by Lance Somoza
Chris Lattner to work on Google Brain ➔

David Pogue Reviews Bixby ➔

David Pogue from Yahoo gave Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby a run-through and it doesn’t impress much. Here are some particular downsides from Pogue’s article:

Bixby is especially pathetic when it comes to navigation.

  • What pizza places are nearby? (Bixby: “Looks like there’s a connection problem.”)
  • Find me an Italian restaurant nearby. (Bixby opens Google Maps—promising!—but then stops, saying, “It looks like we experienced a slight hiccup.”)
  • Give me directions to JFK airport. (Bixby: “Which one?”)
  • Give me directions to the Empire State Building. (The “slight hiccup” error message appears after 10 seconds.)
  • In all cases, Bixby is very, very slow—plenty of videos online show how badly it lags behind Siri or Google Assistant.

It’s also fairly confusing. Most response bubbles include the baffling phrase, “You’re in native context.” And every so often, you’re awarded Bixby XP points for using Bixby. Samsung suggests that if you accumulate enough, you’ll be able to earn valuable prizes. OK, but if you have to bribe your customers to use your app…

This is hilarious. Samsung is resorting to gamification in hopes it will entice people to use Bixby. This is so incredibly ass-backwards. Imagine if you could win Apple points for using Siri or Amazon credits for using Alexa 1. How about this, Samsung: build a worthy product that compels people to use it because of how great it is, not because they can win imaginary points.

Like I’ve said before, no virtual assistant is perfect, but Samsung is incredibly late to this game. Since there’s a precedent now where every manufacturer needs their own virtual assistant, I suppose it’s no surprise. I’m sure Bixby will get better with time, but imagine how far ahead Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant be when that happens.

Side note: my favorite blunder from the video is when Pogue asks when Abraham Lincoln died and Bixby responds “Which One?”.


  1. On second thought, Bezos should get on this. ↩︎


Fatherboard Episode 2: If It’s ‘iPhone Pro’, I’ll Just Eat My Hat

The official Gaddgict.com podcast.

Summary

My Dad and I are back with an all-iPhone episode in which we discuss the latest leaks, theories, and questions surrounding the iPhone 8. We narrow down our expectations for what we might see from Apple this Fall. We also talk about how Apple Watch Series 3 could be the iPhone 4 of its line.

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Ben Evans: Asking the wrong questions ➔

Fascinating article from Ben Evans on his grandfather’s predictions, along with our tendency to make predictions about the wrong things. Here’s a few excerpts:

In 1946, by which time he’d become a notable writer of science fiction, he published a story called ‘A Logic named Joe’, which described a global computer network with servers and terminals, that starts giving people the information that it thinks they ought to know as opposed to waiting for them to search for it - the Singularity, if you like, or maybe just Alexa. He also, as I recall, predicted reality TV somewhere.

Tim Berners-Lee, who?

You can see this tendency to ask the wrong questions, or questions based on the wrong framework, in this TeleGeography report from 1990. It was clear that the world was changing, and that the telephone network would see new uses. But if you’re asking about new uses for the ‘telephone network’, that of itself probably gets you to the wrong place (again, click to zoom).

The report he references illustrates how we can make the wrong predictions.

So, a pretty common theme of discussion in tech now is to ask what comes ‘after’ mobile, now that it is moving from the creation to deployment phase and the smartphone platform wars etc are over. There are a bunch of exciting things going on, certainly, from machine learning to AR and VR to electric and autonomous cars. What content will work in VR? Who will be best placed to make AR glasses? Will EV batteries be a competitive advantage, or end up, like LCD screens, as a low-margin commodity? Who will have enough of the right kind of driving data for autonomy? But every time I think about these, I try to think what questions I’m not asking. I still want a glider though.

Very astute points, especially about the questions we’re not asking ourselves (emphasis mine). I think we’re starting to see some of the post-mobile world come to fruition with a focus on the home, AR, and everything else Ben mentions, but we’re just barely on the precipice.


iPhone 8 may automatically silence notifications when you’re looking at it ➔

Essential promises to provide a ship date next week for its phone ➔

iPhone 8: How Face ID could work

Thanks to the accidentally leaked HomePod firmware, 1 it’s almost certain that Touch ID will not continue in the iPhone 8. Apple may be opting for a face unlocking feature dubbed ‘Pearl ID’.

