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Apple Watch use case Videos

Great videos showcasing the purpose of the Apple Watch. It's clear that the feedback from the general population is confused about why they need one. Apple's best move is to continue to educate so we can continue to move to closer to the next step in the future of communication. 

Unrelated but so related The Jetsons Watch

The Secret History of the Apple Watch

Great article about the perspectives and thoughts about the Apple Watch evolution. I am a design nerd so I always love reading articles that have the actual teams and people involved in the process. I think deeply about the projects that I work on if you are working in the Technology field and building out products as I am this one is worth a read.

There Is No Killer Apple Watch Feature

Interesting article on the Apple Watch.

One of the most pressing public queries about Apple Watch also happens to be the most asked: What’s it for? Answering that question is largely why we’re here in the first place, and it’s exceedingly difficult to come to any sort of consensus about the upcoming wearable’s number one killer feature. (I’d use the term “killer app,” but that plays a little bit of hell with Apple’s preferred lexicon, and we’ve got an entire other section devoted to the very best of those, of which there will be many.)

The easy answer — or, maybe, the easiest way to weasel out of producing one? — is that it all really depends upon whom you ask. If you ask me personally, the expected (and speculated) health monitoring aspect of Apple Watch is the most compelling reason to buy. By far. For me. Personally. I’m also the only one around the WatchAware offices to assign this much credence to that specific use case. Others answer otherwise. And nobody agrees. Some are strictly interested in Apple Watch as a basic, friction-reducing notifications hub. Others are wholly compelled by the impact of Apple’s Taptic Engine on the future of touch-based electronic communication. Still others see endless opportunity in Apple Watch as a universal remote for a world of automation. Heck, there even seem to be those who still put all their money on the basic, age-old selling power of status.

And they’re all correct.

But so is everyone else. If you think Apple Watch is pointless, you’re right. If you think it’s a glorified Fitbit, you’re right. If you think it’s to help you score style points in the club or the cubicle, you’re right. If you think it’s a real revolution in the evolution of the personal computer, you’re right.

The fact that Apple Watch’s killer feature depends on the individual might not be such an obvious evasion, after all. I’d argue that it’s not an evasion at all. Instead, it underscores a profound irony:

The lack of a killer feature is Apple Watch’s killer feature.

If that sounds lazy or trite or clichéd way beyond acceptable journalistic sensibility, just remember that I don’t care. But there’s plenty of precedent here, anyway: Before (and in the few months following) its 2007 launch, iPhone was met with similar vagueness in concept and vagaries of usage. In 2010, the pre-launch conception and post-launch reception of iPad followed iPhone’s trajectory exactly. And to this day, you still can’t tell me what either of those devices is actually for. You can only tell me what you do with yours. It’s personal.

In fact, “personal” was something of a buzzword in the Apple Watch press release:

Apple today unveiled Apple Watch—its most personal device ever…

which allows you to send

something as personal as your own heartbeat.

Tim Cook says,

“It’s the most personal product we’ve ever made.”

And Jony Ive says,

“We’ve created an entire range of products that enable unparalleled personalization.”

Because Apple Watch is

customizable for personal expression.

It will even be

personalized in appearance and capability…

and can

suggest personal, realistic goals, reward fitness milestones and keep you motivated.

And just in case you forgot, Cook and company remind you that

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world…

You get the idea.

Still, Apple does expect certain use cases out of a majority of users, and these are the ones they’ve been showing off since day one. You’re going to streamline your notifications because ignoring is bliss. You’re going to track your calories and check your heart rate. You’re going to play around with all the custom watch faces and purchase more the minute they’re available from third-party developers. You’re going to use the map functions in the bike lane or on the sidewalk. You’re going to see if Siri is actually any better than before. You’re going to buy a few different Bands to go with all your favorite outfits. You’re going to send Morse code LOLs to your date during terrible movies. You’re going to doodle crude representations of human reproductive organs to all your friends — in living color. You’re going to download apps (but probably not this many). And you’re going to have a completely different experience than every other person who’s doing exactly the same thing.

Truth be told, this seeming(ly false) dichotomy might be one of the most patently interesting things about the pre-launch hype surrounding Apple Watch. Electronics have always been consumed, at some level, on the premise of individuality, even as they’re invariably sold on the groupthink tenets of “Don’t be left behind!” You got a portable CD player, just like me. But we listened to different albums. You bought a Playstation, but I never liked fighting games, and you didn’t play platformers. We both had laptops for college, but your degree actually came with some earning potential. And we both use Safari for Mac, but you do not want to see my browser history. The technology — not the user, Android fans — is the tool, and Apple enthusiasts understand that. Apple itself understands that, which is why the company feels so compelled to beat everyone over the head with its ironic message of individuality-cum-conformity. But no matter its price point, the message is right on the money. It’s just bizarre to see the world’s largest technology company sell the most advanced piece of kit they ever made as anything other than the complex computing machine it is. And it’s even more bizarre that they don’t have to lie to do it.

Apple Watch is anything you want it to be.

I can’t wait to find out what mine becomes.

Apple on Hamburger Menus

Mike Stern, Apple User Experience Evangelist in Designing Intuitive User Experiences - 211 WWDC 2014 session (at 31’ 57"):

But I feel like I would be remiss If I didn’t use this opportunity to talk with you about hamburger menus. AKA Slide out menus, AKA sidebars, AKA basements, AKA drawers.
Now, these controls are very common on iOS, and on other platforms. And I’m sure many of you here work on apps that have these. You guys made the decision to put it in your app. And I’m sure that you did so with the very best of intentions. And I will say that these controls do a couple of things very well. 

View the article with images here http://blog.manbolo.com/2014/06/30/apple-on-hamburger-menus

For one thing, they save space. So rather than taking up a bunch of room at the bottom of the screen for a tab, you’re just taking up a little bit of area in the top left corner for the hamburger menu. 

And you practically have the entire height of the screen to show options to people, and if that’s not enough, you’re going to cram more awesomeness into your app, people can scroll, right. 


But, this is - I actually haven’t played around with the latest version of Xcode, so I really hope that they haven’t changed this - I don’t believe you’ll find a hamburger menu controller inside of Xcode.


Now, typically we don’t provide design advice about the things that we don’t offer to you guys, but I can’t help myself, right? I’ve so many conversations with people about this control, spending hours and hours talking about it, and you know, I think it’s important that we talk about it here today.


And again, I’m not going to say that there’s no place for these controls categorically. I think there are some apps that could maybe use one. But I will say that their value is greatly over-stated, and they have huge usabiliy downsides too. 

Remember, the three key things about an intuitive navigation system is that they tell you where you are, and they show you where else you can go. Hamburger menus are terrible at both of those things, because the menu is not on the screen. It’s not visible. Only the button to display the menu is.

And in practice, talking to developers, they found this out themselves. That people who use their app don’t switch to different sections very frequently when they use this menu. And the reason for that is because the people who use their app don’t know where else they can go. Right? They don’t know because they can’t see the options, or maybe they saw it at one point in time, but they have since forgotten.

And if you use this control, you have to recognize that the people who use your app may not realize the full potential of your app.

Hamburger menus are also just tedious, right? If you want to switch sections from the Accounts tab to the Transfers tab, all you need to do is tap the button and you’re there instantly, and if you want to go back, you tap the account button, and you’re back where you started from. 

Doing the same thing with the hamburger menu involves opening the menu, waiting for the animation to finish, re-orienting yourself, finding the option you’re interested in, tapping that, and then waiting for the animation to complete, getting back to where you were before, and if you want to go back, you have to open the menu again, go through that whole process, and there you are, again.

It takes at least twice as many taps to change sections. Something that should be very easy and fluid is made more difficult. 

And the other thing the hamburger menus quite frankly do badly is that they don’t play nicely with back buttons. Right? I’ve seen this a lot. Back buttons are supposed to go in that top left corner position, but instead there’s this hamburger menu there, so people put the back button right next to it, but no longer does this look like a back button anymore, it just looks like this arrow which is pointing to the hamburger menu, looks ridiculous, and sometimes people recognize that it looks ridiculous so when you drill down into the hirerarchy of an app, the hamburger menu goes away. Now it takes even more steps to switch to a different section. You have to go back up enough times to get to a level in the hierarchy of an app to get to a view that contains the hamburger menu.

Now, sometimes people will try to solve this by putting the menu on the right-hand side, but that’s not advisable either. That location is a really important location. Usually, you can put some kind of action there, you know, like a plus sign to add something, or an edit button. 

