Siri and the beta pool

Mat Honan is having a fit this morning over his experience with Siri. He starts by making a good point: Siri is in beta, suggesting that it’s unfinished, yet Apple is using it to sell iPhones:

“Check out any of Apple’s ads for the iPhone 4S. They’re promoting Siri so hard you’d be forgiven for thinking Siri is the new CEO of Apple. And it’s not just that first wave of TV ads, a recent email Apple sent out urges you to ‘Give the phone that everyone’s talking about. And talking to.’ It promises ‘Siri: The intelligent assistant you can ask to make calls, send texts, set reminders, and more.’

What those Apple ads fail to report—at all—is that Siri is very much a half-baked product. Siri is officially in beta. Go to Siri’s homepage on, and you’ll even notice a little beta tag by the name.”

In the week that I’ve been using Siri the experience has been hit-or-miss. Often it gets me. Sometimes it doesn’t. Still, I wouldn’t call it “…very much a half-baked product.” And what about that beta tag? Mat goes on to describe how Apple handles other public betas:

“When Apple does a public beta, it usually keeps it out of the hands of the, you know, public. It typically makes you go get betas. It doesn’t force them on you, much less advertise them. Not that it is an effective disclaimer for the vast buying public. For most people who see Apple’s ads, and buy iPhones, the word beta means nothing at all. It might be a fish, or a college bro.”

I don’t know about that bro bit, but I do know that the purpose of a public beta is to gather feedback meant to improve and enhance the final product. The size of that pool is what’s important here. You need a sufficiently representative sample of users to get the most benefit. The betas that Apple “…makes you go get,” like iOS and OS X developer builds, gather sufficient feedback from the pool of developers.

However, I suspect that the only way Siri will successfully emerge from beta as a fully armed and operational digital assistant 1 is with the help of a very large pool of active testers. It’s a conundrum for sure: Apple is pushing people to buy an unfinished product that won’t mature unless they do.

  1. In a timely fashion, at least.

Six months without an iPhone: introduction

Last week I bought an iPhone 4S, ending six months without a smartphone of any kind. I didn’t choose to go without an iPhone for that long. Instead, fate made that decision for me. Now that I’m back among the connected, I’ve revised my opinion of the thing and, more importantly, the sense of dependence I had built around it.

This week I’ll describe the experience of losing the iPhone, living without it, lessons learned and finally how I’m using my new one with those experiences in mind. Today I start at the beginning: abruptly saying goodbye to my iPhone 4.

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Blurry iPhone 4S photos [Updated]

I’m a week into owning an iPhone 4S. It’s a great device, and I’ve been eager to play with the improved camera. I’ve only taken a handful of photos, but so far I’m a bit disappointed as I’m getting a lot of blurry pictures. The iPhone 4S camera seems very sensitive to motion, both on my part as the photographer and my subjects.

I’m not sure if the problem is me, the camera or bad practices, so here’s a look at what I’ve been shooting. Suggestions/comments welcome.

Updated with input from readers after the break.

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Apple’s new Siri TV ad

It’s nice to see that the appeal to emotion is still very much a part of Apple’s iPhone advertising. You’ll remember the initial FaceTime TV spots that featured new babies, loving couples and reassuring parents. They were sweet and effective.

A new ad for Siri which debuted over the weekend features an adorable young boy, wrapped a heavy plaid robe, peering through the window and hopefully asking Siri if it’s going to snow. It’s a moment many of us can relate to and a great way to sell phones (or almost anything else).

You can watch the spot after the break.

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Each weekend, I post the cool things I found during the week. You can follow the Weekend List category here and the RSS feed here.

Apple’s voice recognition software, Siri (a feature of the iPhone 4S) is still in beta but looks great. Perhaps the most compelling feature is Siri’s sense of humor. Many users will feel self-conscious while talking to an inanimate object. Apple has lessened that anxiety by giving Siri a personality (and a few one-liners).

[Image credit to Stu Helm]

Sprint reports best-ever sales day [Updated]

Sprint’s product chief Fared Adib, in an email to Boy Genius Report:

“Sprint today reported its best ever day of sales in retail, web and telesales for a device family in Sprint history with the launch of iPhone 4S and iPhone 4.”

This is becoming a familiar chorus. While RIM struggles, American carriers, I can only assume, are tripping over themselves to carry the iPhone.

Update: AT&T is on track to double its single-day activation record.

Location-based reminders are the best thing ever

The Location-based reminder is my favorite feature of iOS 5, and I never realized I wanted it. Fortunately, Steve Jobs did.

Former Apple Evangelist Guy Kawasaki recently shared insights he learned from Steve Jobs, including Steve’s conviction that customers do not know what they want.

“’Apple market research’ is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, ‘Better, faster, and cheaper’—that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can describe their desires only in terms of what they are already using—around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all that people said they wanted was a better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machine. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.”

I depend on reminder apps. If you had asked me to describe what I want in a perfect reminder app, I’d list simple task creation, dependability, multi-device sync and so on. That’s exactly what Guy describes: I listed my desires in terms of what I’m already using. I never would have said, “Place a geofence around a given location and prompt me to act upon arriving at leaving that spot,” but it turns out that’s precisely what the perfect reminder app should do.

In fact, this solves my personal fail point with most reminder apps. Recording reminders is the easy part. Remembering to look at the list when I most need to isn’t.

Time-based tasks don’t need a geofence. “Check the mailbox at 2:00” is simple to pull off. Just ensure that the iPhone will prompt me to get the mail at 2:00. But that doesn’t work for many tasks.

For example, my wife says, “Make sure you check the mail today.” I figure I’ll do that after I get the kids from the school bus. The bus arrives between 2:10 and 2:19. If I set the reminder for 2:10 and the bus doesn’t arrive until 2:19, buy the time I get the kids off of the bus, chat with the other parents and make my way back to the car, it’s 2:30 and I’m wrapped up in discussing the kids’ school day.

And I’ve forgotten about the mail.

On the other hand, if I tell the iPhone, “Tell me to get the mail when I leave the bus stop,” I’m all but guaranteed to complete the task. As I pull away, it prompts me to swing by the post office.

I’ve used this feature so much in the past 48 hours I don’t know how I functioned without it. Yesterday I was picking up sandwiches when I received a text from a friend, asking my wife to call his wife. I set a reminder to discuss it with my wife once I got home. Again, I couldn’t predict exactly when that would happen. When I arrived at home, the message appeared and I completed the task successfully.

Location-based reminders are the greatest thing ever, yet Apple gilds the lily with Siri. The time it takes me to click a button and say, “Remind me to tell Mia about Joe’s text when I get home” is negligible.

Guy is right, I did not know what I wanted in a reminder app. I’m very glad Steve did.