Facial biometrics have always been a lacking mechanism for security, at least in the consumer market. It’s pretty bad in most implementations, so everyone is up in arms about this feature possibly replacing the tried-and-true Touch ID we’ve had since the iPhone 5S. Which, if you remember, doubters largely acted the same way about fingerprint sensors when Touch ID was announced. The point is: everyone seems to forget that Apple undoubtedly has found ways to overcome the downsides of these implementations, or they wouldn’t be doing this.

Since Pearl ID is a speculated name, let’s just call it Face ID for the sake of this post. Here’s how I could see it working.

Unlocking the Phone

Apple changed the unlocking behavior in iOS 10 from a press of the home button to simply resting your finger on it. I now believe Apple made this change to pave the way for Face ID. Why? Let’s think about what’s required to only unlock an iPhone right now with Touch ID.

Unlocking with Touch ID

  1. Wake your phone via:
    • Raise to wake.
    • Pressing the Sleep/Wake button.
    • Pressing the Home button with a non-registered finger.
  2. Rest your finger on the Touch ID sensor.

You can then take action on your notifications, press the Home button to go Home, launch straight into apps from the widget screen, etc. You’re authenticated.

Unlocking with Face ID

  1. Wake your phone via:

Where’s step two, you say? That’s the beauty of it — step two is handled by the phone. Whenever you are looking at the phone while the Lock Screen is presented, Face ID would authenticate you. You can then perform all the normal actions from the Lock Screen like usual. If you look away, the phone is instantly locked again.

Benefits

  • No need to specifically unlock your phone.
  • Faster access for acting on notifications.
  • Potentially more secure than Touch ID.
  • Low false positives, given that the iPhone will purportedly use 3D-sensing cameras to differentiate between a picture of your face and your actual face.

Making Purchases: App Store & Apple Pay

Touch ID can also be used to make purchases in the App Store and iTunes Store, as well as authenticate payments for Apple Pay. Here’s how Apple could replicate this with Face ID and a gesture.

Process

  • Instead of a Touch ID prompt, you are presented with a Face ID prompt and an on-screen button.
  • Simply look at the phone and hold an on-screen button for 3 seconds.

Face ID provides the biometric authentication, while holding an on-screen button would indicate intent. It also would give you time to back out (something that is actually a little harder to do with Touch ID). This would work for both App Store Purchases and Apple Pay. With Apple Pay, you would hover your iPhone over the NFC terminal like usual, then follow the process outlined above. Same goes for sending Apple Pay Cash to friends and family when iOS 11 launches in the fall.

iPhone 8-Specific Feature: App Locking

With this kind of ambient authentication, I think the iPhone 8 has the potential to receive special features taking advantage of Face ID. One I can think of is App Locking, something frequently requested to this day for use with Touch ID.

In other words, apps are only allowed to show their content if you are actively looking at the phone. Take a banking app for example. You would launch it, but it wouldn’t show anything until you actually look at the phone and are authenticated by Face ID. To take it one step further in theory: once you look away, the content could be hidden until you look back again.

The Sleep/Wake Button

I think the Face ID change is what could be driving a larger Sleep/Wake button to be present in the leaks that have come out. Because of Face ID’s ambient nature, we may benefit from easier access to the Sleep/Wake button. Making it longer would help enable that.

Also, it makes sense to differentiate this button in size from the volume up/down buttons. I never could understand why Apple made them the same size in the first place, other than for congruency. Quite a few times while trying to lock the phone while holding it a specific way, I’ve pressed both the Sleep/Wake button and Volume Down button. I’ve read others have experienced the same thing, so it would be nice to not accidentally do this anymore.

The Cover Sheet

iOS 11 replaces Notification Center with the Cover Sheet, which blurs the lines between the Lock Screen and the old Notification Center. A puzzling change to this date, Federico Viticci speculated this morning on Twitter that it may provide a way to lock the iPhone 8. While I initially disagreed with this theory, I think it’s plausible if you take into account the ambient nature of Face ID as outlined above. I would perhaps just question calling this the Cover Sheet on iPhone 8, instead of just Lock Screen.

Conclusion

Thinking this through has made me excited for Face ID and highlights the flaws of Touch ID. This kind of interaction would be something Apple is great at: simplifying things we already thought were perfect. We’re looking at our phones all the time anyway — might as well make use of our beautiful mugs.