And finally, the downside of being able to show a lot of options is that you can show a lot of options. Is that you will show a lot of options. The potential for bloat and misuse is tremendous. They allow you to add all sort of stuff that your users don’t really care about. Like information about the app. Or version history, or credits. I hate to break it to you, but no one cares. 

And the other thing is that people wind up taking ads and special offers and making them look just like regular sections and putting it in there too. That sucks. No one wants that either. Look, drawers of any kind have a nasty tendency to fill with junk.
Okay, let’s move on. [ Applause ]

Apple could not be clearer: don’t use hamburgers menus on iOS.

Watch Guy's Thoughts On The Apple Watch After Seeing It In The Metal

The best review of the Apple Watch I have read so far. Tons of photos on the original post seen here: http://www.hodinkee.com/blog/hodinkee-apple-watch-review

I'm not even sure we can call it a watch. Okay, it goes on the wrist, and it happens to tell the time, but that's about where the similarities between Apple's just announced watch and the hand-assembled, often painstakingly finished mechanical watches we write about, and obsess over, end. I was lucky enough to be invited to Cupertino to witness the announcement of the Apple Watch firsthand, and though I do not believe it poses any threat to haute horology manufactures, I do think the Apple Watch will be a big problem for low-priced quartz watches, and even some entry-level mechanical watches. In years to come, it could pose a larger threat to higher end brands, too. The reason? Apple got more details right on their watch than the vast majority of Swiss and Asian brands do with similarly priced watches, and those details add up to a really impressive piece of design. It offers so much more functionality than other digitals it's almost embarrassing. But it's not perfect, by any means. Read on to hear my thoughts on the Apple Watch, from the perspective of a watch guy. Oh, and there are dozens of in-the-metal pictures, too.

I won't get into the raw functionality of the Apple Watch – for that, refer to my colleague Kelly Jasper's introductory article here. Instead I've chosen to focus on the many things I believe Apple got right and those I believe they got wrong, all the while viewing this piece of wearable technology not as a digital peripheral, but as an actual watch. Essentially, what can our friends in Switzerland learn from Apple, and what can Apple learn from the Swiss.

WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THE APPLE WATCH

Feel 

The overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything – digital or analog – in the watch space at $350. There is nothing that comes close to the fluidity, attention to detail, or simple build quality found on the Apple Watch in this price bracket. The Sistem51, for example, is a very cool, inexpensive mechanical watch. But it feels like it costs $150 (for the record, I bought one and adore it). Then, for closer to the price of the Apple Watch, you could own this, which is, well, downright horrific in just about every conceivable metric. Seiko does offer some nice things at $349 or less, but again, they feel like they cost exactly what they do. The Apple Watch feels like a lot of thought went into it, and no doubt it did. It feels expensive.

Finish

Overall design of the object – most obviously, the way that curved screen flows perfectly into the case – is just gorgeous. As Tim Cook said during the keynote address, you can barely tell where the software stops and the hardware begins. The rounded edges are very Apple, even very Marc Newson, who, based on absolutely nothing but a gut feeling, I'm sure had something to do with the design of the Apple Watch. Why? Just look at it. Also, take a read of this article I wrote back in 2012 when Newson's Ikepod showed its then new Horizon. I call attention to the fact that the bezel is seamlessly integrated into the case. Not dissimilar to the way the screen of the Apple Watch wraps into the body. And the strap found on the Apple Watch Sport? Look at the strap from the Newson-designed Ikepod. Jony Ive's friendship with Newson is well documented and it's possible they simply shared ideas over drinks, or maybe Newson was entrenched in the project, imparting all he learned at Ikepod with his friends at Apple prior to the announcement he'd join their ranks. We will never know.

Restraint

The Apple Watch is available in both 38 mm and 42 mm. I tried them both on, and they both worked perfectly on my wrist. They didn't exaggerate the options and make one decidedly male oriented at 44 mm and a girly equivalent at 35 mm or the like. Any man, woman, or child could pull off either size with ease. This may not seem like much, but remember this is Apple's first watch, and it would be a very easy mistake to make it too big or too small. I'm sure there was much discussion about making it larger – how could there not be? It would've made the entire interface bigger, bolder, more recognizable from afar and easier to use. The fact that they chose to actually make the thing wearable shows a great deal of restraint. The 38 mm example is particularly nice on the wrist as seen here.

Respect

The Apple Watch, in its own way, really pays great homage to traditional watchmaking and the environment in which horology was developed. We have to remember that the first timekeeping devices,things like sundials, were dictated by the sun and the stars, as is time to this day. The fact that Apple chose to develop two faces dedicated to the cosmos shows they are, at the very least, aware of the origins and importance of the earliest timekeeping machines, and the governing body of all time and space – the universe. (Sidenote: this "Astronomy" face will make it super easy to set the moonphase on your perpetual calendar. #watchnerdalert)

Apple will also offer a few faces that are reminiscent of modern analog watches. I expect that we will see many developments on the face front when Apple Watch hits stores. 

Further, they kept the crown. Okay, so it's a "digital crown" on the Apple Watch, but for a company founded by a man known for his distaste of buttons and switches, the fact that they kept the original horological control center says something. Sure, it is critical to the UI of Apple Watch, but I was surprised to see that they hadn't attempted a device that is completely void of physical controls. 

Options, And Obsession

There are so many different variations on the Apple Watch it's hard to keep it all straight. There is the normal Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Sport, and the Apple Watch Edition. That means it's cased in steel, DLC-coated steel, aluminum, grey DLC-coated aluminum, rose gold or yellow gold. There are six different styles of straps and bracelets, in a number of colors. 

Does that mean there is an Apple Watch for everyone? No, it doesn't, but it reinforces Cook's message that this is Apple's most personal device, offering a range of options that fit someone's varying lifestyle. No watch from Switzerland comes with this many choices of finishes, and in a world where every industry is splitting hairs (I'm looking at you, BMW 4, 6, and 8 series / and you, Audi A2, A3, A5, and A7), it only makes sense to offer the chance for people to obsess of the details. Details are what make life interesting, it's what allows me, for example, to have a job writing about something that we literally do not need in any capacity, but enjoy a great deal. I guarantee that there are a very high number of people out there who just adore the standard Apple Watch, and hate the Apple Watch Sport. Similarly for the solid-gold Apple Watch Edition, because though it received over 2,000 likes on Instagram, many of the comments were quite negative. I think Switzerland should take a clue here, and realize that once you find something that works, it doesn't hurt to offer it in any number of aesthetic options. Consider how robust our straps business in on the HODINKEE shop – that is because watch consumers simply didn't like having only the OEM-supplied strap or bracelet as an option. We're starting to see the slight deviation model a little bit from the Swiss, an example being the Tudor Black Bay, which comes with a burgundy bezel and gilt dial, or blue bezel with silver dial, each with three strap options.

Straps

And that leads me to my next point. Apple absolutely, positively, indisputably NAILED its straps and bracelets. In addition to offering a bevy of options from leather to fluoroelastomer to link bracelets to Milanese, it is here that you really see how much attention Apple was paying to the way people wear watches, and the how bad existing options were.

The Apple Watch can take an integrated strap or bracelet, or one with wire lugs. It totally changes the look of the watch, and swapping them couldn't be any easier. Changing straps is one thing, but the attention to detail on the straps and bracelets themselves is downright incredible, and when I mentioned above that nothing comes close in this price range, it is very visible when talking about straps.

I mentioned the Ikepod style closure of the Sport watch straps above, which is clearly just a superior way of closing a strap like that. But, it gets better. The leather is super soft, super high quality. It is much nicer than any leather strap I've ever felt on a $350 analog watch. Then, look at the buckle. It looks like a normal tang, but notice that the tang itself doesn't simply sit on top of the cross bar, it's actually integrated into the buckle itself.

Then you have the link bracelet. Did you know that the entire thing is sizable with just your own hands, no tools required? All you have to do it press on the center link from the rear of the bracelet and a link pops right out. It reminds me a little bit of how IWC's Aquatimer straps attach to the case, with a center release button, but here it's for every single link. Additionally, the deployant (did you notice Jony Ive called it a "deployment" buckle in the video? Cute.) is again so slick, where it actually folds over itself to be far thinner than a traditional bracelet clasp.

But for me, it's all about the Milanese bracelet, baby. The fact that Apple even knows what this is is remarkable. I promise you not a single other tech company in the world would've spent the time to make this admittedly outdated looking option. But I absolutely love it.

