2 quick observation using Siri with an Indian accent

Understanding non-American accents

Why the focus on ‘Indian’? Well, by far the biggest issue for me was in getting Siri to understand my accent. People who know me claim that I don’t have that thick an accent, but that’s not what Siri ‘tells’ me.

On the plus side, Siri is subtly training me to have a more ‘American’ voice. She highlights words she has trouble understanding in blue, so you can quickly figure out what words one is consistently mispronouncing, or pronouncing with a thick accent. ‘Paragon’ was totally off, for instance!

Your wish is my command – but be QUICK

It’s almost impossible to dictate text messages through Siri – at least for me. I tend to pause just a little too long between sentences, and Siri needs you to know exactly what you want to say before you start dictating.

In fact, I ended up using Voice Notes to record quick notes for myself, when I’d have preferred to dictate them through Siri. On the plus side, you can use earphone controls to record/pause Voice Notes, for some quick eyes-on-the-road note taking.

Ethnic language models

The language models need more work, and I won’t be surprised if there are people hard at work creating ethnicity-oriented speech models. Guessing the ethnicity shouldn’t be that hard to do, given all the clues Apple has – the name of the person, their entire addressbook, and recorded voice samples. These samples can be compared to aggregate training data collected from virtually every country on the planet.

The holy grail, of course, would be a trained model on a per-person basis, but I wonder if they have the compute resources and data volume, on a per-person basis, to make that happen effectively.

To the future!


Are you Siri-ous? Siri is just a toy, and that’s OK.

Chris Dixon wrote a great post in Jan '10 called 'The next big thing will start off looking like a toy' (http://cdixon.org/2010/01/03/the…). Siri is a great example of this.

The leading indicator that Siri will be amazingly successful is that people are having fun with it – and it's not breaking.

Let's take the simple use case of 'Hey Siri, tell me a joke.' Consistently answering this with a humorous response requires

  • Speech recognition (or at least noise-free recording)
  • Cloud-based interpretation and response
  • Believable text-to-speech

(The last one is very important, by the way. Apple has spent decades getting text-to-speech right, complete with stresses, tones and nuances (har har). This is paying rich dividends now)

Each time someone demoes the 5 funny Siri use-cases to their friends, the system becomes smarter, but more importantly, the technology gets humanized. More people will use it because it's like a toy.

In fact, I don't have an iPhone 4S right now. Guess what – I've started using the clunky Voice Control on my iPhone 3GS these days, because I somehow trust it'll work now. And it does!

Also in Jan '10, Fred Wilson wrote a dictated blog post using an Android phone (http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2010/01/…). I'm sure he, and other long-time android users all over, are looking at iPhone users quizzically, and wondering what the fuss is. After all, isn't this merely Voice Control plus some Text-to-Speech thrown in?

The difference is – Android's voice capabilities were a feature, Siri is a toy. And that makes all the difference.


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S is for ‘Second Wave’. or, Early adopters don’t buy S-series iPhones

There are two types of people. Those that buy Model Number iPhones, and those that buy S series iPhones. (tweet this: http://j.mp/nY0qE8)

This being Apple, it's easy to attribute to stratagem what's probably just a coincidence – but it's quite convenient how this has worked out in recent years. A new iPhone model gets launched, and the early adopters switch to it, come hell or high water (read: angry wife or contract breakage fees).

The late majority, however, choose to wait and see. Next year, the S model gets launched, and it's time for them to move.

Conveniently, typical cellphone contracts last 2 years – a perfect cycle for both the tame early adopters, as well as the last majority.

It couldn't have been designed better if it had been Designed by Apple in California. Oh wait…

Thanks to Kent Brewster for making this idle thought post-worthy.


Post on Quora

Steve Jobs and me – a shared birthday and then some.

This isn’t a unique distinction – roughly 0.25% of the world’s population shares a birthday with Steve Jobs – but one of them is me.


Where I grew up in India, no Apple products were to be found – at all. And yet, I was an avid reader of MacWorld. The heroes of the industry were IBM and Microsoft – and yet, I was an Apple fanatic. Or a NeXT fanatic – frankly, whatever Steve was backing at any given time.

It’s hard to believe that the first time I touched a real Apple computer was in 1998, when I came to USC to study for my Masters. It was the feeling you get when you discover the love you knew existed, you just hadn’t met them yet. So it was for me with Apple, and with Abha, both relationships I developed while at USC.

I still remember going to the Palo Alto Apple Store in 2001 to check out the Titanium PowerBook G4 that had been released then. I asked how I could upgrade the memory – and the Geniuses just lifted the tabs on the keyboard to expose the SDRAM slots. I opened up a Terminal and tried out a few Unix commands – and it was like I was hacking on the Linux box at home. What a fantastic marriage of technology and design! I left that day with my first Apple product under my arms.

2001 was still early days for the new breed of the Mac faithful. I had one of the only two Apple laptops at Inktomi, in a sea of thousands of Windows machines. It’s hard to believe that today – when it seems in Silicon Valley, only people from other parts of the world carry Windows laptops.

In fact, when I was returning from India recently, with stopovers at multiple airports, I could estimate how far I was from the Silicon Valley by measuring the density of Apple laptops at the airports.

The nearest I came to Steve was in 2005, when I was at the Apple campus, on the floor where all the executives sat. I was being interviewed by Bertrand Serlet for a position managing the Mac OS X productivity apps, but I chose to join Yahoo! instead. I have often wondered if I made the right decision – today more than ever.

Like many others, Steve Jobs has inspired my professional journey. It’s only now settling in that I will never, ever be in the same room as my childhood hero.

On the personal front, my mother passed away a few weeks back – she was 57. My brother wrote a touching eulogy for her – better than I could ever have. Now Steve – my professional inspiration, has also moved on at the age of 56. These events put one’s life in perspective – I could have fewer years left on the planet then I’ve lived so far – it’s time to make them count.


(image credit)

Prediction for the Apple iPhone event on October 4: an iPhone 5 on Sprint

The technorati is abuzz with the (lowered) expectation that there will not be an iPhone 5 released tomorrow – and only an iPhone 4S will be released.

This is hogwash. Every release cycle, without fail, Apple resets the expectations to be lower than what they’ll announce, and the press eats it up readily. In fact, that’s so well-established these days, that the mere fact that the press seems to be lowering expectations makes me even more confident that we’ll see an iPhone 5 tomorrow.

Given the way T-Mobile and Sprint are behaving, it’s also clear that Sprint is getting this new model.

Can’t wait!


The User Experience of the upcoming Apple iCloudBook

Technology and trends are falling in place for Apple’s upcoming iCloudBook – a revolutionary laptop where the primary data storage is all on the iCloud – i.e. in the iCloudDrive, with the local Hard Drive just being a ‘working copy’.

In a previous post, I described new technologies that Apple has introduced in Mac OS X Lion, that portend the Apple Cloud Laptop – or what Om dubbed the iCloud Laptop.

In this post, I’d like to describe what the user experience for what I now call the iCloudBook might look like.

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The Blueprint for the Apple Cloud Laptop (aka @siracusa is smarter than you)

So you think John Siracusa is brilliant. You read him assiduously (well, at least once every 18 months anyway). You don’t know the half of it! In his brilliant Ars Technica review of Lion, in one little throwaway link labeled ‘hmmm’ (here), John masterfully hinted on a Apple Cloud Laptop in the offing.

I think he’s on the money. Lion has introduced a set of OS-level technologies and changes, that can finally make the ‘Apple Cloud Drive’ a reality – and with that, the Apple Cloud Laptop.

Here’s my analysis of his analysis. Let’s go.

It starts with File Revisioning

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