iOS6 Maps: It’s the Siri, Stupid.

ImageCommentators lauding and panning iOS6 maps are focussing on the core maps experience—for good reason—but it’s the Siri integration that’s worth paying most attention to.

The core maps scale with money and time – both of which Apple has ample amounts of. More planes will fly, more servers will crunch data, updates will be deployed faster to the web service. Nothing a billion dollars and a couple of years can’t fix.

Siri as your Navigator

It’s the Siri experience that I’m most psyched about. It is, after all, something I predicted in November 2011 – in a post aptly titled ‘Siri-based navigation is coming soon‘. It only took a year!

It’s a verbose post that maps out why Siri with a simple premise:

Typical car travel is a two-person activity – one to steer, and another to navigate. Sure, you can make-do with just one person fumbling with a GPS devices while trying to drive. But imagine a future where Siri becomes that navigator – skillful, omniscient, helpful and entirely hands-off.

The future is, of course, here. It’s a testament to Apple’s genius that when the future arrives, it hits you with a ‘well, duh‘ realization.

My personal experience with Siri as Navigator

This morning, when I left home, I asked Siri: “Take me to work“. And she did. I did not look at the iPhone even once (well OK, I did, but not to peek at the directions), and Siri even re-routed me when I hit traffic. I even asked her “Are there any gas stations near the route” and she found some. 

Funnily enough, when providing directions to the next gas station, one of the options she offered was “Find the next one“. She understands you might just have missed the exit to the first one. That’s smart!

Then I asked her “Is there a Starbucks near my destination?“. Siri couldn’t answer this – but it wasn’t so bad! She said “Sorry, I can’t find places near a business“. In other words, she understood what I was asking, but just didn’t know how to answer just yet. Of course, this will change in the future.

And this is where the data comes in

When Apple says they’ll get better with usage – don’t be fooled. The usage won’t actually improve the visual map experience that much – they probably already knew that Brooklyn Bridge don’t look so good. And they’ve already had the traffic data pumping in from the previous incarnation for years.

No, this is about Siri. As Apple gets real-world usage of a completely voice-drive application, because it needs to be, and it practically begs to be, they’re developing the deepest, most comprehensive understanding of how travel gets done, not just how maps look and feel.

So this is classic Apple – focus on learning how to make things better, not just copying what already exists.

Roadmap for Siri

Siri, as navigator, of course needs a roadmap. Based on my previous blog post, here’s a suggested roadmap for Siri actions. My humble suggestions for the product manager for this feature at Apple (or for the corresponding person at Google + Google Now, natch!)

  • [done] Spoken directions with Siri’s voice – “Next turn in 300 feet”
  • [done] Routing and rerouting commands, using Contacts information – “Take me home”
  • [done] Gas nearby – “Are there any gas stations near the route”
  • [untested] Adding gas stations as waypoints – “Siri: Added Shell gas station as waypoint”
  • Send message about current route to someone – “Let Abha know when I’ll reach home”
  • Notice unexpected slowdown and proactively suggest rerouting – “Siri: We seem to be stuck in traffic, but I have an alternate routing suggestion for you”
  • Find parking spot at destination – “What are the parking options at the destination?”
  • Nirvana – “Siri, let’s go home, but stop by Pete’s laundry and the Safeway near our home on the way”

Now, if only Siri could understand my accent well…

Amit

32-year-old video of Steve Jobs, underscoring that Apple’s priorities lie in software

Even 3 decades ago, Steve Jobs had a clear vision of software‘s role in making computing personal. In this clip, dated a mere 4 years from the founding of Apple, he describes how he wants to use all this new hardware computing power to make the 1-on-1 interaction with a computer go smoother.

