I only speak orders when I’m at a restaurant

The Reality Behind Voice Shopping Hype:

Amazon and Google both tout voice shopping—the ability to make purchases and check on the status of orders with verbal commands—as significant features of their smart speakers. Some forecasts call for annual voice shopping sales to reach $40 billion in just a few years.

But it appears that only a small fraction of smart speaker owners use them to shop, and the few who do try it don’t bother again. The Information has learned that only about 2% of the people with devices that use Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant—mostly Amazon’s own Echo line of speakers—have made a purchase with their voices so far in 2018, according to two people briefed on the company’s internal figures. Amazon has sold about 50 million Alexa devices, the people said.

This statistic sounds about right.

My 71-year-old father, who’s very tech-savy, hooked up his two Alexa devices to all of the lights and two televisions on the ground floor of his house, but I don’t think he’s ever made a voice purchase with them.

As someone who doesn’t own an Alexa device, I can maybe see myself making voice purchases for utility items like toilet paper and cleaning products, but definitely not for things like clothing, books, or electronics (maybe for low top black Chuck Taylors).

thermal bug

Jim Dalrymple has the scoop on the firmware fix for the overheating MacBook Pros (via Daring Fireball):

“Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we’ve identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro,” An Apple representative told me. “A bug fix is included in today’s macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended. We apologize to any customer who has experienced less than optimal performance on their new systems. Customers can expect the new 15-inch MacBook Pro to be up to 70% faster, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to be up to 2X faster, as shown in the performance results on our website.”

That was quick.

Microsoft Surface is the billionaire cockroach that won’t die.

From Wired: Surface Go Is Microsoft’s Big Bet on a Tiny-Computer Future:

Panos Panay is the betting type. You can see the evidence in Microsoft’s Building 37, where two $1 bills stick out from beneath a Surface tablet sitting on a shelf.

When I ask Panay about the dollars during a recent visit to Microsoft, he says it was a wager he made a few years back on a specific product. I ask if it was a bet on Surface RT, the very first Surface product Microsoft made, and he seems genuinely surprised. “I would have lost that bet, and I’m going to win this one,” he says. “It’s about a product that’s in market right now.” And that’s all he’ll volunteer.

Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer, isn’t there to talk about the ghosts of Surface’s past, or even the present. Panay wants to talk about his next big bet in the Surface product lineup: the brand-new Surface Go. But to call it “big” would be a misnomer, because the Surface Go was designed to disappear.

I have to hand it to the people at Microsoft. They won’t give up on Surface. You cannot give up in the hardware game when you have billions of dollars in your pockets already.

I’ve thought Panos Panay is particularly adorable ever since he introduced the Surface Book back in 2015. Look at him, the little-big engine that could. You get excited at your show-and-tell day at school! Yeah!

Panos is clearly the right guy for the job, but the real question is whether Surface is the right hardware for the job. I can’t find Microsoft having any meaningful representation on tablet marketshare stats for 2018 (or 2017 or 2016).

But hey, what do I know? If Apple starts screwing up iPads like they’re currently screwing up their MacBook Pros, maybe Microsoft has a shot at getting in the race (just kidding, they don’t).

Design Anorexia

iFixIt’s Kyle Wiens wrote a scathing and eye-opening piece on the Macbook Pro Keyboard fiasco:

Thin may be in, but it has tradeoffs. Ask any Touch Bar owner if they would trade a tenth of a millimeter for a more reliable keyboard. No one who has followed this Apple support document instructing them to shake their laptop at a 75 degree angle and spray their keyboard with air in a precise zig-zag pattern will quibble over a slightly thicker design.

This is design anorexia: making a product slimmer and slimmer at the cost of usefulness, functionality, serviceability, and the environment.

A repairable pro laptop is not an unreasonable ask. Apple has a history of great keyboards—they know how to make them. There are very successful laptop manufacturers who consistently earn 10/10 on our repairability scale. Apple fans are already making noise about the dearth of new Macs, especially upgradable options for professionals. Fortunately, Apple seems to be listening with their new warranty program.