I love it because it's so comfortable, so different than a traditional link bracelet. I love because it's so 1950s and '60s. I actually wear a Milanese-style bracelet on my 1957 Omega Speedmaster (ref 2915-2 for you nerds) and I get more compliments on it than just about anything I own, because of the bracelet.

The 42 mm Apple Watch on this bracelet was the one I was determined to try on first, and here it is on my wrist.

This "loop" style bracelet is just fantastic, and unlike the bracelet on my Omega, it just works. It's magnetized and you can close it at any size. It is light to wear, but substantial, and feels fantastic on the wrist. How does it compare to this nice Tissot with a similar bracelet? Switzerland, you don't want to know.

Again, Apple has paid excruciating attention to detail in the design and wearability of the Apple Watch. In many cases, its offerings make what is coming out of Switzerland (or Asia) look amateurish. But, let me remind you that I am looking at this object as just that, the physical form, not in the interface. If this was simply a digital watch, I could say it's a well designed, well-executed one. But it's not a watch, and that's where I think it missed the mark.

WHAT'S NOT SO GREAT ABOUT THE APPLE WATCH

Emotion, Or Lack Thereof

What surprised me the most about the introduction of a large(ish) device, complete with a screen and not simply a wearable, is that it shows Apple is comfortable not having its object worn by a significant percentage of early adopters who normally flock to their launches. Those who love, and wear, mechanical watches tend to be slightly higher income. They tend to want things that are beautifully made with great purpose – in a nutshell, Apple products. But what makes the millions of us that would never trade a Rolex in for an Apple is the emotion brought about by our watches – the fact that they are so timeless, so lasting, so personal. Nothing digital, no matter if Jony Ive (or Marc Newson) designed it, could ever replace that, if for no other reason than sheer life-cycle limitations. My watches will last for generations, this Apple Watch will last for five years, if we're lucky. On an emotional level, you can't compare them, and that is why I don't believe many serious watch lovers (who, again, would normally be racing to spend their cash on an Apple release) will go for this. It's directly competing for the same real estate, where as if we had seen a bracelet of some kind announced yesterday, those early adapters, myself included, would be begging Apple to take their pre-pre-pre-order (truth be told, I'll obviously be buying one, but you know what I'm saying).

The Cuff-Test

If I had to criticize the actual form of the Apple Watch, it would be a complaint you've heard from me before (most recently with the Habring2 in our latest Three on Three); the Apple Watch doesn't fit under my shirt cuff without serious effort, if at all. I believe that great design should not disrupt daily life, and a watch that doesn't fit under a shirt sleeve is missing something. Apple is amazing and building thin, elegant machines, and I was surprised by how bulky this is, especially when the 45 minutes prior to the introduction of the Apple Watch were spent discussing how svelte the new iPhone 6 is. I understand the physical limitations and the required dock on the rear of the watch, but the Apple Watch is bulkier than I would've liked.

Could I have likely figured out a better solution for all that went into the Apple Watch to make it thinner? Certainly not, but to get mass adoption, I think it needs to be sleeker.

Digital Watches Are For Nerds

And about that. The Apple Watch is an incredible piece of engineering, no doubt. It is still not as cool as a mechanical watch, to real people. This might change with time, but my feeling is that not any time soon will a digital wristwatch, no matter what it's capable of, be considered "cool."  I am talking pure aesthetics, and 100 perfect superficial judgement here, but at the end of the day, I don't see people that love beautiful things wearing this with any great regularity.

Imagine a man who grew up in the middle class, went do a decent school, got an okay job, lives in a nice apartment in some metropolitan town, maybe drives a German car and occasionally splurges on something nice for himself. Do you see him wearing the Apple Watch? I don't. I do see him buying the Apple Watch,but it will need to go further than that. Take me, for example, I am sitting here on a gorgeous 27-inch iMac, wearing an ultra-thin perpetual calendar in white gold, and in fact, to my left is an Ikepod Hourglass (designed by Marc Newson) that I wanted from the minute I laid eyes on it. I saved up and bought it because it's a perfect object, and even those people who don't care about time, or design, agree that it's beautiful. The average well-to-do person buys an iPhone 6 because it's the absolute best offering in the category in both form and function. I'm not sure the same can be said about Apple Watch because things like my Patek Philippe 3940G exist, and they always will.

Unproven Autonomy

The biggest concern those in the mainstream press have with the actual functionality of the Apple Watch is that it must be tethered to an iPhone. Does that mean, if you were to go for a jog, that the iPhone has to come with? During yesterday's hands-on session we asked that directly to Apple PR, and they didn't have an answer at that moment. If so, that's a problem, but one I expect to be remedied quickly, if even a valid concern at all.

Market Leader In A Category No One Really Asked For

The Apple Watch is absolutely the best smart watch on the planet. That much I'm sure of. But are we sure that wearable technology is something we really want? In the same way those who publicly wore blue-tooth headsets five years ago and those who wore Google Glass one year ago, will smart watches ever become a thing that people genuinely want? If anyone can make it happen, it's Apple. It's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of test cases when this thing launches next year. 

IS IT A THREAT TO "REAL" WATCHES?

This a question I've been asked countless times in the media of the past few months ( / days / hours). Will anyone be trading in their Lange Double-Split for an Apple Watch? Certainly not. But, will the average Lange owner buy an Apple Watch, wear it on the weekends, and then, after a great workout with it, decide to leave it on next for a vacation to the beach, and then maybe on casual Friday to the office? It's possible. Apple products have a way of making someone not want to live without them, and while I wasn't able to fully immerse myself in the OS yesterday, what I saw was impressive. So while certainly not direct competition for haute horology watchmaking right now, the Apple Watch is absolutely competition for the real estate of the wrist, and years down the road, it could spell trouble for traditional watches even at a high level. When you realize you just don't need something anymore, there is little desire to buy another.

At the lower end, I believe the Apple Watch is a serious threat to those less faithful lovers of analog watches. There is a certain percentage of the population that simply doesn't care if they're wearing a watch of any great manufacturing process and the Apple Watch will appeal to them, if it works as advertised. Brands like Suunto should be worried. Casio as well. Even Seiko with its Astron line could fall into the same group of those looking for pure function. The other thing that could spell trouble even for the Swiss is Apple's cool factor with the young. At 16, will someone want a swatch or an Apple watch? At 20 will they want a Hamilton or the Apple Watch 3. At 25 will they want an Omega or an Apple Watch Plus? That should be a very real concern for the Swiss, appealing to a younger generation of buyers who live and breathe Apple.

Again, Apple paid great attention to detail with this new wrist-bound peripheral, and it shows the Swiss that it is possible to have great design at low costs. That is the most exciting thing about the Apple Watch for me – it will push the Swiss to take the sub-$1,000 mechanical watch category more seriously.

The Apple Watch is slated to ship in early 2015, and you can be sure we'll put its through its paces once available. You can read more on it here, and enjoy the dozens of live photos from the launch event below.

Apple's utterly amazing 1980s foray into fashion

When it comes to Apple apparel, nobody can stop talking about the rumored iWatch that may or may not make its debut in 2014, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time the company got into the wearable business. If we rewind time a few decades, we find a fabulous clothing line launched by Apple that is covered in obnoxious neon and lots of blank stares. So brace yourself and pop your collar; we’re about to take a trip to the 1980s.

[Product photos via So Bad So Good]

Source

Inspiration is the feeling you should get after watching this video. Apple always has a special way of inspiring me to want to push the limits in what I do on a daily basis. They continue to prove why the products they make have a purpose in our daily lives. The simple message that other companies just cannot seem to deliver.

Over the past three years, iPad has helped people transform business, education, entertainment, health, and many other fields. We wanted to document those changes. During three weeks in September and October of 2013, we traveled the world to see how people are using iPad. Here are some of the examples we found. Source

This video is in response to my previous post [http://source.davidbanthony.com/post/64976682749/respect-where-respect-is-due] Bryan Cranston [aka Walter White] continues to impress. Now the voice behind the new Apple commercial. In my opinion this is genius move by Apple.

How Apple iBeacon Will Transform Local Commerce

One fascinating benefit of today’s converged hardware / software platforms is how a new technology can be “turned on” via OS upgrades, allowing instant network effects at the platform and ecosystem level. Apple’s iBeacon is a model case for this and below are some thoughts on how new capabilities brought forth in iOS7 have the power to transform local and retail at the point of sale.

