The Home button

With the release of the new iPhone line tomorrow, Apple will no longer sell a new phone with the (now) iconic home button attached. All three major models will now be FaceID-based, and will feature no button at all on the screen.

Which is interesting, no doubt. I, myself, will finally be joining the “X Club” here soon. Which means I’ll have to get used to navigating without the trusty 11-year old home button. But it made me chuckle as I noticed an interface that I use everyday that will still sport it proudly:

Not exactly sure how (or even if) they’re going to change the UI to accommodate. Then again, there’s no FaceID in CarPlay. At least not yet. So maybe it stays for some time. Just found it ironic as I drove down the road this morning.

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Talking Into the Air


Apple HomePod
Photo by Rene Ritchie on Instagram

A lot has been written (and spoken) about a new(ish) technology called Voice Assistants. Don’t know what that is? I bet you actually do. Ever said “Hey Siri, what’s the weather like?” to your phone or “Alexa, play Bruno Mars”? If you have, you’ve interacted with a real-life virtual voice assistant. (See what I did there?)

Amazon has one (Alexa). Apple has one (Siri). Google has one (“Hey Google”). And even Samsung has one (Bixby). With all of these high-profile companies, you’d think we don’t do anything but sit around the house or car all day speaking into the air to no one in particular.

Luckily, we don’t. Because we’d probably be put away in some looney bin if we did.

But these are around, and they seem to be gaining steam in broader popular culture. No longer existing only in tech nerd environments, these devices (and services) have made their way into mainstream households. Amazon’s Alexa, arguably the most popular service out there, was adopted by my mother-in-law before me. Seems strange, doesn’t it it?

Well, yes and no. I must admit, I don’t particularly like them (at least as they are currently implemented). My holdback is not so much a curmudgeonly, get-off-my-lawn resistance. Nor is it a nervous apprehension about privacy and allowing a multi-billion dollar corporation to put a dingus in my house whose sole purpose is to listen to me. (Ok, let’s be fair, a large part of it is the privacy angle. But let’s not get bogged down in that right this particular minute.)

I actually love the idea of a computer being able to interact with me in the same manner that another human being would. What’s unfortunate is that, right now, we’re still in the really early days with this technology. “Conversations” and true human-like interactions are not real with any one of these things. I do want this technology to work. And I want it to be as good as they advertise.

No, my largest hold-up comes from an apprehension that most people would never think about. It comes from the “voice” portion of the phrase “voice assistant”. That part where you have to say, out loud, what you want the assistant to do.

Out. Loud.

That always works out great for stutterers.

A device can now hear me stutter. Hell, it even records it. In its own way, it can even judge me. You see, the built-in functionality has a threshold of silence at the end of your query to know when to stop listening, which is how it knows when to proceed with its response. There is literally a timer counting down until it’s done waiting for you. In a stutterer’s mind, there is ALWAYS a timer going in your head. I feel it when I speak to other people, and I see it in their anticipation of what’s coming next as they listen to me. To give you an idea, this is what goes through my head:

When will it ding at me and cut me off because I blocked and can’t get the next syllable out?
Will it ding now?
Now?
What about now?

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Ad Infinitum.

The pressure is ever-present. That pressure just adds more pressure to get it out, which adds even more pressure to do it quickly. “Now. Quickly. They’re waiting. It’s going to ding any second now. Do it. Get it out. Say it. Say it, you moron.”

That inner dialogue never stops. And it leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. A vicious cycle.

Now, not only can I not speak normally to another human being, I can’t even speak normally to a frickin’ machine. Fuck.

In my own life, the version of this technology I use the most comes from Apple’s Siri. And most of that comes from the Messages app in the CarPlay system in my car. (I’ve been meaning to write something on how I use Siri more in my car by a factor of 10 than I ever do from my phone.) It reads my messages to me, and I can formulate my response by simply speaking into the air.