I’ve been aware of the keyboard problem in the latest version of the Macbooks since last year, so I’ve known to steer clear of them and stick with my Mid-2015 Macbook Pro.

Aside from the dust problem, I know from riding the Apple Shuttle for an entire year in 2017 that these keyboards are also annoyingly loud. When a coworker told me she couldn’t stand it when her husband was working on his Macbook in the same room as her, I thought she was clearly being dramatic. It couldn’t be that bad.

I was wrong, it could be that bad.

It makes me sad to see certain Apple products as something to avoid (opposed to my iPhone X which is amazing). What’s naive to do, though, is jump on the This-would-have-never-happened-when-Steve-Jobs-was-alive bandwagon. Antennagate happened under Steve, as did MobileMe.

I think Apple is suffering from the hubris a $900 billion company exudes that continues to be the most imitated in the tech industry, so it’s taking more cold water in their faces to course correct when a product is broken. But the sky is not falling and Apple is not doomed. As Kyle notes, Apple knows how to make great keyboards.

The only thing we can do now is wait and see what comes next.

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Product, Technology

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Shortcuts in iOS 12

Frederico Viticci gives a great breakdown of Shortcuts, Siri, and iOS automation in iOS 12 (via DF):

Available in Settings ⇾ Siri & Search, iOS 12 features an option for users to define their own phrases for launching specific shortcuts via voice. This is done by speaking a custom phrase into a Siri recording UI that transcribes the command and creates a shortcut that can be invoked at any time. The Settings app automatically suggests recently used app shortcuts as well as other shortcuts that were previously “donated” by apps. Both recording a custom shortcut phrase and launching the phrase via Siri require an active Internet connection. Once given a custom phrase, user-configured shortcuts appear under the My Shortcuts section in Settings.

The shortcut phrases functionality is the feature I’m most excited about in iOS 12. I use Siri more and more in each subsequent year since it was introduced. My iPhone X is the snappiest iPhone I’ve had yet. What I mean by this is there is very little latency between pressing-and-holding the side button to launch Siri, speaking your command, and Siri executing that command.

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The minimalist smartphones aren’t the problem, you are.

From The Verge, There’s no perfect minimalist phone — yet:

The Jelly’s other big drawback is battery life: there is none. The phone lost almost 20 percent of its juice within 15 minutes as I downloaded four apps. At an 83 percent charge, the phone told me that I has just over four hours of life left, and even that turned out to be overly-optimistic. Eventually, I learned to carry around an external battery pack with me just to make it through the day. I’d never felt less minimalist.

None of these minimalist phones are the problem. Michael Zelenko’s mindset is the problem. He’s downloading multiple apps to his baby phone. You haven’t quit your drug, Zelenko. The point is not to use apps. I believe there is market for phones like these but this isn’t the review they deserve.

Then he gives the Nokia 3310 a try:

Open these up and you’ll be banished to the mid-2000s, moving a clunky mouse cursor up and down with an old school direction pad. It took me 10 minutes to pull up Twitter and complete my two-factor authentication, only to accidentally leave the web client and be faced with embarking on the process all over again. I gave up. The apps are so hard to use they may as well be nonexistent, which suited my purposes just fine.

Hey guess what? They have these things called smartphones with big, super-high resolution screens and predictive QWERTY keyboards, and apps, and bigger batteries. Stop trying to put a Toyota Corolla on the racetrack.

I deleted my Facebook account back in March. What I didn’t do after deleting my account was go out and look for a Facebook replacement. I deleted it because it was creating unnecessary noise in my life. I immediately felt lighter without my Facebook account.

I will agree with Zelenko that all these phones have usability issues, but those issues are fixable.

If you’re debating whether to ditch your iPhone or Android phone, I’d first recommend what I’ve done as a first step and see how much it helps. I’ve turned off the majority of notifications on my iPhone. Email and Messages are the only apps that have the badge app icon enabled for unread message counts. My calendar app (I use Timepage) is the only app allowed to use pop-up banners for upcoming events. I’ve muted Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Waze, and every other app on my phone bothering me.