  1. A gift that keeps on giving. ↩︎


John Gruber weighs in on names for this year’s iPhones ➔

Benjamin Mayo for 9to5Mac:

We’ve received a couple of photos from Apple tipster Sonny Dickson this morning that depict a dummy model for the ‘iPhone 7s Plus’, one of three new phones Apple is said to be launching this year. Although marketing branding is unknown, the ‘7s’ devices are expected to iterate on the current iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus chassis.

One distinction will be the introduction of glass backs (rather than aluminium), which this dummy model incorporates. It is believed that the phones will support inductive charging.

Gruber’s comments:

If these are legit, there’s no way Apple is going to call these devices “7S”. The S models have had minor cosmetic differences from the preceding year’s non-S iPhones, but these phones are sporting entire new designs.

I also think that the “7S” name would contribute to the notion that Apple’s “S” phones are only modest updates, when the truth is that the S phones tend to get the bigger technical improvements. I suspect Apple will use one of these sets of names:

  • iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8 Pro; or
  • iPhone, iPhone Plus, iPhone Pro

Either of these naming schemes would make all three new iPhones sound new.

While I think Apple could abandon the ‘S’ branding for its traditional update, I’d argue they could still get away with it even if the back of the phone is made out of glass for wireless charging. My main reason: most rumors and leaks indicate the front will be relatively the same as the iPhone 7/7 Plus.

Now, if the front was believed to also be receiving an edge-to-edge screen without a Touch ID home button, I’d buy into the iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus/iPhone Pro line of thinking. Since that’s not the case, iPhone/iPhone Plus/iPhone Pro sounds like the more believable of the two.

As for my actual guess, I’m going with: iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, iPhone. ‘iPhone’ being the new ‘Pro’ model. I wrote a post last week explaining why. Either way, it’s fun speculating.


Bloomberg: Next Apple Watch will have a cellular radio ➔

iPhone and Apple Pencil: Will they ever be friends? ➔

iPhone Pro: We’re going to use a soft home button, right?

Recently, there have been quite a few interesting takes on what Apple would do with the home button on an iPhone with an edge-to-edge screen. I’ll refer you to two takes in particular. For the sake of this post, let’s call the device in question iPhone Pro.

Make sure you read both of these in their entirety. There’s some really great thinking here.

First, Allen Pike made a case for the huge app titles in iOS 11, which could support the back button and other functions that could be relocated to the bottom of the UI. Quite brilliant, actually! I’m just not on board with a soft home button.

Then, Max Rudberg riffed on this with his own take, expanding on Allen’s concept in regards to the iPhone Pro’s alleged ‘notch’. I’m a big fan of his second concept depicted below.

Max Rudberg. iPhone D22, hiding the notch.
Max Rudberg’s concept: iPhone D22, hiding the notch.

Of his four concepts, this one seems the most likely to me. Apple could also blend in the bottom and make it black like Max’s last concept, but that would defeat the purpose of an edge-to-edge screen for me. It would be perceivably smaller in most apps as a result. Having the bottom area take over the color scheme of the app and adapting would make the most sense and in accordance with Apple’s UI design.

That said, I think Apple should take it one step further and just remove any and all representation of a home button. We’ve had ten years of training and know exactly where the home button is supposed to be — in the middle-bottom part of the phone. Why do we need a software reminder taking up screen real estate that could be better served for other purposes, as demonstrated by Allen and Max? I’ve never been a fan of soft home buttons on Android and hope Apple bucks the trend.

Here’s how I’m proposing they do it (borrowing from Max’s concept): a bottom-edge home button area activated by 3D Touch.

Edge home button, activated by 3D Touch.
Bottom-edge home button area, activated by 3D Touch.

As I’ve mentioned before, I feel the home button functionality could be replicated by a 3D Touch press along the bottom edge (the area highlighted by the red box). This would be similar to the now-removed left side 3D Touch edge press to activate the app switcher pre-iOS 11. 1

If you don’t think it would work, without looking or specifically trying to hit the home button, try pressing the red box area on your iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. If your results are similar to mine, your thumb should hit the home button’s bottom edge and activate it. This would leave the middle section free for other elements to be taken advantage of by apps or the system.

Supporting Evidence

It seems increasingly likely that the iPhone Pro will use face recognition in lieu of Touch ID. As identified by notorious iOS prodder Steve Troughton-Smith, there are references to this feature possibly being called Pearl ID. In other words, whether the home button is represented or not, your fingerprint would be irrelevant.

Steve has also discovered settings for a ‘home indicator’ (among many other things) that can be hidden by default within apps.