  1. iBeacon was announced at Apple’s WWDC in June and is part of iOS7. The magic of Apple iBeacon stems from it being an open standard—Bluetooth 4.0 (BTE) has been inside most smartphones for 2+ years (for Apple, dating to the IPhone 4S). Bluetooth chips have grown leaps and bounds in terms of capabilities and efficiency in recent years and will continue to get smaller and cheaper. Today, a beacon can last 2 years with a low power ARM processor running on a watch battery, even when the device is constantly broadcasting to everyone around it.
  2. Beacons can take any form factor and can be placed anywhere. From a developer perspective, they simply advertise data in peripheral mode by broadcasting a unique identifier. App developers then use this to understand the location of your device and connect you to a service or to content in the cloud.  Apple integrates iBeacon into CoreLocation (nothing to do with the old Core Bluetooth framework).  Beacons sit back and broadcast. The discovery, handshaking and communication are all handled by Apple.
  3. People compare Bluetooth and the now-defunct NFC—but use-cases like range sensing show how superior Bluetooth is and why Apple chose it. BTE also has forward proofing built in—today’s chips are so advanced they have built-in support for over the air (OTA) firmware updates.1. This is a big deal and means beacons can be updated  after being deployed. New firmware can be broadcast to the beacon to enable things like battery saving intelligence—e.g, it’s possible to turn off a beacon at night (if inside a store) to make the battery last longer, or download system upgrades and security patches.
  4. Additionally BTE allows the concept of ranges—near, medium, and far under iBeacon.  This enables distinctions to be made based on distance, enabling both geofences as well as true proximity-based services (touching your iPhone against something). iBeacon and Bluetooth will enable geofencing that is much more granular than today’s location technologies (GPS + WiFi). But another of the less talked about use-cases that is super compelling is indoor navigation.
  5. Retailers will be able to easily arrange multiple beacons (3 or more) to do triangulation. This allows rough indoor navigation for less than $100 today (much less in the future). Why would retailers not consider deploying beacons when every single person with an iPhone can be marketed to?2 Indoor navigation is very interesting to Google, and they have been playing with indoor Maps for years. So—though beacons are more about proximity and context than trying to locate position precisely, both may be interesting to Apple and Google for different reasons.
  6. Indoor navigation can go way beyond traditional geofencing, which simply senses presence—for example, placing  15 beacons every 10 feet apart could create a mesh network, with each beacon transferring different IDs to the phone and to each other. This would allow the network to detect you with a high level of precision indoors. One of the keys for using beacons like this will reside in being able to update them after deployment to a later firmware via OTA updates. Market leaders like Estimote are already thinking this far ahead, so deployments made today can be extended for years as new software features are devised at the app layer.
  7. Getting all this to work will require a lot of thought at the platform level, which is why Apple has a big edge. iOS can allow you to use CoreLocation to wake up the app with WiFi and GPS, and then the app will discover nearby beacons, at which point they will communicate with the app / user directly—so the app won’t stay in the background wasting power (iBeacon can wake up apps but only after beacons have registered). Apple also has a new framework called  CoreMotion that takes advantage of the M7 processor to do granular level precision. Android will struggle wildly to get this level of control neatly exposed for developers. Because consumers don’t want apps to just ping their phone, and because location services are battery killers, a neatly exposed developer toolkit is crucial—devs aren’t going to adopt iBeacon unless consumers see the value and their smartphone batteries don’t die. When used in unison, all of Apple’s APIs will really propel developers to build creative things. MLB recently deployed a trialbased on iBeacon which showed ticket-holders a map to their exact seats once they’d entered the park—amazing.
  8. Interestingly, Apple’s push into iBeacon could enable it to run away in this market while still standardizing on a completely open platform and developer environment. Apple often gets wrongly derided for being closed—but as I mentioned in point #7 in this post on iOS and Android, fragmentation issues in Android will guarantee that only a minority of Android phones (best estimate is 30%) will support a beacon-like system 12-18 month from now. This is bad for Android, but Apple didn’t have to do anything “closed” to create this gap—iBeacon is standardized around 100% open technologies.
  9. All this begs the question—does Apple have a local strategy? In my opinion, yes. And does this strategy have the capability to change the way merchants think about local? Yes. iOS7 and iBeacon create an ecosystem-wide network effect overnight, with standard technology, offered in an open development environment.  It’s very clear that Apple is starting to put the pieces together to allow consumers to make offline transactions with their device—imagine being in a store and authorizing a payment with your fingerprint and never talking to a salesperson. All Apple has to do is open its payment APIs to get to this level, the rest of the stack is already being exposed.
  10. It’s a sure thing that retail will transform over the next few years with the help of mobile platforms. Apple and Google will push these technologies. And developers will embrace them. Proprietary solutions will go away. Google already backed away from NFC. Another example of this is Shopkick. They were early with a proprietary solution that has seen success, but iBeacon will eclipse this almost immediately. Retailers won’t use Shopkick because they can integrate iBeacon into their own apps, and the company will have to adopt to this technology or be left behind.

Overall, one thing is clear: mobile platforms are set to change the way we buy, transact and consume in our local environment.  Local commerce is a massive carrot for growth, a $1 trillion opportunity in the US alone. And somewhat ironically, it may end up being Apple’s “closed platform” which helps unify how online to offline commerce evolves, while fragmentation within Android actually slows adoption of these technologies down.


  1. Broadcom, the company with the biggest leadership position in Bluetooth, is one of the top SoC companies in the world and understands networking deeply. They exemplify how the intersection of embedded networking and mobile technologies have accelerated mobile platform innovation at a velocity past anything that PCs / traditional computing ever witnessed 

  2. opt-in only, and dependent on the consumer downloading and authorizing an app. 

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How I Taught Steve Jobs To Put Design First

HARTMUT ESSLINGER, FOUNDER OF FROG AND CREATOR OF APPLE’S SNOW WHITE DESIGN LANGUAGE, RECOUNTS CONVINCING JOBS TO EMPOWER DESIGNERS.

My first encounter with Apple was at the ICSID World Design Congress in Helsinki in 1978, where the company had installed a working Apple IIe system. I liked Apple’s technology and price and how well these rudimentary products worked. Apple’s funny rainbow logo had the words “apple computer” scrawled across in an ugly typeface. As for product design, it looked like a clunky old typewriter without its ribbon and roller, and the keyboard stood at a wildly non-ergonomic height above the desktop. Two primitive 5 ¼–inch floppy disk drives made of generic sheet metal rested on top of the computer case, capped by an off-the-shelf Japanese monitor that displayed green characters on a black background. The Apple IIe clearly fell short of a grand vision, but I decided to buy one anyway. And as I played with my nice toy it dawned on me that computers—or “thinking machines”—were destined to enter our daily lives.

ON THE ROAD TO APPLE

My major consumer tech client at the time was Sony, which I believed had the technology to expand into personal computers. But after developing a few prototypes with Sony engineers, it was clear by 1981 that management wasn’t interested. I turned my attention to Silicon Valley: HP, for example, with its technologically advanced products, seemed to be a logical choice. Yet I eventually realized that HP’s DNA simply didn’t allow for introducing human-centered design to technology products. At that point I knew I had to get in touch with Apple.

That happened in an unusual way. In early 1982 I was in California talking to designers who might be interested in working with me. The meetings didn’t go anywhere, but the discussions brought home the realization that most designers in U.S. companies were in-house employees who reported to managers in marketing and engineering. Then one day I was at a party in Silicon Valley and met Rob Gemmell, the Chief Designer of the Apple II Division. After showing him my visual materials, Rob said, “You have to meet Steve Jobs. He is this crazy guy, but he really cares about world-class design and wants to bring it to Apple.” 

THE REAL JOURNEY BEGINS

Rob visited our studio in Germany’s Black Forest and described a competition Apple was organizing between design agencies—which was fine with me. I was already convinced that working with Apple might be a life-changing opportunity for me. I clearly recognized the huge gap between the reality of Apple’s current products and Steve Jobs’ ambition to make his company “the world’s best.” We agreed that on my next trip to the U.S. I would visit Apple’s offices in Cupertino and meet Steve Jobs, who by coincidence would soon appear on the cover of TIME magazine with the headline “Striking It Rich.”

As I prepared for the meeting, I wondered what this mercurial man would be like and if he’d quickly kick me out of his office, as I had been warned. While waiting to see him, a rather formally dressed man came out of his office; this made me uneasy because I was clad in jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt. But when Steve emerged I noticed that his t-shirt was even older than mine. The previous visitor, Steve told me with a laugh, was California Governor Jerry Brown. “He’s looking for a job,” Jobs joked.