I’ve taught my smartphone baby not to interrupt daddy when he’s in the middle of doing shit and it’s been working out great for the last 3-4 years.

“Without him, modern computers and smartphones as we know them would be unthinkable.”

Peter Grünberg, 78, Winner of an ‘iPod Nobel,’ Is Dead:

Peter Grünberg, a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who discovered how to store vast amounts of data by manipulating the magnetic and electrical fields of thin layers of atoms, making possible devices like the iPad and the smartphone, has died at 78.

His death was announced by the Juelich Research Center in Juelich, Germany, where he was a longtime researcher. The center did not provide any other details.

Dr. Grünberg shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007 with Albert Fert of the Université Paris-Sud in Orsay. They had independently made the same discovery — of an effect known as giant magnetoresistance, in which tiny changes in a magnetic field can result in huge changes in electrical resistance.

The effect is at the heart of modern gadgets that record music, video or other data as dense magnetic patchworks of ones and zeros — that is to say, electronic tablets and smartphones, the GPS devices in our pockets and handbags.

The Juelich institute said as much in a statement:

“Without exaggeration, one can say Peter Grünberg and his discovery of giant magnetoresistance decisively changed our lives. Without him, modern computers and smartphones as we know them would be unthinkable.”

To be clear, smartphones have always used sold-state hard drives (SSDs) and many laptops use them (Apple MacBooks have only used SSDs since 2015) — not the magnetoresistance technology Grünberg pioneered — but magnetic hard drives are still widely used in many external hard drives and laptops and they represent a huge place in the history of computers.

Never go full robot.

“The guy telling everyone to be afraid of robots uses too many robots in his factory”:

Elon Musk says Tesla relied on too many robots to build the Model 3, which is partly to blame for the delays in manufacturing the crucial mass-market electric car. In an interview with CBS Good Morning, Musk agreed with Tesla’s critics that there was over-reliance on automation and too few human assembly line workers building the Model 3.

Earlier this month, Tesla announced that it had officially missed its goal of making 2,500 Model 3 vehicles a week by the end of the first financial quarter of this year. It will start the second quarter making just 2,000 Model 3s per week, but the company says it still believes it can get to a rate of 5,000 Model 3s per week at the midway point of 2018.

You went full robot. Never go full robot.

Native Apps are Still Better

From The Verge, Web apps are only getting better:

So, what is a Progressive Web App?

Well, for starters, it’s just a website with a special “manifest” file that defines the name of the app, the icon for the home screen, and whether or not the app should show the typical browser UI or just take over the full screen. Users can add any website with a manifest file to their home screen or their Start menu and launch it like a regular mobile or desktop app.

But instead of just loading a website from the internet, a Progressive Web App is typically cached on your device so it has some sort of offline functionality. That could be anything ranging from saving the JavaScript and CSS so the website simply loads faster, on up to saving everything the user does locally like a traditional app.

Progressive Web Apps, importantly, can also support push notifications and other background work due to a new web technology called “service workers.” Service workers can help cache new content and synchronize local changes to a remote server, which keeps Progressive Web Apps as up-to-date as a typical website, while staying as responsive as a native app.

Right now the best example of a Progressive Web App is the Twitter Lite client. It’s fast, minimal, and even has a toggle so you can minimize data usage. Some online stores and publications have also taken advantage of the snappy performance of PWAs. I’ve actually been playing a minimal 2048 clone PWA on my iPhone for the last week. It works offline and remembers my high score between sessions. Sometimes it even saves the game state so I can resume a long run, but it’s not perfect.

In 2007, before the introduction of the App Store for iOS (then iPhone OS), Steve Jobs promised developers the power of writing web apps for iPhone. Developers didn’t buy it. Fast forward 11 years to now and I still don’t think many are buying it.

I’m happy web apps are getting better but native apps still have the upper hand.

