Siri

How To Use iPhone’s New Shortcuts

This is a brilliant video by Snazzy Labs. I’m not really ready to try it out yet but I’m posting it to placemark it for later.

I’m using Siri a lot more these days in my wife’s Honda CR-V with CarPlay. It’s extremely useful to use on the road (not shortcuts, just speech driven phone use). I use it in my truck but only through the phone: bluetooth is so awful that I just have the phone on a mount and use it directly.

An iPhone 6s story

My wife Anne and I have had iPhone 5s’ for a few years and we decided it was time to update our iPhones. We’ve been looking at the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus at the Grand Central Apple store on trips to New York and have discussed the idea of a bigger iPhone to aid in readability and usability.

So, when Apple opened pre-orders on the iPhone 6s I ordered two iPhone 6s Plus’ for us. The day after I placed the orders, I changed mine to an iPhone 6s (non plus). More on why I did this below.

Given that we don’t want to upgrade our iPhones each year I didn’t see the advantage of using Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program so I bit the bullet and bought both iPhones outright from Apple directly. Frankly, I don’t think Apple has made clear whether there is any advantage in using their upgrade program if one plans to keep one’s iPhone longer than a year.

More on the new iPhones after some back story.

Bigger Screen?

Every now and then while hiking I meet up with one of the Berkshire AMC ridge runners, Dennis. Dennis has a large Samsung smart phone and in watching him use both maps and a variety of apps in the field, it occurred to me that for mapping, a larger phone would be useful.

Over the many years I’ve been hiking on the Appalachian Trail I’ve seen many thru hikers who have a variety of smart phones and a few who have cellular iPad minis which they use to look at maps, communicate with their families, post to weblogs and watch Netflix streaming movies in tents on rainy days. This is an incredible use of the iPad and it’s gotten me thinking about how to balance portability with a larger screen. Yes, one could use a smartphone to do these things but the larger screen on the iPad (mini or Air) makes them much easier. When I was thinking about this, the idea of tethering a wifi iPad to a cellular iPhone wasn’t in the cards for me as I had an unlimited data plan with AT&T.

A few weeks ago I was in the passenger seat driving into New York on a rainy afternoon. I was using Apple Maps on my iPhone 5s to see where the traffic was so we could choose our route to avoid it. It was amazing and it worked extremely well and while I could never have done this while driving, it was easy to both look ahead and provide navigation help to my friend Jimmy who was driving.

I was doing a considerable amount of multi-touch zooming on the small 5s screen and I had the realization that a larger screen would allow me to see more without so much close-in zooming. That could have been the Plus size iPhone or a cellular iPad mini or Air 2. Or, an iPad tethered to an iPhone.

Tethering

I knew there was the capacity to tether another device to the iPhone (called “personal hotspot”) but my A&T plan, grandfathered from my first iPhone, had unlimited data which did not allow tethering to be turned on (too much data for unlimited).

A few days after the New York Apple Maps experience I was having a conversation with my friend Steve who’s been using Apple products for as long as I have (1984) and who’s personal use of Apple products is much like mine. I always enjoy talking with Steve, we connect on many levels and he told me something about his family’s use of iPhones that changed the way I was thinking about this stuff.

He too had unlimited data with AT&T grandfathered from his first iPhone but decided to change his family plan to a 15GB Next plan with AT&T. He found out that even after that change, he never touched the 15GB data limit and that’s with his daughter watching Netflix streaming movies on her iPad tethered to her iPhone (spotty wifi in her college dorm room).

Most of us probably don’t look closely at our data usage on our phones but this conversation pushed me to take a look.

Anne and I both use our phones all the time but had never used more than 512MB (1/2 GB) of data combined in a month in all the time we’ve been using iPhones. This was a huge revelation and I feel a bit sheepish admitting it because I’ve been protecting this unlimited data plan for years (and paying for it).

So, I immediately changed our AT&T plan to a 15GB Next plan saving us about $50 a month. I probably could have gone down to 5GB but I’ll try this for a year and see what happens.

Once I made that change in our plan I could immediately turn on Personal Hotspot in Settings on my iPhone 5s.