STEVE DIDN’T REALLY KNOW MUCH ABOUT DESIGN, BUT HE LIKED GERMAN CARS.

That broke the ice, and I showed Steve some of my work, emphasizing the products I’d designed for WEGA and Sony. Almost immediately he said, “I want this for Apple.” We also spoke about process. I explained that to make design a core element of Apple’s corporate strategy, it would have to be seen as a leadership issue; world-class design can’t work its way up from the bottom, watered down by the motivations and egos of every layer of management it passes through. I also offered a number of examples of corporate designers—especially in the United States—who were being compromised by the need to report to lower levels. Steve looked a bit irritated when I told him that my initial observations of Apple’s design process revealed exactly the same pattern of structurally determined mediocrity.

That wasn’t the only strained moment of our conversation that day. Steve seemed astonished that I spent less time talking about my projects than I spent describing the objectives, goals, and processes of my approach to design, including my experiences navigating power struggles within my client’s companies— most of which resulted in very successful products. He seemed mildly uncomfortable with the idea that a design language isn’t universal or absolute but needs to be right for the spirit of a company, and I saw him frown when I said that aesthetics evoke emotions but are just one of the elements of a great product.

In fact, Steve didn’t really know much about design, but he liked German cars. Leveraging that connection, I explained that design like that has to be a complete package, that it must express the product’s very soul; without the excellent driving experience and the history of stellar performance, a Porsche would be just another nice car—but it wouldn’t be a Porsche. We also discussed American design, and I offended him when I insisted that American computer and consumer electronics companies totally underestimated the taste of American consumers—Sony’s success with clean design being the proof. He was gracious enough to concede that Apple didn’t make the cut, but he also said that he was out to change all that, which was why he was looking for a world-class designer.

When I asked him about his bigger ambitions, he simply smiled and said: “First, I want to sell a million Macs. Then I want Apple to become the greatest company on earth.” For some strange reason, we both agreed that those goals were absolutely achievable.

I URGED STEVE TO RETHINK APPLE’S EXISTING DESIGN PROCESS AND THE WAY IT PLACED DESIGNERS AT THE MERCY OF ENGINEERING.

At the end of the meeting, I again urged Steve to rethink Apple’s existing design process and the way it placed designers at the mercy of engineering. I told him that, in my opinion, Apple needed one design leader and one team reporting directly to him, and design had to be involved years ahead of any actual product development in Apple’s strategic planning. With that framework in place, Apple could project new technologies and consumer interactions for years ahead, which would help avoid shortsighted ad-hoc developments.

Steve reluctantly promised that if frog won the competition, design would take a top position at Apple and report directly to him. I left his office that day feeling motivated and inspired, but also quite aware of the challenge we were taking on. My brief experience at Apple had convinced me that neither its division managers nor its designers would accept this change without a fight, and Steve had assured me the battle would be mine to win. Naturally, there were some points where we disagreed—Steve believed that “one insanely great product” would define Apple, whereas I insisted that Apple needed a comprehensive strategy that could generate a line of great products. But we launched a pivotal collaboration that day, creating what would become one of the most successful and influential designer/entrepreneur alliances in the history of consumer technology.

Source

“We’re Not in the Junk Business”


Cook, Ive, and Federighi on the New IPhone and Apple’s Once and Future Strategy – Businessweek
: “To Cook, the mobile industry doesn’t race to the bottom, it splits. One part does indeed go cheap, with commoditized products that compete on little more than price. ‘There’s always a large junk part of the market,’ he says. ‘We’re not in the junk business.’ The upper end of the industry justifies its higher prices with greater value. ‘There’s a segment of the market that really wants a product that does a lot for them, and I want to compete like crazy for those customers,’ he says. ‘I’m not going to lose sleep over that other market, because it’s just not who we are. Fortunately, both of these markets are so big, and there’s so many people that care and want a great experience from their phone or their tablet, that Apple can have a really good business.’”

(via. Business Insider)

This quote from Cook describes our philosophy at Bombing Brain to a T. This is why we don’t care about top paid charts, going freemium, or getting more “installs.” We charge a relatively high but fair price for a product that appeals to the second of Cook’s “segments”. People who want to solve a specific problem and are willing to pay to have that problem solved.

I completely understand and respect those in software who want to attack that first segment. There’s a lot more money and potential to strike it rich over there, I’m quite sure. But there’s also a much better chance as a small indie that you’ll get crushed by the billion-dollar venture-backed companies that are dominating that space as well. Mostly, though, it’s just not a business in which I’m interested. I’d rather sell to customers who are more like me, because I understand their motivations and I know how to make them happy.

The dumbest thing you can do in life is assume that there’s one way to succeed at anything. Living your life via stats, following whatever “most” people are doing is a surefire way to die a mediocrity. 

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Machine language: how Siri found its voice

GM Voices is nestled on a rolling, leafy road in Alpharetta, Georgia, an affluent suburb of Atlanta. A recording studio specializing in voice-over work, it produces narration for corporate training videos, voicemail system prompts, and the like — not exactly sexy stuff, but steady, and for the best actors, lucrative. September Day is one such actor, and on a morning in 2011, she arrived to begin work on a special project.

Day, a red-headed, 37-year-old mother of three who’s done work for many high-profile clients — companies like MTV, Dominos Pizza, and Nickelodeon — had been given few details. She knew she’d been hired to do a “text-to-speech” product — something where a computer reads text back in human speech — and she knew that she’d be doing her “early ‘20s” voice (she also has a spunky teen voice she’s used for, among other things, an acne infomercial).

WATCH VIDEO: CLICK HERE

Day confidently rolled in having just given birth to her daughter a mere four days earlier (“VO is fantastic —nobody is going to judge me for wearing maternity clothes!”) She wasn’t prepared for what was about to hit her.

Ivona, a Polish text-to-speech company, was creating a computerized voice that would be incorporated into the Kindle Fire, the mini version of Amazon’s popular reader tablet. When Kindle Fire owners clicked a setting, they’d be able to hear some of their books read to them by “Salli.”

For six to seven hours a day, for eight days, Day read passages from Alice in Wonderland, bits of news off the AP wire, and sometimes random sentences, sitting as still in her chair as possible. She read hundreds of numbers, in different cadences. “One! One. One? Two! Two. Two?”

“It was like the Ironman of VO,” says Day. “I had not experienced anything like that. I am the queen of the 30–60 second TV spot. That’s my safe place.” She had to take a break after the fourth day, because she had gone hoarse. But then Day soldiered on, and became the voice of many a breezy beach read.

FOR EVERY SIRI, THERE’S AN ACTOR SITTING IN A SOUND BOOTH, REALLY NEEDING TO GO TO THE BATHROOM

Day’s experience is becoming increasingly common, as talking devices gain a commercial foothold. No longer a novelty, or something marketed primarily to the disabled, speaking gadgets, a la Siri, GPS systems, and text-to-speech enabled apps, are on the rise. It’s easy to see the necessity: when you’re driving you can’t Google, so you ask your phone to find a Starbucks. You’re at the gym; you have your RSS reader reading your financial news to you. Google, Apple, Microsoft, and even Amazon have all invested heavily in speech, and many believe we’re just seeing the beginning of this literal conversation with technology.

Today’s talking phones and cars are almost human sounding. That’s because they are human. Or at least, they once were.

For every Siri, there’s an actor sitting in a sound booth, really needing to go to the bathroom or scratch an itch. Once that person finishes her job, she can go home. But her voice has only begun its journey. The story of that journey, from human to replicant, is one of a series of complex technological processes that would have been impossible 10 years ago. But it’s also the story of our stubborn desire as social beings to form relationships, even with unconscious objects. In order to establish trust in our machines, we have to begin to suspend disbelief. This is the story of how we fool ourselves.

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RANSOM NOTE STYLE

J. Brant Ward, the senior director of advanced speech design and development at Nuance, is a former composer who went from writing string quartets on synthesizers to composing speech using synthetic voices. He’s been working in the Silicon Valley TTS industry for over a decade.

Nuance is one of the biggest independent speech recognition and text-to-speech companies in the world. (Speech recognition is a bit like the reverse of text-to-speech — the computer hears what you’re saying, and converts it into text.) The company does many things, including supplying the healthcare industry with voice-enabled clinical documentation, meaning doctors can speak rather than type in their notes. It also develops voice recognition and text-to-speech capabilities for everything from tablets to cars.