To this, Dave Mark from The Loop says:

This raises an interesting question. If the home button no longer has dedicated real estate but is, instead a fungible, virtual spot, with the ability to be turned on and off, what happens if an app runs full screen? How will you exit the app?

In other words, if a game takes over the full screen, presumably the home button will not be there. What will the user do to force exit the app, to return to the home screen?

To be crystal clear, I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as an interesting puzzle. We don’t know that the home button will disappear, we don’t know that developers will be allowed to grab the full screen without saving room for the home button.

Great points by Dave. I think all of this could be solved with a 3D Touch home button on the edge.

Peeking and Popping the Home Button

3D Touch can differentiate between levels of pressure, which is why we can peek/pop UI elements on the screen, but the existing static home button only interprets one level. Taking a 3D Touch-activated home button into account, here are some sample interaction methods I can think of that would be great no matter the button’s implementation.

For ease of explanation, let’s use two levels of pressure referred to as Peek and Pop.

Peeking

  • Peek: takes you back home just like normal.
  • Double Peek: enters the App Switcher just like normal.
  • Peek (hold): engages Siri just like normal.

Essentially, all the interactions we use the home button for now.

Popping

  • Peek > Pop: enters the App Switcher or engages Siri.
    • I would prefer the App Switcher in order to make up for the removed left-edge gesture, but I could see how triggering Siri could work here too.

Conclusion: UI is getting out of our way

Apple is on the cusp of releasing an iPhone that is different in many ways. In the examples described, the iOS UI and UX may differ slightly when compared to the traditional iPhone line, but to repeat the same formula for years on end just doesn’t make sense either. As Gruber has been saying, it’s risky for Apple not to try this — for what essentially could amount to a power user iPhone.

Apple has been criticized a bit for 3D Touch with regards to its hidden nature. In some cases, it’s not exactly clear what UI elements you can 3D Touch or when you can touch them. I use it quite a bit and would mostly agree, but therefore regard it as somewhat of a power user feature.

For instance, some have described the use of 3D Touch on home screen app icons as analogous to a context click on the Mac, which makes total sense. Same goes for the incredibly awesome keyboard gesture used to move the text cursor and select text. I could never go back to tap-and-hold for text selection after using the 3D Touch implementation. The thing is, most people probably don’t know of these interactions unless they’ve read about it in the Tips app, online, or someone has told them. Even then, I’d wager most people forget about them or are simply content with the basic interaction methods.

My point is this: UI is increasingly getting out of our way. Maybe we lose a little intuitiveness in the process, but I think it’s worth it. Apple is building a new interaction language that will become so ubiquitous in the coming years that its intuition will matter less and less.


  1. I’m still salty about the removal of that gesture, but perhaps this is the reason why. ↩︎


“And we’re calling it … iPhone”

It seems inevitable now, if you’ve been following recent leaks: we’re getting a next-level iPhone in the Fall. While most analysts seem to agree it will cost from $1,100 to $1,200, the jury is still fairly out on the naming for said product.

The most popular names being suggested are: iPhone 8, iPhone Pro, and iPhone X. As for my pick? I’m going with ‘iPhone’. Here’s why…

Historical Analysis

The main iPhone line’s naming has been pretty predictable due to the tried and true tick-tock cycle, but Apple is going to shake that up this year. Let’s review the main iPhone names up until now:

iPhone > iPhone 3G > iPhone 3GS > iPhone 4 > iPhone 4S > iPhone 5 > iPhone 5S > iPhone 6/6 Plus > iPhone 6S/6S Plus > iPhone 7, 7 Plus 1

Here’s what Apple has done with wholly new models: iPhone 5C, iPhone SE.

I was also going to reference all the names for iPad and Apple Watch, but instead I’ll sum it up like this: both products started out with complicated naming schemes (especially iPad), but have since been reeled in. As of late, also see the more simplistic: Apple Music, HomePod, and AirPods

What does this all tell us?

  1. Apple is very careful with the iPhone brand when it comes to marketing and naming.
  2. Apple made a natural, if initially confusing progression with the iPad naming, which it has never had to make with iPhone. MacBook is similar, though (i.e. Air, Pro).
  3. Apple is trending towards more simplistic product names. Suggestions of “Apple Phone” or similar may be in the same ballpark as other new product names, but Apple would be way off mark to not continue calling this the iPhone in some capacity.