Before I get into how easy all of this was I should say that for a while now, I’ve been on the fence about buying a cellular iPad mini to use as a bigger device for the situations I described above but I never did it.

A few days after talking with Steve I found myself with the same friend (Jimmy) on our way to New York again but this time on the train. I brought my iPhone 5s, my iPad Air 2 and turned on personal hotspot on the 5s on the train. I set a password and connected to the iPhone with the iPad. The entire process was incredibly easy.

I then put the iPhone aside and used the iPad all the way to New York for doing all of the things I’d be doing with it at home which I find difficult to do on the small iPhone screen.

I did this again on my way home on the train, this time plugging my iPhone 5s into a Jackery battery as it was getting low. Amazingly, it was both my wifi router and was able to get fully charged at the same time.

So, why did I change my order from an iPhone 6s Plus to an iPhone 6s? Because I knew I could tether my iPad for the times I need a bigger screen and this way I can have the convenience of the smaller phone.

I’m still considering an iPad mini for hiking and as a smaller big screen but it will not be cellular now that I know how easy it is to tether the iPad (or a Mac) to my iPhone.

iPhone 6s

Let me say this up front: the iPhone 6s is absolutely incredible. Using it reminds me of how great the SE/30 felt after earlier iterations of the Mac: it takes all of one’s familiar actions and, instead of waiting for the tool to catch up, the tool is with you all the way. In a word, the iPhone 6s is extremely fast and not just at launching apps, it’s fast at everything.

We had iOS 9 running on our iPhone 5s’ before we got the iPhone 6s’ so we were familiar with a few of the new features, like improved maps and the migration of “Passbook” to “Wallet” and many more. Still, iOS 9.0.2 running on the iPhone 6s is a different animal; the speed of the phone makes old and new features feel more natural, more in sync with one’s actions, especially if one normally works ahead of the iPhone.

One thing that bothered me about the 5s when I first got it was Touch ID. It just did not work well for me. I thought it was my old, beat up thumbs but in fact, as iOS got updated Touch ID improved in its ease of use and for the past year my 5s was recognizing my thumb print and opening almost every time on first try.

On the iPhone 6s Touch ID is completely revamped and works quickly, accurately, and does not get in the way. I’m pretty sure Apple changed the mechanism from the ground up and it shows. Brilliant.

Siri is becoming a seriously useful tool now and “Hey Siri” takes it to an entirely new level. “Hey Siri” is a new feature that allows you to train Siri to your voice so it won’t be triggered with someone else’s voice or by ambient sound. Siri, and dictation are a lot more accurate now and extremely fast. And, I’ve used Siri on cellular with one bar of service and it’s just as fast and accurate. This was never true before.

All of the radios and antennas are improved which means better reception all the way around which also helps speed. We have one or two bars of AT&T cellular coverage in our house so many years ago we bought an AT&T MicroCell which gives us excellent reception anywhere in the house. For some reason the MicroCell did not pick up the new iPhones and calling AT&T got me the all too typical response: it’s Apple’s fault, you’ll have to wait for iOS 9.1 to fix it.

Somehow, last week, with no upgrade to iOS 9.1 in sight, the MicroCell magically started picking up for Anne’s iPhone 6s Plus, then my iPhone 6s. Guess AT&T got some complaints and fixed things.

I haven’t used 3D Touch all that much yet although I can see its potential. For the most part I’m using my new iPhone the way I used my old one and it’s a pleasure in every way. Anne feels the same way about her new iPhone 6s Plus. It’s taking her some time to get used to the larger form factor but she’s enjoying being able to read books on it and use it for more of the things she used to use her iPad for. I remain glad I did not go for the bigger iPhone.

Migration Issues

Before getting the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus both Anne and I went through our iPhone 5s’ and did some house cleaning, getting rid of unused apps, making sure that everything we had on our iPhones was up to date and working well.

We both use iTunes on our respective Macs to back up and sync our iPhones and both of us backed up our iPhone 5s’ a few times prior to the arrival of the new iPhones.