THE TEXT-TO-SPEECH INDUSTRY IS EXTREMELY COMPETITIVE, AND HIGHLY SECRETIVE

Ward and the company’s senior design lead, David Vazquez, are part of the team working out of Nuance’s Sunnyvale, CA offices creating next-generation synthetic voices. They describe their work as “part art, part science.”

The text-to-speech industry is extremely competitive, and highly secretive. Even though Nuance CEO Paul Ricci confirmed that Nuance is a “fundamental provider for Apple” at theD11 conference earlier this year, Ward and Vazquez coyly change the subject when asked if the company is behind Siri.

That said, they’ve agreed to explain, at least in broad strokes, how they build voices. Needless to say, one doesn’t start by recording every single word in the dictionary. But when you’re talking about an application that reads any news story that comes into your RSS feed, or looks up stuff on the web for you, it needs to be able to say every word in the dictionary.

“Just say you want to know where the nearest florist is,” Ward says. “Well, there are 27 million businesses in this country alone. You’re not going to be able to record every single one of them.”

“It’s about finding short cuts,” says Vazquez, a trim, bearded man who exudes a laid-back joviality. He rifles through a packet of stapled together papers that contains a script. It doesn’t look like a script in the Hamlet sense of the word, but rather, an Excel-type grid containing weird sentences.

Scratching the collar of my neck, where humans once had gills.

Most of the sentences are chosen, says Vazquez, because they are “phonetically rich:” that is, they contain lots of different combinations of phonemes. Phonemes are the acoustic building blocks of language, i.e.: the “K” sound in “cat”.

“The sentences are sort of like tongue twisters,” says Vazquez. Later, a linguist on his team objects to his use of this expression, and calls them “non sequiturs.”

“The point is, the more data we have, the more lifelike it’s going to be,” says Ward. The sentences, while devoid of contextual meaning, are packed with data.

After the script is recorded with a live voice actor, a tedious process that can take months, the really hard work begins. Words and sentences are analyzed, catalogued, and tagged in a big database, a complicated job involving a team of dedicated linguists, as well as proprietary linguistic software.

When that’s complete, Nuance’s text-to-speech engine can look for just the right bits of recorded sound, and combine those with other bits of recorded sound on the fly, creating words and phrases that the actor may have never actually uttered, but that sound a lot like the actor talking, because technically it is the actor’s voice.

GETTING A COMPUTER TO ASSEMBLE A HUMAN-SOUNDING VOICE IS A HERCULEAN TASK

The official name for this type of voice building is “unit selection” or “concatenative speech synthesis.” Ward describes it as “a little like a ransom note,” but saying it’s like a ransom note, where letters are chopped up and pasted back together to form new sentences, is a radical oversimplification of how we make language.

As humans, we learn to speak before we learn to write. Speaking is unconscious; we do it, we don’t think about how we’re doing it, and we certainly aren’t thinking about the minute fluctuations of stress, intonation, pitch, speed, tongue position, relationships between phonemes, and myriad other factors that allow us to seamlessly and effectively communicate complex ideas and emotions. But in order to get a computer to assemble a human-sounding voice, all of those things have to be considered, a task described by one language professor as “Herculean.”

Take, for instance, the phoneme “A” as in “cat”. It will sound slightly different if it’s the center of a syllable, as in “catty,” versus at the beginning of a syllable, as in “alligator.” And that “a” will also sound a little different if it’s in a stressed syllable, as it is in “catty,” versus a non-stressed syllable, as in the word “androgynous.”

Sentence construction presents other challenges. The simple task of making plane reservations isn’t so simple for a synthetic voice.

“If you’re saying something like, ‘Are you going to San Francisco, or New York?’ the end of the sentence goes up in pitch,” says Vazquez. But if it’s a multiple choice question, say, “San Francisco, Philly, or New York?” then “York” goes down in pitch. Screw stuff like that up, and all of a sudden the user experiences cognitive dissonance (That was weird — oh right, I’m talking to a computer, not a person.)

You shouldn’t think, “I’m talking to a computer.” You shouldn’t think anything at all.

“My kids interact with Siri like she’s a sentient being,” says Ward. “They ask her to find stuff for them. They don’t know the difference.”

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DAISY, DAISY, GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER DO

Attempts to synthesize the human voice date back to the 1700s, when scientific inventors experimented with reeds and bellows to get vowel sounds. But the most significant early advance was the Vocoder: a machine developed by Bell Labs in 1928 that transmitted speech electronically, in a kind of code, for allied forces in WWII. The Vocoder was the inspiration for author Arthur C. Clarke’s evil talking computer, Hal 9000, in the book 2001 a Space Odyssey, and a few decades later it produced trendy effects used by pop musicians like Kraftwerk.

EARLY ROBOTIC VOICES SOUNDED ROBOTIC BECAUSE THEY WERE TOTALLY ROBOTIC

In the 70 plus years that ensued, there were many new takes on speech synthesis: Texas Instruments’ Speak and Spell, the Knight Rider-esque talking cars of the 1980s (“FUEL level is LOW!”) and the voice built for physicist Stephen Hawking.

The difference between those voices and the voices of today, however, is as stark as the difference between Splenda and pure cane sugar. These early robotic voices sounded robotic because they were totally robotic. Prior to the late ‘90s, computing power just wasn’t great enough to do concatenated synthesis, where a real human voice is recorded, minutely dissected, catalogued, and reassembled. Instead, you made a computer speak by programming in a set of acoustic parameters, like you would any synthesizer.

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“Those machines were simple compared to how complex the human vocal tract is,” explains Adam Wayment, VP of engineering at Cepstral (KEP-stral), a Pittsburgh, PA-based text-to-speech company that has created over 50 different voices since its inception in 2001. “Sound comes from the vocal cords, the nasal passages, leaks through the cheeks, the sides of mouth, reverberates around the tongue, all those tissues are mushy … So the source itself isn’t a neat little square wave. It’s tissue vibrating.”

Hence the synthesizer approach produced speech that was intelligible, but not remotely human. Not even a child would be fooled into thinking they could actually chat with their Speak and Spell.

By the early 2000s, computers finally got fast enough to search through giant databases for the right combinations of new words, allowing companies to start producing natural-sounding concatenated voices. Around the same time, artificial intelligence developed to the point where computers could make increasingly sophisticated decisions with regards to language. When you say the word “wind,” for instance, do you pronounce it the way you would if saying, “the wind is blowing” or “wind” as in “wind the thread around the spool”? An adult human will make the correct determination automatically based on context. A computer must be taught about context.

Robo-voices not withstanding, the promise of text-to-speech has been evident since the dawn of personal computing — Apple even offered a text-to-speech reader in the first Mac. But it was the widespread adoption of mobile technologies and the internet that really fired up the demand for voices. The ability to access information, hands free, is a tantalizing proposition, particularly when coupled with speech recognition technology.

THERE IS ONE GROUP THAT IS SURPRISINGLY NOT PSYCHED ABOUT IT: VOICE ACTORS

You can see how important text-to-speech has become by watching what the tech superpowers are doing. In a letter to shareholders last November, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stressed the importance of “natural language interpretation and machine learning,” that is, the artificial intelligence technologies underlying speech. There have been a flurry of acquisitions: Google bought UK-based speech synthesis company, Phonetic Arts three years ago, and back in January, Amazon acquired Ivona, the Polish text-to-speech firm that recorded Day’s voice for the Kindle Fire.

While the tech sector gets excited about the future of speech, there is one group that is surprisingly not psyched about it: voice actors. That’s right, the very people supplying the raw materials. The reason might be they just don’t understand the implications. Although there are actors, like Day, or Allison Dufty, a voice-over actress who has done many jobs for Nuance, who are willing to speak publicly about their work, those actors are few and far between. Ironclad NDAs keep many actors from associating themselves with specific brands or products. Talent agents who have relationships with technology companies who do this work are often hush-hush, to maintain their competitive advantage. And in the absence of information, paranoia reigns supreme.

“Within our industry, text-to-speech [TTS] is seen as a threat,” says Stephanie Ciccarelli, chief marketing officer at Voices.com, an online marketplace for voice actors, and co-author of the book Voice Acting for Dummies. “They think it’s going to replace human voice actors.”

An email to one successful voice actor who has done narration for Audible books, work for Wells Fargo, NPR, AT&T, and others, got a polite but emphatic response: “The only thing I can tell you about voice actors’ opinion on TTS is that we all pretty much think it’s abominable… Maybe one day it’ll advance to the level that 3D animation is currently in, but right now it’s almost a joke.”

