  I retract this one.  iPad 3G has always had it, and there are GPS apps in the app store if I was so inclined.

Awesomeness factor:  Off the charts, but for the purpose of this post, it’s zero, zilch, nada.

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TO RECAP…

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Awesome Factor Wins!The verdict:  Thumbs up, I’m buying it.  The Awesomeness Factor weighs in at 33, while the Bummer Scale comes in at 30. To me, what was announced  — and how iOS has evolved since last August — was more important than what wasn’t announced.

Am I buying it simply because of its Awesome Factor?  No.  I’m buying it because I’m interested in exploring the simplicity of having a work laptop and a personal tablet.  I’m betting there will be nights where I don’t touch my laptop after work.  We’ll see.

GarageBand comes to iPadIt’s also worth a quick note that my greatest surprise was the software that was announced:  GarageBand and iMovie.  They both look pretty impressive for a tablet.  And they increase what can be done with an iPad. The iPad is not yet a computer replacement, but that it does 80% of what a computer does (and some things a computer simply can’t) is more than enough for most people.

There are tons of positive reviews coming out from media outlets today.  They simply reinforce iPad 2 imminent success.  Apple has taken the device that virtually created the tablet market and made it better.  (Oh, and at the same price as the original. What?!)

Steve Jobs and his team at Apple did just enough to convince me that iPad 2 was worth the wait.  It’s the iPad, done right.  And I’ll be happily buying mine this weekend.

iPad 2 is here.