Google Now, Siri are great travel companions


Anick Jesdanun explains how restricting yourself to one company’s digital ecosystem (Apple, Google, etc.) can hinder your experience, especially while traveling. In an article on Skift, Jesdanun explains how Google Now and Siri can merge, Borg-style, into a fantastic travel companion:

Siri is the better of the two — as a voice assistant. She’ll always respond with something, even if it’s to seek clarification. Google Now will often remain silent, sometimes giving you no more than a list of websites…Google Now shines is in anticipating your questions. Open the Google Search app, and you’ll see cards fill the screen with useful information.

In Orlando, Google Now continually offered directions to nearby breweries, possibly because I had searched Google for information on tours. I got information on a co-worker’s flight from Las Vegas because he had shared his Google calendar with me. And because I had searched for Flowers Foods for a story just before my trip, Google Now offered me directions to the baking company’s headquarters in Georgia when I was about a half-hour away.”

As an iPhone user, I’ve only played with Google Now for a few days. But it only took me that long to fall in love. The cards feel like what Apple’s Passbook could have been: always useful, instead of occasionally useful. In fact, I’m enjoying Now so much I’m considering moving all of my calendar events over to Google.

Daily tip: Search notes with Siri

sirinotesLast year I explained how to create and edit notes with Siri on the iPhone. To create a new note, tell Siri, “Create a new note,” “Make a new note” or something similar. You can give a note a title at the same time, for instance, “Make a new note packing list” or “Create a new note places to visit.” That becomes the first line of the note. To update a note say, for example, “Update my note toothbrush, deodorant, book, tickets, camera.” If you’ve got more than one note, Siri will ask which note you’d like updated by providing a list.

That’s great, but you can also search notes just as easily. Here’s how.

1. Search by date. Activate Siri and say, “Find notes from March, 2013” or “Find notes from March 7, 2013.” You can also ask, “Find notes from yesterday.”
2. Search by keyword. You can have Siri search your notes for a specific word by saying, “Search notes for ‘x'”, where “x” is the term you’re looking for. Siri returns the results as a tap-able list.

You can also ask Siri to list all your notes. This is much faster than using Apple’s Notes app manually.

This post is part is one of 31 tech tips I published in March, 2013You’ll find the rest here.

Home automation with Siri and Raspberry Pi

A YouTube user who goes by “Elvis Impersonator” has used a Raspberry Pi and Apple’s Siri to create some impressive home automation. Watch as he opens and closes the garage door, [1. Why he didn’t name it “pod bay door” is beyond me] disarms his house alarm, turns the lights on and off and adjusts the temperature in his home.

“Elvis” says that he put this system together over a long weekned. His SiriProxy plugins are available for download at his GitHub page, so get to it.

[Via The Next Web]

Talking to your phone is normal now

Years ago, you’d never call someone and ask, “Where are you?” because you knew the answer: in the kitchen, talking on the phone.

Today, my kids think nothing of talking TO the phone itself, not a person on the other end. Not only talking, but receiving useful answers to questions. That’s normal for them, and not at all odd.

“Honey, are you having a conversation with that inanimate object?”
“Yes, daddy.”
“OK, but keep it short. Dinner’s almost ready.”

CNET gets it wrong about Siri

CNET has erroneously suggested that Apple “rigged Siri to name iPhone best phone” in response to last week’s non-story in which Siri accurately reported data it received from Wolfram Alpha:

“As of yesterday, the voice assistant is firmly back in Apple’s camp. When asked the same question, Siri now responds: ‘The one you’re holding,’ or ‘You’re kidding, right?'”

“Yesterday” being May 14, 2012. Wrong, CNET. You are wrong. Here’s a post from the Mac Observer Forums in which a user describes Siri providing a humors answer to a now infamous question:

“Depending on how I asked ‘What is the best smartphone?’- I got either ‘You’re kidding, right?’ or ‘You’re holding it.'”

That post is date stamped October 17, 2011. Here’s another one, posted to YouTube on November, 2011, just one month after the iPhone 4S’s release. Perhaps CNET defines “yesterday” as “seven months ago.”

Meanwhile, Nokia spokesperson Tracy Postill told the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Apple position Siri as the intelligent system that’s there to help, but clearly if they don’t like the answer, they override the software.”

Right, Tracy. It would be a brillant move for Apple to censor Wolfram Alpha data to meet its own marketing goals.

Postill’s quote illustrates another error. Both CNET and Nokia are seemingly unaware of where Siri’s answers come from. In short, Siri pulls from several sources, including Apple’s servers, Wolfram Alpha and Yelp. When it responded to The Next Web’s query with “Nokia’s Lumia 900,” it returned results from Wolfram Alpha. The “joke” answers (and yes, they are jokes) like “The one your holding,” come from Apple’s servers. Here’s a video of Siri providing humorous answers to 96 questions (recorded in 2011). Finally, if you ask Siri for the best Italian restaurant in town, its answer will come from Yelp.