VOICE-ACTIVATED ROACH SPRAY

Back at Nuance, Ward and Vazquez are excited to demo new technologies they’ve been working on. Ward explains that Nuance can weave bits of synthesized speech together with concatenated speech, and make it sound natural, and soon, he says, they’ll be able to make an entirely synthesized voice that sounds good, too. Computing power has increased to the point where it’s possible to build something that doesn’t sound like a totally fake robot voice.

“It will still be still based on a real person’s voice,” he says. Even a synthesized voice needs a model to mimic.

He and Vazquez show me a neat trick where they’re able to take acoustic qualities from one speaker’s voice, and qualities from a second person’s voice, and create an amalgamation of the two.

Another day, they demo a product that combines a speaking RSS reader with an intelligent music engine: the program can tell whether the news it’s reading is happy or sad, and selects an appropriate piece of music to play behind it, giving the performance a broadcast feel.

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They latch onto the word “personalization,” throwing around ideas about how one day, we might have our Tweets read to us in the voice of the person who wrote them, or be able to walk into our home and say “it’s me,” and have our thermostat adjust to the temperature it knows we want, using speech recognition and artificial intelligence. I tell them a random anecdote about a famous piano player who once built a chair that squirted roach spray, activated when he smoked a joint, to mask the smell.

“Yeah, you could use speech recognition to spray something into the air, so your wife wouldn’t know you were smoking weed,” says Ward.

All jokes aside, this general concept doesn’t seem too far away, considering the existence of smart home technologies like Nest, a thermostat that learns what temperatures you like, and self-adjusts when you come and go. Nor does the reading of Tweets in one’s own voice: Cepstral recently created a custom pro bono TTS voice for a blind teenager based on audio recordings he did in his bedroom, proving you don’t need professional-quality recordings to get a passably decent result.CereProc (SARAH-Prock), a 12-person Edinburgh-based TTS firm that created a voice for the late film critic Roger Ebert after he lost his larynx from oral cancer, plans to launch a personal voice cloning product soon. Then all that needs to happen is that your TTS reader be able to channel the other peoples’ voices.

IT WOULD BE NICE IF VOICE SYSTEMS LIKE SIRI UNDERSTOOD THE USERS’ EMOTIONAL STATE AND REACTED ACCORDINGLY

But even if vanity voices don’t take off (a lot of people really hate the sound of their own voice, after all,) there still remains the promise of creating better synthetic voices that allow us to have a more fulfilling relationship with technology.

“Siri is incredibly easy to understand, but where we still need to break through a barrier is having Siri convey the emotional and social characteristics that are so important in regular speech,” says Benjamin Munson, a professor of speech, language, and hearing science at the University of Minnesota. At a bare minimum, he says, it would be nice if voice systems like Siri understood the users’ emotional state and reacted accordingly, the way a human attendant may adopt a soothing voice to deal with an enraged customer, for instance. Synthesizing so-called “paralinguistics,” that is, the social cues we communicate through language, is difficult, says Munson, but notes that academic researchers are beginning to study it.

“When I got into this industry, most of the speech synthesis market was for [automated voice mail systems], and the idea of producing a voice that could really communicate a sense of emotion and identity wasn’t important,” says Matthew Aylett, Chief Scientific Officer at CereProc. “After all, you don’t want the bank to read your balance in a sad voice if you’ve not got much money.”

But now that synthetic voices are reading blog posts and even entire Kindle books, carrying on conversations about scheduling, and telling you how to get to grandma’s house, it’s time, says Aylett, to shift out of neutral.

“R2D2 from Star Wars was always my favorite robot,” says Aylett. “He still sounded like a robot, but had great character, emotion, and sarcasm. We try to produce voices with a sense of character.”

Still stuck on the talking roach spray chair, chatting cars, and the idea of having my Twitter feed read to me in a chorus of friends’ voices, I asked Wayment from Cepstral, how important increased artificial intelligence would be for future TTS applications. He told me “very,” but then said: “but not in the way you might think.”

Recently, said Wayment, he spoke with a visually impaired customer who said: Do you know how hard it is to use a microwave? When they’re all different and have different displays? Which led Wayment to imagine a world full of talking microwaves. He paused, then said seriously: “I think the day is coming where even little devices are speaking, but we run the risk of just filling our lives with noise. It’s not going to be enough to have devices talking, they’re going to have to tell us things we need and want to know. They’ll have to have insight.”

And if they don’t, I see a new business opportunity: the synthesis of silence.

Source

The Most Forward Thinking Apple Yet

An interesting perspective on Apple and some of the announcements from last week.

What the 64-bit capable iOS 7 and the M7 chip really mean

Around this time a year ago, Tim Cook wrote a letter to Apple’s customers apologizing for the Maps debacle. Exactly around a month later, Apple announced a major executive reshuffle. Forstall resigned(sic). Jony Ive took charge of Human Interface in addition to Industrial Design. A new Technologies group was created, led by Bob Mansfield, who returned from retirement. Federighi and Cue took over additional responsibilites as well. John Browett, a hiring choice personally made by Tim Cook, was made to leave Apple as well.

Since then, Apple stock has dropped nearly 30%.

In many ways, WWDC, and more so, the iPhone 5C and 5S represent (and had to represent) Apple’s reply to the naysayers. However, I think there was more to the announcements than what met the eye.

One of the most peculiar announcements yesterday was that iOS 7 was now 64-bit. Apple seems to have left out that announcement at WWDC, possibly to avoid revealing that the A7 chip(and hence the next iPhone) would be 64-bit capable. Many seem to have assumed that this is just Apple preparing for the eventual transition. I think there’s more to it than that.

Apple made a similar full-scale transition to 64-bit on the Mac with Snow Leopard in 2009. At the time, Macs were already at the point of reaching 4GB and above memory capacities. This isn’t the case with the 5S today, or even for the majority of Android phones.

I don’t believe Apple added 64-bit support to iOS 7 and all their apps just to prepare for an eventual transition to 4GB+ memory capacities in future iPhones. I think this was to do with something more impending. Do we know any product category that Apple would be interested in, that would require the use of both iOS and an A-series chip that is 64-bit capable in order to address 4GB+ memory?

Apple TV (the one that is yet to come, not the one that exists).

Just a few days prior to WWDC this summer, the Xbox One was annnounced with 8GB memory. The 360 had 512 MB of memory. Earlier in January this year, the PS4 was announced with 8GB of memory. The PS3 had 256MB of system memory.

If Apple were to release a competing living room solution now, as Steve Jobs claimed they had figured out, it would definitely have to have around 8GB of memory (if they were interested in addressing big screen console gaming seriously). It would also likely be iOS, and not OS X, that would be needed. I think that is why Apple just announced full-scale hardware and software 64-bit support, not because phones will eventually have 4GB of memory sometime in the future.

The second bit of credence for this theory comes from the new Game Controller Framework that was announced for iOS 7 and OS X 10.9. This seems to address the user control issues with big-screen console gaming, while the 64-bit hypothesis above ensures compute and graphics capability for larger screens.

The other interesting thing to come out of the recent event was the M7 coprocessor, that focusses on ‘motion’. This isn’t the first time a mobile phone has had a coprocessor. The Moto X has two - a natural language processor and a contextual awareness processor. But neither of them are so singularly focussed on fitness as the M7 chip. The new CoreMotion Framework for iOS 7 adds a step counter and a motion activity detector (stationary, walking, running, vehicle or unknown). We know that Apple has been hiring experts in noninvasive blood component measurements. We know they have a patent on a wrist watch. The iWatch must not be far away.

My guess is that the iWatch will not be a iPod Shuffle or Nano like device in terms of an embedded operating system. It will be based on iOS, possibly to allow for apps in the future.

As for the Moto X’s natural language coprocessor chip - I expect Apple will soon have an S7 or S8. Remember, margins matter for Apple, so an M7 is all we get for now. It’s also more likely that Apple will reserve such a chip to be introduced with either iWatch or the new Apple TV.

Jony Ive’s mark can be seen all over the 5S and the 5C. Colors were an Ive trademark, all the way from the original iMac G3 to the iPods and now, to the iPhone. But the more subtle impact is within iOS 7.

iOS was originally designed for an era without a Retina display. It needed heavy skeuomorphism, relatively thick fonts and glossy UI elements, to distinguish itself elegantly in an era where pixels were large and visible. As the entire product lineup shifted to Retina displays, the design attained the potential of being refined to a more careful use of space. Ive and his team have done this for the internals of iOS devices for long. Now it was about the user interface.