The Case for ‘iPhone’

When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone ten years ago, he used misdirection to describe it as three products:

  1. A phone
  2. A widescreen iPod with touch controls
  3. A breakthrough internet communications device

Let’s reinvent this line of thinking for the next-level iPhone. If it were going to be three products, I’d say:

  1. A communications device
    • Covers phone calls and messaging of all kind, in addition to social apps like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.
  2. A powerful computer in your pocket
    • Essentially what the iPhone has become. For many, its their only computer, or most important device.
  3. An insanely-great camera

Also rumored to have an edge-to-edge screen, wireless charging, and more, the next-level iPhone is poised to be the epitome of the original and then some. It will leapfrog every goal established by Steve Jobs in its introductory keynote.

Since there’s not going to be a screen size choice, something along the lines of iPhone 8 Plus is out of the question.

Taking all this into consideration, I don’t think there’s a more perfect name than simply ‘iPhone’. Would it be confusing for people? I don’t think so; at least not any more so than iPhone 7S/7S Plus and iPhone 8 would be. Anyone looking to upgrade according to the normal tick-tock cycle will go for the iPhone 7S/7S Plus because that’s the status quo and extremely familiar. Anyone wanting next year’s iPhone today 2 will go for ‘iPhone’.

In short: iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, iPhone.

If it’s not ‘iPhone’, I’d prefer ‘iPhone X’. ‘Pro’ just doesn’t sound fitting for the iPhone line, for some reason. ‘X’ would serve two purposes: a nod to the tenth anniversary and being just plain badass.


  1. I’ve never liked 6S Plus (and soon-to-be 7S Plus) name. Too many ‘s’ sounds. ↩︎

  2. Beautifully said by Rene Ritchie. ↩︎


Former Google SVP praises iPhone camera over Android ➔

Linking to Business Insider’s coverage of this story.

Vic Gundotra, former Google SVP of Engineering, posted the following on Facebook yesterday in reference to recent shots taken of his family with an iPhone 7 Plus:

The end of the DSLR for most people has already arrived. I left my professional camera at home and took these shots at dinner with my iPhone 7 using computational photography (portrait mode as Apple calls it). Hard not to call these results (in a restaurant, taken on a mobile phone with no flash) stunning. Great job Apple.

In a later comment, he goes on to explain why other phones trail behind. Here it is in its entirety, because it’s fantastic:

Here is the problem: It’s Android. Android is an open source (mostly) operating system that has to be neutral to all parties. This sounds good until you get into the details. Ever wonder why a Samsung phone has a confused and bewildering array of photo options? Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera? Samsung gallery or Google Photos?

It’s because when Samsung innovates with the underlying hardware (like a better camera) they have to convince Google to allow that innovation to be surfaced to other applications via the appropriate API. That can take YEARS.

Also the greatest innovation isn’t even happening at the hardware level - it’s happening at the computational photography level. (Google was crushing this 5 years ago - they had had “auto awesome” that used AI techniques to automatically remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, add vignetting, etc… but recently Google has fallen back).

Apple doesn’t have all these constraints. They innovate in the underlying hardware, and just simply update the software with their latest innovations (like portrait mode) and ship it.

Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don’t mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.

Damning words by Gundotra. If you have ever scoffed when Tim Cook says “this is something only Apple can do”, remember this post. It all goes back to owning as much of the technology stack as possible (hardware and software). As Gundotra points out, Apple has virtually no limitations when it comes to innovating because of this. Also for good measure, and because it’s so true, here’s Alan Kay’s legendary quote: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” Google has just begun to do this with their Pixel phone line, but they’ve got a long way to go to execute at the level Apple does.


More price analysis on the iPhone 8 ➔

Horace Dediu for Asymco:

The graph shows a high degree of consistency of pattern: Every year a new iPhone is launched which replaces the one launched the year before. The older product is still offered at a reduced price. Price brackets are very firm and set at fixed intervals about $100 apart.

And…

The “floor” of the range is a consistent $400 while the “ceiling” has expanded from $700 to about $950.

This year’s ceiling is due for the fourth leg up and if the pattern persists, we should expect it to reach $1100.

Definitely check out the whole post. There’s some excellent graphs and data-driven logic. The price lines up with Gruber’s thought process as well. With growing analysis, it seems inevitable that the iPhone 8 will be the most expensive iPhone when it launches. The only thing nobody can decide on is what it will actually be called.


Essential loses its Head of UX to Google ➔


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