HomePod – More Than a Speaker + Siri

Over in the r/apple subreddit, u/Arve highlights an interesting thread in the r/audiophile subreddit concerning what’s under the hood in Apple’s new Siri-enabled HomePod:

There is one comment from that thread I’d like to highlight:

  1. They’re using some form of dynamic modeling, and likely also current sensing that allows them to have a p-p excursion of 20 mm in a 4″ driver. This is completely unheard of in the home market. You can read an introduction to the topic here. The practical upshot is that that 4″ driver can go louder than larger drivers, and with significantly less distortion. It’s also stuff you typically find in speakers with five-figure price tags (The Beolab 90 does this, and I also suspect that the Kii Three does). It’s a quantum leap over what a typical passive speaker does, and you don’t really even find it in higher-end powered speakers
  2. The speaker uses six integrated beamforming microphones to probe the room dimensions, and alter its output so it sounds its best wherever it is placed in the room. It’ll know how large the room is, and where in the room it is placed.
  3. The room correction applied after probing its own position isn’t simplistic DSP of frequency response, as the speaker has seven drivers that are used to create a beamforming speaker array,. so they can direct specific sound in specific directions. The only other speakers that do this is the Beolab 90, and Lexicon SL-1. The Beolab 90 is $85,000/pair, and no price tag is set for the Lexicon, but the expectation in the industry is “astronomical”.

Lots of people online are calling it overpriced because they think Apple just slapped a bunch of speakers in a circular configuration and added Siri, but the engineering behind it is extremely audiophile niche stuff. And it does this all automatically with no acoustical set up or technical know how. And even if you are obsessive about your existing tuned audio set up, just think of how much better enthusiast stuff will become once this kind of technology becomes the accepted mainstream baseline for speakers.

So Apple has included a technology in HomePod only found in $85K speakers.

Details like this make the differences between Apple and Amazon crystal clear.

The fact that both HomePod and Echo both have integrated AI assistants is where the comparisons end. The purpose of the Echo is to make it easier to order more things from Amazon. Apple has nothing analogous to Amazon’s megastore, so it needs to be something more than a “good enough” speaker you can order shit from.

via Twitter

Dammit, Apple. You’re Supposed to Be the Ones With Good UI Design.

The grand appeal of using an e-reader is the ability to own a large library of books without adding to the colossal weight of one’s possessions. Ever since I moved away from print books I’ve been able to remove hundreds of pounds of clutter from my apartment and from my life. Storing books digitally has improved my quality of life. That being said, the various e-readers that are out there have an obligation to provide a good user experience, and they do that through design.

In the past I’ve taken Amazon to task for user interface design that I felt was subpar. Since it’s introduction, Kindle for the iPad has gone through numerous updates to its UI, and while still not perfect, it provides a fine balance of text and whitespace. The only reason I don’t use the app regularly is because Kindle doesn’t have continuous scrolling. Enter iBooks, the e-reader app from Apple.

Apple prides itself on the quality of its design. One can see it from the look and feel of Apple’s signature hardware, to the way fonts render in OSX, and everything in between. Which makes this so inexplicable:


That is a screenshot of a page in iBooks, with continuous scroll turned on, after an update to iOS 10. The margins to the right and left are too small, leaving the text crowded to the edge of the screen. When using one of the new model iPad Pros, the text is less than an inch from the edge of the device. The width of the text also interferes with the eye’s ability to flow from one line to the next. What happened to all that whitespace that designers value so much? It used to be there. This is a screenshot of the same text taken in iBooks from an iPad running iOS 9:


The second screenshot shows a much better use of margins. I know there are charlatans out there who prefer text to be much closer to the edge, but they’re wrong. Luckily, a solution that satisfies most users should not be that difficult for Apple to implement. The Kindle app already has a margin selector in the same menu where a user adjusts fonts and background colors. The settings in iBooks does not. As of right now, the experience in iBooks on the iPad has been degraded by the decision to close the margins. Were Apple to add a margin selector, it would be a vast improvement to the app.

Home Field Advantage

ProPublica set out to see how Amazon’s software was shaping the marketplace:

We looked at 250 frequently purchased products over several weeks to see which ones were selected for the most prominent placement on Amazon’s virtual shelves — the so-called “buy box” that pops up first as a suggested purchase. About three-quarters of the time, Amazon placed its own products and those of companies that pay for its services in that position even when there were substantially cheaper offers available from others.

I am shocked Amazon would do something to help them make more money.

The Post-Retail Landscape

Interesting holiday retail facts from L2 on Youtube:

An unlikely winner? Malls – at least high-end ones, which are flourishing. The top-rated malls of 2015 all had upscale department stores, luxury brand stores and high-tech electronics stores.

An Apple Store increased mall revenue per square foot by 13%. Think about that. Apple is going to start charging malls to be tenants.

I’ve lived most of my life since 2000 in cities (Manhattan, Miami, Los Angeles, and now San Francisco) so I’m not aware of how dire the retail situation is in suburban areas—that is— until I went home to visit my family in New Jersey this past holiday.

It was hard for me to find something as simple as a pair of Chuck Taylors. Back in the day there a Foot Locker about 10 minutes from my parents’ house, but no more.


Wow, Amazon sounds like a great place to work:

Company veterans often say the genius of Amazon is the way it drives them to drive themselves. “If you’re a good Amazonian, you become an Amabot,” said one employee, using a term that means you have become at one with the system.


Some veterans interviewed said they were protected from pressures by nurturing bosses or worked in relatively slow divisions. But many others said the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being “vocally self-critical” is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster. Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.

“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight,” said Dina Vaccari, who joined in 2008 to sell Amazon gift cards to other companies and once used her own money, without asking for approval, to pay a freelancer in India to enter data so she could get more done. “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful.”

Since the article came out, CEO Jeff Bezos has refuted many of the claims in the article.

“Buy” buttons on mobile ads

Now, Google is set to launch perhaps its most critical commerce-related experiment ever: “Buy” buttons on mobile ads, according to multiple sources, which will turn Google into a cross between a search engine and Amazon. (The Wall Street Journal first reported the move.) It’s the latest attempt by Google to remake its search business for a world increasingly spent on mobile devices and dominated by apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Amazon — none of which Google owns.

—Jason Del Rey, Re/code

The always-hungry Google tries to consume more of the Internet.

Best Intentions

We may now have a new “most unread best seller of all time.”

Data from Amazon Kindles suggests that that honor may go to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which reached No. 1 on the best-seller list this year. Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Piketty’s book seems to eclipse its rivals in losing readers: All five of the passages that readers on Kindle have highlighted most are in the first 26 pages of a tome that runs 685 pages.

The rush to purchase Piketty’s book suggested that Americans must have wanted to understand inequality. The apparent rush to put it down suggests that, well, we’re human.

—Nicholas Kristof, An Idiot’s Guide to Inequality

I’m guilty of going a step farther: I acquire tons of e-books with the intention of reading them, but takes years for me to get around to reading them (if ever).