Dumb Fucks

Jean-Louis Gassée posted another great Monday Morning Note, Mark Zuckerberg Thinks We’re Idiots:

The message is clear: Zuckerberg thinks we’re idiots. How are we to believe Facebook didn’t know — and derived benefits — from the widespread abuse of user data by its developers. We just became aware of the Cambridge Analytica cockroach…how many more are under the sink? In more lawyerly terms: “What did you know, and when did you know it?”

A company’s culture emanates from the top and it starts early. In 2004, the man who was in the process of creating Facebook allegedly called Harvard people who entrusted him with their emails, text messages, pictures, and addresses “dumb fucks”. Should we charitably assume he was joking, or ponder the revelatory power of such cracks?

I deleted my Facebook account last week like (a lot of? a few?) others, but as I mentioned on Twitter, I’m not naive.

My newsfeed has been full of junk, memes, opinions, and ignorant political rants for too long and this Cambridge Analytics scandal was just the extra push I needed to do want I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time.

Humans drink and drive.

Uber halts self-driving tests after pedestrian killed in Arizona:

A female pedestrian was killed after being struck by an autonomous Uber vehicle in Arizona, according to ABC 15. In response, Uber has pulled all of its self-driving cars from public roads in the state as well as in the cities of San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburgh.

The crash occurred near Mill Avenue and Curry Road early Monday morning in Tempe, Arizona, police confirm. The Uber vehicle was headed northbound when a woman walking across the street. The woman was taken to the hospital, where she later died from her injuries. Early reports suggested that she may have been a bicyclist, but that was not the case. Police have identified her as 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg.

Uber confirms that the vehicle was traveling in autonomous mode with a safety driver behind the wheel during the crash. That would make the pedestrian one of the first known victims of a crash involving a self-driving car.

It’s horrible that someone was killed from a self-driving car, but everyone needs to chill. In the long run autonomous vehicles are going to be way better drivers than humans.

Humans text their girlfriends and boyfriends while they drive. Humans drink and drive. Humans drive angry. Humans fall asleep at the wheel. Humans don’t pay attention. Robots do none of these things. I can’t wait until stupid humans aren’t in front of the wheel anymore.

We’ve had 100 years of practice driving. Self-driving cars? Not quite as much time, so let’s give the technology a chance to get better (and eventually surpass our skills).

Categories:

Technology, Vehicle

‘Tis a silly place.

WhatsApp co-founder tells everyone to delete Facebook:

In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders — Jan Koum and Brian Acton — very wealthy men. Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation. And he isn’t done merely with WhatsApp — in a post on Twitter today, Acton told his followers to delete Facebook.

“It is time,” Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. WhatsApp declined to comment.

I deleted my Facebook account 2 days ago. When I talk about Facebook, I’m usually talking about the ‘face’ of Facebook — the newsfeed/homepage. It’s just junky. It’s been that way for a long time. I almost exclusively talk with my close friends in a private group we set up. I ignore everything else.

I’m not convinced Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the leadership at Facebook have backbones.

“I trust Apple a lot less.”

I got my iPhone’s battery replaced, and I’m angry Apple didn’t tell me to sooner:

Two weeks ago, I went to an Apple Store and had a new battery put in my iPhone 6S. The very next day, I realized how unusable my old battery had been making my phone.

The repair restored functionality that had been seeping away so slowly I hadn’t really registered the loss. Apps now load when I tap them, not when they feel like it. The keyboard doesn’t freeze when I try to reply to emails in Outlook. My phone no longer clings to its charging cable like it’s a hospital drip, and the battery itself has stopped taking surprise nosedives from 40 percent charge down to zero when I have the temerity to go outside in the cold. (Yes, cold weather kills batteries.) The trust is back in my relationship with my phone, but as a result, I trust Apple a lot less.

I’m angry too.

As an admitted fan of Apple I won’t lie, this is bullshit. I’ve always known, always, that performance degraded on my previous iPhones when I upgraded to the latest version of iOS. I didn’t need an official statement from Apple or any other company to confirm or deny my suspicions.

And now here we are getting new, discounted batteries from Apple.

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Business, Technology

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