(From a rare clip contributed to the Computer History Museum by Regis McKenna)

Skip to 12:17 where he talks about this, specifically saying:

…we’re gonna start chewing up power specifically to help that 1-on-1 interaction go smoother – and specifically not, to actually do the number crunching and database management and word processing, we’re gonna actually start applying a lot of that power specifically to help us remove that barrier…

Of course, as with all great founders, he was quite optimistic about how soon this would happen:

…it looks like the timing is just right for that to occur. So hopefully, when we have our international Applecore meeting, the 3rd or 4th one from now, we’ll all be able to talk about how we’ve solved that problem, because I really think it’s gonna happen…

It’s incredible how well products Apple produced in the last 3 decades, under Steve Jobs, hold up against this articulation of Apple’s software strategy – and explains the inordinate level of effort expended in getting the user experience right. Apple products have a better user experience than other companies building similar products – not because they have incredible designers – but because these designers are building to solve a different, more aspirational, more human goal.

John Gruber’s recent post on Isaacson completely missing this centrality of software in the Steve Jobs narrative reminded me of this clip. People who marvel at how iPhone is truly a software-first device shouldn’t be surprised – Steve’s Apple has always been a software company first; they don’t make hardware because the margins are high, but because they need a certain kind of hardware to make the software vision a reality.

Amit@akumar

iPad + Bluetooth keyboard aggravations – feature requests for the Apple team

Yet another flight to India (we have a new team in Bangalore), yet another chance to try the iPad/Keyboard solution I’ve written about.  So far, it’s working out great!

This is quickly going from hypothesis to prototype to full-blown implementation, but there are some rough edges that Apple could help smoothen out.

Navigation aggravation

Most of these annoyances relate to navigating the iPad via the bluetooth keyboard. The Cmd-key doesn’t really exist on the iPad, and so don’t most of the shortcuts related to that key. Specifically, if the following keystrokes existed in the Mail app, I’d be a happy panda:

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Samsung to announce Swipeit, an Apple Airplay competitor, at CES 2012

On January 9, 2012, Samsung will announce their Apple Airplay competitor – the Samsung SwipeItat CES. SwipeIt works exactly like the Apple’s AirPlay. Watching a video on your smartphone and want to see it on the big screen? Just click a button and the video starts playing on your TV.

Samsung started pushing this application out to their internet-connected TVs on Jan 1, and increased the intensity this weekend, presumably to reach full coverage by the time CES hits monday.

Samsung's SwipeIt application is being pushed to all 2011 Samsung Smart TVs

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Coming soon: Siri and Spotlight search for iOS Apps

(Side-note: I’ve been interested in writing this post for about two years now. Every few months I feel I should write it before Apple actually ships such a feature. Finally the post’s done!)

How does iOS reduce its dependence on web search from Google or Bing? Simple, syndicate Spotlight searches to installed apps.

Introducing Spotlight for Apps

Imagine if every iOS app could implement a ‘search’ capability, that would be exposed to the iOS search subsystem. This search could be over local data, e.g. Address Book-like applications; over remote data, e.g. Wikipedia; or over either, e.g. Mail.

Your favorite content sources (like Yelp), content aggregators (like Flipboard or New York Times) and even crowdsourced information aggregators (like, hey, Twitter and Facebook) already reside as apps on your iOS device. Any search you’re interested in doing would hit these apps first – and would probably show the information you care for right at the top.

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Siri-based map navigation is coming soon

Typical car travel is a two-person activity – one to steer, and another to navigate. Sure, you can make-do with just one person fumbling with a GPS devices while trying to drive. But imagine a future where Siri becomes that navigator – skillful, omniscient, helpful and entirely hands-off.

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Siri causes rare Apple regression in functionality, but it’s all good, people.

With Siri, Apple has moved the on-device voice recognition engine, called Voice Control,

firmly to the cloud. This means that the universal ability Apple used to have, whether you had data connectivity or not, to call friends and family by talking to the phone, is no longer there.

Is this a bad regression?

On the face of it, this is a tremendous regression – you now have to ‘pay’ to use a capability that was previously ‘free’ – either through the use of data minutes, or through a WiFi connection of sorts.

In addition, even with fast 3G connections, the latency to call someone in the addressbook is very noticeable now, with a round-trip conversation with a cloud-hosted Siri required, before a simple call can be made.

Or a masterstroke to get a free ‘Gold Set’ data?

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