One thing that we weren’t doing that I started doing on both machines is encrypting backups on iTunes. Turning on “encrypt backups” means that the stored backups of our phones on our Macs cannot be opened without a password (which gets set during the first encrypted backup). The other thing encrypted backups do is back up more passwords and settings than non-encrypted backups do which means restoring from an encrypted backup is potentially less work logging into various accounts people usually have set up on their iPhones. This is an important detail given what happened to me a bit later.

We both did one last (encrypted) backup before starting up the new iPhones and restoring our data onto them. I got the restore started on my iPhone 6s and then started working on Anne’s 6s Plus. She has a lot of books in her iBooks library and it took some doing to get them all synced correctly. I don’t know where the bugs, are, iTunes or iBooks or both but there were some small bumps in getting her new iPhone set up and fully synced with her books.

Once my iPhone 6s was finished I started it up and got through the various welcome screens and started poking around to see how things worked. All was well until I opened Wallet. I had an Apple Store gift card in Passbook/Wallet and was about to fly to LA and so, had a United boarding pass sent over from the United App (which is a piece of crap but that’s another story).

When I opened Wallet the Apple gift card and boarding pass were there, but they were over-sized, like they thought they were running on a bigger screen. I couldn’t get to the edges of them and to the “i” button to interact with the back end of them. I quit the app, ran it again, restarted the iPhone but Wallet was messed up. I did manage to add a credit card to Apple Pay and got email confirmation from my bank but had no occasion to use it and was sort of scared to given the fact that Wallet was broken.

My iPhone 6s was running fine except for this but it bothered me because I use Wallet a lot for travel and was looking forward to using Apple Pay on the new iPhone.

Even though the old iPhone 5s wasn’t working as a cell phone anymore (the SIM was deactivated when I got the new iPhone 6s started up) I could still run the 5s and check out its Wallet. It’s Wallet looked and worked fine with the same cards in it. No Apple Pay but all other cards looked fine.

So, this problem was either something wrong with the encrypted backup with iTunes or with the iPhone 6s.

I called AppleCare and got a very nice support rep named Tod on the phone. Sometimes you can tell right away that a support person is going to be good and I knew that Tod was knowledgeable, personable, and would probably help me get to the bottom of this issue.

We went through re-syncing the 5s and then I erased all the data on the 6s but before I restored the backed up data, I started up the iPhone 6s as a new iPhone so I could get to the home screen and run Wallet to see if it looked weird before I restored my 5s data onto it. In fact, Wallet looked fine. That meant that my 5s data was corrupted in some way.

Given that everything else worked fine, I restored the 5s data again and got the 6s working with a broken Wallet. I told Todd I was off to LA and would continue to work on this there, he said to call him back if I figured anything out or we needed to swap for another new iPhone. He gave me his number and extension (unusual for a support person) and was sensitive to the fact that I didn’t want to have to explain all of this from scratch to another person.

I flew off to LA, the broken Wallet in fact did work to get me through checking in (the barcode showed and that’s what counts). On the flight I decided that in LA I’d do a clean install, leaving the 5s image out of it and just build up my app collection from scratch. It took some time but in fact I did just that in LA and while it’s not a lot of fun, a clean install isn’t a bad thing to do from time to time.

Wallet was fine, my boarding pass looked fine as did my Apple gift card. But, there was a new problem: Apple Pay would not allow me to add a card. So, either Wallet was still broken like it was, or it was broken in a new way.

Other than that, the iPhone was working fine and I continued to work with it under the assumption that the problems I was having were either corrupted data (now fixed), or cloud-based and that I’d be able to fix them at some point.

When I got home to Connecticut I found a message from Todd on our land line asking me how things were going. Again, this was above and beyond and it made me feel good to know I was on a list somewhere.

I called him up and described what I’d done. He told me that in fact, a clean install was on his list of things for me to do but it’s enough work so it was a last resort. He was glad I’d done it.

I described the Apple Pay issue and we discussed the various pieces of Apple Pay. He asked me to call my credit card’s bank to see if they could see a problem on their end.