The internals have Mansfield written all over them. Apple pulled off a 64-bit transition in the A7 chip alongside a semiconductor technology upgrade beyond 32nm and developed the M7 coprocessor. I also suspect another S7/S8 for voice is in the works. Apple could have followed Samsung in licensing from ARM their big.LITTLE architecuture to achieve similar goals as the M7 coprocessor, but they clearly chose a different route. Mansfield had a role to play in such major shifts for Apple, not just another incremental A-series chip upgrade.

Tim Cook and his executive team is out to prove that this Apple is the most forward-thinking yet.

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15 Years of Apple Homepages

I was looking at screenshots of Apple.com’s former homepages (using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine) and decided to compile them into a slideshow. With the exception of Apple’s homepage in 1997, it’s pretty remarkable how little the core design has changed:

After 15 years, the layout of Apple.com is still the same: prominently feature the latest product, with 3-4 little boxes below that highlight other recent products and company news. The homepage has become more evident and intuitive each year. Bigger pictures, less copy, bolder text, fewer items to click… It’s like a giant billboard. They stuck with a format that worked and continually refined it. [The two biggest changes: they moved the navigation bar to the top in 2000, then gave the entire site a facelift with the introduction of Leopard in 2007.]

It goes without saying that Apple’s strength is design, but their homepage deserves credit for being great for so long. Ever since its early days, Apple.com has moved in the direction of being more friendly, focused, simple, and beautiful.

Bonus: Take a look at how MicrosoftDellHPIBM, and Sony’s homepages have evolved over the years. Much bigger redesigns.

Apple iOS7

The best overall comments related to iOS7 where made my someone who actually knew and understood WTF he was talking about. So many people have chimmed in on this subject that is has become rediculous. David Coleproduct designer at Quora actually understands what Apple is trying to do here…

★ Is the new Apple iOS 7 look an improvement?

I have a different perspective than most of the other answerers here. I don’t think the interesting components of iOS 7 are found in the icons or the color or the type — those are relatively self-contained and thus easy to change and evolve. I think the most interesting changes, and the best changes, run much deeper than that, and yet they’re intrinsically linked to the “look” of it.

The big, obvious change to the look in iOS 7 is the flatness. This change is being characterized as a stripping away of dimensionality. I’ll propose something else is going on here: the move to flat screens actually affords a ramp up in dimensionality. When an individual screen gets flattened together, you can treat it as a single object that you can then manipulate and relate to other screens. This concept is at the heart of the biggest changes to the iOS 7 interaction paradigms.

Multitasking

This screen-as-object paradigm is easiest to understand in the multitasking interface, where each application is laid out in a row. At first glance this looks like the old app-switcher UI with the added bonus of a preview of each app. But notice that when one app triggers the opening of another app, the new app now actually slides in from the left. If you need to switch back, double tapping home zooms back out to show the original app to the right. This creates a new consistency of interaction that was not there previously. Switching apps is now a much more coherent experience that can take advantage of your spatial memory. This mode also defaults to sliding over to the previous app, making the most common use case (switching back to the previous app) a much faster, easier interaction.

Back Gesture

There’s a new gesture in this release, which is pulling a screen to the right in order to move back. The whole screen slides over and reveals the previous screen behind it. This provides, again, a spatial context and, again, it’s only possible if you can treat screens as discrete objects.

One thing “flat” gets you here: performing this gesture causes the back button text to gracefully slide to the right to become the title for the screen. There’s no button style to change, no inconsistency of font sizes to resolve. It just happens, which makes the back button’s relationship to its behavior much more explicit and clear.

Another change I’ve seen criticized is the new lock screen UI, which says “slide to unlock” right next to an up arrow, even though you’re meant to slide the whole screen to the right. The proximity to the up arrow is a small visual error, but the core concept — slide the entire lock screen off to reveal your apps — is much more consistent with these other changes. The old slide-to-unlock switch thingy only made sense within its own context, where this is a much more holistic pattern to apply.

Translucency

The announcement already explained the improvements of using translucency for modal interactions, but I think it’s pretty significant. It’s less about resolving inconsistent linen textures, and more about underscoring the fact that your app is right there waiting for you behind whatever it is you’re doing. One of the biggest triumphs of iOS was the elimination of a complex windowed environment, where normal people frequently lose their sense of place. Over time, there’s been a slow but steady return to that kind of confusion, which was recently very evident in the Chat Heads UI in Facebook Home:


Is this an application or a mode? There’s very little context to help you, and I’ve watched people struggle with this interaction even when it’s contained to just the Facebook iOS app. In iOS 7, the translucent windows that never cover the whole screen are much clearer.

Other Tidbits

A few other random things I’ve noticed and appreciated:

  • The focus on spatial relationships is repeatedly underscored, through fun details like the parallax wallpapers to the new tab design for Safari. Safari’s old tabs ran left-to-right which could easily be confused with the new slide-right-to-go-back gesture. Rearranging them vertically avoids overloading the left-right relationships between the screens, while also making it faster to browse. It’s good to see they’re harmonizing the OS-level interaction changes with the in-app interaction patterns.
  • Launching an application zooms into its icon, and quitting it zooms back out. Opening a folder zooms into the folder, closing it zooms back out. This, again, represents a huge step up for maintaining consistent spatial relationships. This concept, the ZUI (“Zoomable User Interface”), was actually championed by Jef Raskin, who worked on the original Mac OS GUI so it’s nice to feel echoes of that level of ambition.
  • Spotlight no longer gets its own page to the left of the home screen. This is a huge improvement in my mind, as the introduction of that screen broke a very basic promise: the home button should always take you home. Thankfully, this promise has been restored. I think maintaining these simple consistencies actually represents a huge win for the average user.


iOS (and, well, most of Apple’s design work) has always had a fashion element to it. The annual touch-ups that iOS received previously will undoubtedly continue. So, I wouldn’t worry too much about the style of the icons, or the color palette, or anything like that. If they’re bad, they’ll assuredly get fixed over time. Heck, this thing isn’t even out for several more months so it may very well change yet.

The central idea of the look — the flatness of the interfaces — is linked to these deep interaction changes that I’m very confident are improvements.

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Fertile Ground

One of my favorite patterns in our industry is when the old and established are wiped out by disruption, irrelevance, or changing fashions. Like a forest fire, clearing out the old is very destructive and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But what’s left behind is a clean slate and immense opportunity.

I don’t think we’ve ever had such an opportunity en masse on iOS. After what we saw of iOS 7 yesterday, I believe this fall, we’ll get our chance.

The App Store is crowded: almost every common app type is well-served by at least one or two dominant players. They’ve been able to keep their leads by evolving alongside iOS: when the OS would add a new API or icon size, developers could just add them incrementally and be done with it. Established players only became more established.

iOS 7 is different. It isn’t just a new skin: it introduces entirely new navigational and structural standards far beyond the extent of any previous UI changes. Existing apps can support iOS 7 fairly easily without looking broken, but they’ll look and feel ancient. Their developers are in a tough position:

  • Most can’t afford to drop support for iOS 6 yet. (Many apps still need to support iOS 5. Some unlucky souls even need to support 4.3.) So they need to design for backwards compatibility, which will be extremely limiting in iOS 7.
  • Most can’t afford to write two separate interfaces. (It’s a terrible idea anyway.)
  • Most have established features or designs that won’t fit well into a good iOS 7 design and will need to be redesigned or removed, which many existing customers (or the developers themselves) will resist.

I don’t think most developers of mature, non-trivial apps are going to have an easy time migrating them well to iOS 7. Even if they overcome the technical barriers, the resulting apps just won’t look and feel right. They won’t fool anyone.

This is great news.

Apple has set fire to iOS. Everything’s in flux. Those with the least to lose have the most to gain, because this fall, hundreds of millions of people will start demanding apps for a platform with thousands of old, stale players and not many new, nimble alternatives. If you want to enter a category that’s crowded on iOS 6, and you’re one of the few that exclusively targets iOS 7, your app can look better, work better, and be faster and cheaper to develop than most competing apps.

This big of an opportunity doesn’t come often — we’re lucky to see one every 3–5 years. Anyone can march right into an established category with a huge advantage if they have the audacity to be exclusively modern.

I’ll be invading one as soon as I can. Here’s hoping I’m right.

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