Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Apple, Siri, and the Cloud Cage

Hello, readers.

You may have noticed Apple held one of its events this past afternoon. Steve Jobs was not there. Neither was an iPhone 5. There was Siri, though, and something called the iPhone 4S which is the iPhone 4 plus the letter S, among other things.

Here's what some people are saying.

Nick Bilton believes everything's as much about Google as Apple.
To [compete with Android] the company had to offer a high-end phone that is very Applesque, complete with the slickest new features and software: the iPhone 4S, which starts at $200 and goes as high as $400. In addition, the company needed to offer iPhones for the masses: the iPhone 3GS, which is now free. All of these prices are valid with a two-year contract with the carrier for wireless service.
CNET on how Apple mostly uses the internet as a way to communicate with itself.

I find Apple's clear unwillingness to release Web front-ends to users' photo libraries or documents or stored music tracks galling. Apple could become one of the most powerful and useful consumer Web companies in the world were it to make all its users' content available to them from any device that had Web access. Of course, that would reduce the need for each user to have one of their own, or better yet several of their own, Apple devices to access their personal clouds of data and media. If every device was an equal citizen on the Apple Web, it might depress the volume of sales, and prices, of Apple gear.
Which is, depending on who you are, either wonderfully simple or terribly limiting. It's certainly convenient to have Apple put all your music in the cloud, but if you're forever locked into playing it with Apple devices, well, um, there you go. The cloud cage.

This is my next on Siri.
Recognizing context is a simple kind of logic, and very important for listening. When it comes to finding a good answer, however, a whole new level of logic is needed, and obviously this is the crux of Siri’s AI — all the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of it. One aspect I’m particularly excited about is the Wolfram Alpha integration. Wolfram Alpha makes more sense integrated into a personal assistant (like Siri) than subbing in as a search engine (like Google or Bing), and asking Siri to convert units or time zones, or to compare the land speed of Usain Bolt to a cheetah (my primary use for Wolfram Alpha revolves around such comparisons) is going to be endlessly useful / entertaining.
I'm having flashes of Angel and the evil lawyers of Wolfram & Heart. Also, as I tweeted, at some point in the future I'm prepared for smartphones to be equipped with customizable genuine people personalities so that your phone will not necessarily have to sound like a robot woman speaking from the inside of War Games.

And, here's Activate on the lives of workers at Foxconn, one of Apple's leading suppliers. It's a short doc, and doesn't go into terribly much documented detail. For more, consider reading these reports of strangely numerous suicides and Apple's response.
In its latest report, Apple said it conducted audits of 127 facilities throughout the world. Ninety-seven of those were first-time audits and 30 were repeat audits.
Although many consumer electronic companies around the world use these same suppliers for their products, more than 40 percent of the suppliers audited said Apple was the first company to ever have audited their facilities....
Apple says it's been "aggressive in helping underage workers return to their families and get back to school."
If underage workers are discovered, Apple said it requires the supplier to pay for education expenses, a living stipend, and lost wages for six months or until the worker is 16, whichever is longer.

That last bit, about Apple's "aggressiveness in helping underage workers return to their familes." Um. Scary.

Here's Apple's page on supplier responsibility.

It's worth a little thought. Even the woman, Debbie Chan--who's doing the doc--appears to be using something like a MacBook at one point, and certainly a smartphone. I for one, generally only tend to think about where the products I use come from in a considerate, but kind of useless way. Which is to say I think, oh, worker's rights are important, let me check the news about that on my Vaio/iPod/Etc.


ttfn, readers.

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