I got a great person at Chase who listened carefully, checked my account and saw that Apple Pay was in fact hooked up to my iPhone. I asked her to delete the connection so that I’d be able to try it again from scratch. She did it, saying to call her back personally if I ran into problems. Another great support person.

This did not solve the problem, Apple Pay would not accept any credit cards at all. So, I called Tod back and he had talked with an engineer in his building who had heard of this issue.

Todd told me to delete my credit card associated with iCloud, log out of iCloud, then log back in and put the card back in. I did this and then went to wallet and lo and behold, the problem was fixed and I set up Apple Pay.

Todd logged this as a potential problem, asked me if there was anything else I needed and we hung up. Case closed.

My iPhone has continued to work perfectly although I’ve not had occasion to use Apple Pay to buy something yet. I have confidence that when I do, it will work flawlessly.

Epilogue

The iPhone 6s is a work of art and hits the sweet spot of what a smartphone should be. I’m prone to hyperbole but I’ll say it: the iPhone 6s is by far the best iPhone I’ve ever used. If you’re on the fence about upgrading don’t be, this iPhone is incredible.

That said, iTunes, migration bug or not, is not a work of art and it needs the same amount of attention that the iPhone is getting. I hate to think that Apple is avoiding making iTunes great to push people to use iCloud to back up their phones. I prefer to back up to my computer, which is always backed up.

What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that I was protecting my old AT&T unlimited data plan for no reason, that tethering is fantastic and extremely useful, that Apple has continued to improve the iPhone significantly, and that some support people can take the sting out of the inevitable bumps in the road.

Is Siri riding a Dragon?

Goldman Sachs and the $580 Million Black Hole

This is an amazing piece of history by Loren Feldman at the New York Times and it’s not just about Goldman Sachs, it’s also about Dragon Systems (founded and run by Janet and Jim Baker), the inventors of Dragon Naturally Speaking, one of the first continuous speech to text dictation systems on any computer.

Goldman was hired ($5 million) to broker the sale of Dragon which eventually got sold in 1999 for stock only to a Belgian company, Lernout & Hauspie (L&H).

L&H collapsed soon after the sale and the Bakers were left with nothing, they even lost the technology they invented.

The lawsuit claims that Goldman didn’t do due diligence and had a troubled past with L&H that should have made them wary of a sale.

No doubt Goldman should be sued although it’s easy to pile on because of all the other bad things that have come to light about Goldman in the past few years. The problem is, the Bakers agreed to the stock only deal and could have walked away from it. It will no doubt be argued that Goldman didn’t do its job and that’s true, but the Bakers had final say on any deal and they took a bad one (that Goldman misrepresented to them).

As someone who’s been extremely interested in both synthetic speech and speech to text technology for over twenty years, I’ve followed Dragon closely and I was aware that the Dragon sale had been problematic as this case has been around for a while.

Dragon Dictate was never built for the Mac (it does exist as a free app for iOS: Dragon Dictation) and the various Macintosh equivalents were never as good but even if it had been built I doubt I would have embraced it; it required hours of training and was a clunky system. Now that Apple has put both dictation and control (commands) into the iPhone and iPad and no doubt, eventually the Macintosh I can say that I love it and use it all the time. It’s a beautiful implementation of this technology that requires no training (except us learning how to deal with Siri) and it works extremely well.

This paragraph from the end of the article should be interesting to any Apple follower:

Dragon Systems, the Bakers’ “third child,” was put up for sale at a bankruptcy auction. Visteon acquired some of Dragon’s technology. ScanSoft bought the bulk of it and went on to become a $7 billion giant, with a licensing deal with Apple. (The Bakers believe that some of their technology made its way into Siri.) ScanSoft later acquired — and assumed the name of — Nuance, another voice technology company.

It will be interesting to see if the trial, set for November 6th in Boston digs through the code in Siri and tries, for whatever reason, to show a genealogical relationship between Dragon and Apple.

Keyboards, touch typing, dictation

Shawn Blanc has done some research on keyboards for the Macintosh and written an exhaustive piece on using them as a professional writer: Clicky Keyboards. It’s not clear from the piece if Shawn is a touch typist but my guess is he is.