It’s a great piece of technology. Specifically in the car, as it frees your hands from fiddling with the phone. At the same time, it’s so frustrating when I get to a block in my speech pattern, and Siri will stop and begin to repeat what I just said. Unfinished, broken sentence and all. And I have to either send the sentence fragment, thus clueing in the person on the other end of the message that I have fucked up in speaking to the dingus, or I have to start over and say all of it again. And what if I fuck that one up, too? Start again? Send the fragment and send a follow-up message? What about the next time? And the next time?

See where this goes…

It’s enough to make me WANT to pick up my phone and just let my fingers do the talking for me. Lord knows, it’ll be quicker, sharper, and more concise.

Oh yeah, and less humiliating.

In my tech nerd circles, mostly on podcasts that I listen to, these voice assistants are lauded as the way our devices should be interacting with us. Getting the smartphone or laptop out of the way seems to be viewed as “better” in the long run. And maybe they’re right, for most people.

I’d just ask them to realize that some of us on the other end of the microphone don’t necessarily see this as a good thing. We either can’t speak to these things, or would honestly rather not.

And you know what, that should be ok, too.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Learned to Code in College

Apple CEO Tim Cook Learned to Code in College

In October of 2017, Cook shared additional details on his coding experience in an interview with The Sun. Back when he was attending Auburn University, Cook built a system to improve the traffic lights near the university. He aimed to optimize traffic to reduce wait times while maintaining the safety of the lights. His work was a success and it was implemented by the local police force.

So there’s one way Tim Cook and I are alike. I, too, took my first programming course at Auburn University. Granted, mine was almost 20 yers later in the fall of 1998. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. I happened to register for a C class and realized I had a knack for it. Even better than that, I really enjoyed it. That class led to a second class, which led to a co-op opportunity with Georgia Tech Research Institute, which led to a transfer to Georgia Tech, which led to my first job at GTRI, which led to my current job of 12 years at Romanoff.

You could say that that one programming class at Auburn almost 20 years has led to who I am today.

I may not have programmed traffic lights, or (you know) have been promoted to CEO of the most profitable company in the world, but it’s paid off for me pretty well.

Maybe it’s the battery

For many years, I’ve heard the (now) old adage of “Apple must be sabotaging my (current) iPhone because they want me to buy the new one”. I’ve always rolled my eyes at this, because it’s a classic consumer whine; the world (big company) is against me (playing the role of David in their own David and Goliath story).

I mean, come on. Yes, Apple must have written code specifically to jack up your special snowflake iPhone at exactly the time a new phone is coming out. Yeah, that’s plausible.

If that were true, a) there have been plenty of generations of these things by now and they’d have been caught at some point, and b) that’s just fucking preposterous.

Anyway,…

Having had almost every model of iPhone ever produced, I do know that as the years go on, they do become more randomly buggy. Again, I code for a living. And there’s no more frustrating than troubleshooting an issue or problem brought from a user that says “it’s random”.

Has anyone ever thought it might be a consequence of the batteries? And to that end, a consequence of the underlying battery technology in use in modern-day phones?

We use these batteries constantly. 24/7. 365. Batteries were never intended to last forever. And given the usage and charging habits we all have (I’ve never been able to keep up with the “right way” to charge a lithium ion battery), have we ever considered that the randomness of a failing battery might be the actual issue in random bugs and crashes as these devices age?

Just a thought…

Update: Maybe I was more right than I thought: Geekbench Results Visualize Possible Link Between iPhone Slowdowns and Degraded Batteries

A lot of Apple Money

Whenever you set up a new iPhone, Apple kindly adds a playlist to it that references all of the music you’ve purchased from iTunes in the past. Let’s do some quick math, shall we. Let’s say that that the average price per song is $1.15 (remember songs used to be $0.99, before jumping to $1.29).

That means I’ve spent $1,764.10 on iTunes music. I’ll let that sink in a bit. Just on music. Keep in mind what that doesn’t include: apps, movies, books, ringtones, etc.

My oh my…