Apple has given Siri a sense of humor because it humanizes the service and helps users feel like less of a tool while conversing with an inanimate object. It was a very clever move. Apple did not, in any way, “rig” Siri to name iPhone the best phone. If CNET or Nokia believe that Apple is afraid of losing iPhone sales to loose-lipped Siri, I have a bridge in New York that’s for sale.

Siri loves Nokia OMG

Here’s a stupid non-story that I’m glad to point out as the garbage that it is.

The Next Web (TNW) is all excited because Apple’s Siri “will recommend you to buy Nokia’s Lumia 900.” Except that’s not true.

TNW asked Siri, the voice-controled, virtual assistant that ships with the iPhone 4S, “What is the best smartphone ever?” Siri then queried Wolfram Alpha as it often does and returned the results: Nokia’s Lumia 900. TNW then concludes:

“When you break out your iPhone 4S and ask Siri what the ‘best smartphone ever’ is, your humble virtual assistant will recommend you to buy Nokia’s Lumia 900.”

Wait, that’s not the question Siri was asked. TNW said, “What is the best smartphone ever?” not “Which smartphone should I buy?” So I did. Here was the result:

That’s different.

If you think TNW is being slippery, look at this headline from Business Insider on the same story: “Apple Says The Nokia Lumia Is The Best Smartphone In The World.”

Nope. That is 100% false.

Finally, let’s take a closer look at the Wolfram Alpha results. TNW didn’t include everything in its screenshot, but I did:

“Based on 4 reviews.” Awesome.

Finally, I asked Siri, “What is the best smart phone?” Here was the non-Wolfram, joking result:

Siri isn’t recommending the Nokia and TNW knows it. Instead, Siri is handing a query to Wolfram Alpha and displaying the results. Perhaps Apple should modify Wolfram Alpha results to suit its own marketing purposes. That’d be a good move. Also, the result is unreliable, as Siri is returning all sorts of whacky answers to this question.

Think before you post dumb stuff, TNW.

Manage Notes with Siri

Notes is the no-frills note-taking app that ships with the iPhone. It’s not fancy, but it does its job well. I don’t use it, because I believe I can create a note faster with an actual notebook and a pen. Tapping the voice dictation button speeds up the process, but  not enough to satisfy me. However, I found that I can create, update and list notes with Siri. In fact, Siri is even smart enough to know which note you’re talking about. Here’s how to create and maintain notes with Siri.

To create a new note, tell Siri, “Create a new note,” “Make a new note” or something similar. You can give a note a title at the same time, for instance, “Make a new note packing list” or “Create a new note places to visit.” That becomes the first line of the note.

Updating a note is easy. Simply say, for example, “Update my note toothbrush, deodorant, book, tickets, camera.” If you’ve got more than one note, Siri will ask which note you’d like updated by providing a list. Either tap the one you want to update or speak its name (the first line). If you know exactly which note you’d like updated, let Siri know. “Update my note packing list charger mouse.” Finally, get a quick look at your notes by asking Siri to list your notes.

It’s not perfect. Siri cannot delete a note or share a note via email, etc. But it’s still pretty useful, gets synced with Mail and is fast. Hitting the Home button and saying, “New note hotel room number 237” is pretty darn quick. Try it out.

Let Siri find airplanes over your head

As I research the use of Apple’s Siri as a traveler’s tool, I find amazing things. Here’s a fun, compelling trick from iDownloadBlog that has Siri identify the airplanes that are in the sky above your location at any time.

Simply launch Siri and ask, “Wolfram planes overhead.” It will use your phone’s GPS location and Wolfram’s flight path trajectory data to identify planes in your area. You’ll receive each flight’s speed, heading, and altitude (with a five-minute delay) from the Federal Aviation Commission‘s real-time trajectory data, as well as airplane type and slant distance, which is the exact angle between your iPhone and the plane. Finally, a sky map provides a visual overview.

There’s more. Ask Siri, “Wolfram flights overhead” to see details from the various airlines as well as a sky map (below).

Need to pick someone up at the airport? Now you know exactly — and I mean exactly — where their plane is.

New iPhone 4S ads

Here’s a great new iPhone 4S ad that features Siri. A young couple embarks on a cross-country adventure in a gorgeous Vovlo 240 wagon with Siri as their guide. As usual, it’s heartwarming and endearing.

In the second ad, a young guy experiences the thrill of his first garage band. It reminds me of the time I spent doing the same thing in high school.

Apple’s not selling iPhones here, it’s selling that feeling you get when you hear the last request in each spot. Well done.

[Via Macstories]