In 1985 I witnessed my friend Steve Splonskowski (still in college) typing at lightening speed on the awful Macintosh 128K keyboard. He was looking at the screen and typing away and it was a thing of beauty. I wanted to type like that so I bought a copy of the keyboarding instruction program “Typing Intrigue” and started playing the rain game (type a letter as it falls from the top of the screen) and quickly moved on to typing odd practice sentences.

At that time I was starting to contribute articles to early computer magazines and between that writing and early email with AppleLink, bitnet and a few other email networks I had enough of a writing load so that within a few weeks I was able to leave hunting and pecking behind. Once I’d made the transition to touch typing my speed and accuracy went down for a while but as I felt more confident and kept my eyes comfortably on the screen and my writing the feedback loop between fingers and brain got tighter and faster. The more writing, the better it got and as a person who had avoided writing for most of my life, a computer and touch typing was like opening a dam: writing spilled out of me on a daily basis.

The way to become a better writer is to write more. If improving your writing tool (a keyboard, a pen) helps then improve it.

Touch typing has changed my life by being one (important) part of the process of getting my ideas outside my head and encoded into writing. Before computers, keyboards, and touch typing my image of myself did not include “writer.” Here’s a now dated piece I did on the mechanics of this experience: How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.

At some point, maybe after I’m compost, touch typing will probably go the way of cursive handwriting but until then it’s a useful skill to have and if you have it the layout and feel of your keyboard is an important part of your writing experience.

One of the things that will send keyboards and with them, touch typing to their grave is dictation: being able to talk to your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever and have the device type out (encode) your voice. We used to call this “speech to text” or “speech recognition” but the single term “dictation” will no doubt supplant those awkward phrases.

I bought a new iPad (3) for one reason (not the screen): it has dictation capabilities. I’ve been using dictation quite a bit on my iPhone 4S and I’m finding it quite useful and it’s quite good on the new iPad as well. However, it’s a very different writing experience from touch typing and so, my brain is making a feeble attempt to adapt. I really like the tight feedback loop that happens with touch typing and dictation is a different kind of experience. We’ll see how touch typists like me adapt (or not).

No doubt we’re in transition: I’m touch typing this on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard which works quite well for me and for any longer piece of writing/editing I’ll probably be using this tool but for a lot of the other writing I do I’ll just as easily be using the iPad or iPhone with dictation (or with their awful but useable onscreen keyboards).

The many voices of Siri

Siri is built into the iPhone 4S and can speak and understand English (US, UK, AU), French, German, and Japanese with more languages to be added in 2012 including Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish. Here’s more information about Siri.

As an iPhone 4S user I must say I use Siri all the time and while it’s not perfect (it’s still in beta) it really does make things easier.

My wife Anne just got a new iPad and while it does not include Siri, it does have dictation capabilities and it works quite well.

I think Siri and dictation make the use of multi-touch tools like the iPhone and iPad not only easier but fun.

[via Zapong]

Talk to the wrist

Apple’s Work on Wearable Computer Concepts Includes Wrist-Wrapping iPod with Siri

Imagine an iPod Nano wristwatch that’s also a bluetooth-connected communicator. Makes perfect sense, the question isn’t if Apple will make this, more like when.

Not sure I want to have even a short phone conversation talking to my wrist but for some things I think it might work out quite well. Bring up a todo list, a shopping list, a music list (on the phone, not the iPod), and more with voice using Siri.

Amazing comment thread at MacRumors, a few are asking why one needs a wristwatch, assuming that if one has an iPhone one can always get the time from it. Man, am I old. Not only do I wear a wristwatch, I wear an analog wristwatch (and it’s not an iPod with an analog screen on it).

Phonetic pronunciation field

I just read on Shawn Blanc’s site about a new field in iOS 5’s Contacts app for adding a phonetic pronunciation of a name so that Siri gets it right.

That same field is in the Address Book in Mac OS 10.7.2 so you can add those phonetic equivalents for your iPhone 4S and Siri on your Mac if you like, syncing through iCoud.

Add the field in Address Book’s Preferences/Template pull down.

phonetic_field