An iOS Wish List

September 11th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

On the eve of Apple’s announcement of the next iPhone I find myself less curious about the new hardware than ever before. Partly this is due to an, at least by Apple standards, unprecedented number of hardware leaks that has all but spelled out exactly what the phone will look like1. This does not mean, however, that I’m am not look forward to the event as I am eagerly anticipating their software announcements. Even though they announced the majority of the iOS feature set back at WWDC I except them to have kept a few things in their back pocket. This happened last year with the announcement of Siri and while I don’t expect anything as big this year I’m still look forward to some new toys.


Better performance and access to third party apps are obvious items for anyone’s Siri wish list but I’m going to focus on things I want improved within the existing limits. Performance, after all, is a constant battle and opening up access to third party apps is a more complicated than we’d like to believe. Here are some things I would like to say to tell Siri.

  • Remind me to buy diapers 20 minutes after I get to work.2
  • Tell me when my wife leaves her current location.3
  • Add Alfred to Find My Friends.4
  • Remind me to fill out the TPS report when I get to work on friday.5
  • Turn on Bluetooth/WiFi.6

Notification Center

Notification Center is, in my mind, a great place to have fiddly little things that nerds like me love. Every time I have to cycle my WiFi or Bluetooth I am reminded that for certain tasks life is much better in the Android world. It seems to me that the Notification Center is the perfect place to add some quick settings. Anything that can be found in the Settings app can be pinned to the Notification Center for quick access. I’m envisioning little toggles, right on top. I’m sure people that use lots of accessibility settings would be over joyed at the prospect.

I would also like to see the widgets opened up to third party apps. It would be a great place to check sports scores or local traffic conditions.

Find My Friends

Why oh why is it so hard to add a friend on Find My Friends? Unless they are already adept at using the app I almost always have to physically take the phone from them and set it up. Why do I have to know the person’s AppleID? Most people I’ve added to the app gave me a blank stare when I asked them. Why can’t I just send them an iMessage or email that has a custom FMF URL?

I’d also like a way to setup location change alerts. I often find myself checking the app neurotically to see if someone has left their current location yet7. I know my wife does this regularly to find out if I have left work yet so she can start dinner. It would be great if she could simply setup an alert that told her every time I left work. Ideally it would be fiddly enough to only send a reminder after 5pm but that’s probably asking for too much.

Default Apps

This is by far my biggest pie in the sky hope that will probably never come to pass. I want to be able to change my default apps. I’ve come to the conclusion that while Apple makes fantastic eco systems I don’t much care for some of their apps. While they are typically elegant and easy to use8 I sometimes find them to be more like “proof of concept”. They begrudgingly add features like threaded emails and sometimes do so in an inelegant or even insulting manner. I picture a cranky old man sitting at a desk saying “fine, you want this dumb feature *scribble* *scribble* *scribble*, there is your damn feature!” The App store has proven that Apple is far from the only source of innovation out there and I’d like them to get out of the way.

To do this they need to allow users to replace the system apps with third party apps much like we can do on desktop operating systems. This would mean that when I say “Siri, remind me to bake a cake” it could set that up in Due. It would mean that the next Sparrow could have push notifications and that Agenda would be able to sync without having to be launched regularly. The most dramatic change would be the browser since “Open in Safari” can be found in so many apps. To me Chrome is useless because it can’t actually replace Safari.

If implemented right it could even result in a more secure ecosystem for users. I’m envisioning a system where you would still setup your email in the Settings app and the mail client you installed wouldn’t even have access to them. It would simply hit the API and ask it to download the emails. Obviously we would be able to replace all Apps but here is my list in order of preference.

  1. It appears that Apple’s success has been it’s own downfall in their attempt to “double down on secrecy”. I’m assuming that they are producing iPhone 5’s at an unprecedented rate and each new layer in the supply chain is a potential information sieve. []
  2. There are other apps that let you do this but since they don’t have Siri integration they aren’t as easy to add new items []
  3. I’m thinking this would require an upgrade to Find My Friends and there are privacy issues with that so it would require a password to finalize. []
  4. The current method for adding friends to the app is even more miserable than trying to manually setup a location based reminder in Reminders. []
  5. Currently you can not have a location based reminder that also has a date requirement. []
  6. It’s sad that this would be easier than the current 62 taps it takes []
  7. Not in a creepy way, I swear. For reals. []
  8. Notable exceptions being Find My Friends & Reminders []
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Siri, the little things that make a big difference

December 1st, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink


The nice version of HAL 9000

I believe that in 30 years most of us will look back at Siri as the birth of true artificial intelligence (AI). For the first time we can talk to a computer. I’m not talking about voice commands where the computer recognizes a few words and does a ridiculously poor job of interpreting them; I’m talking about a computer that takes natural English and figures out what underlying commands you want it to perform. Below you will find some of my favorite uses that were not shown in the Siri ads. The obvious examples like “Read me my text message” and “Call my wife” are great but are only useful when you aren’t able to look at the device; I want to touch on the myriad of uses that trump using your thumbs.

Call The Natural Cafe

One of my favorite examples of natural language interpretation is when you ask Siri to call a business that you don’t have in your address book. Here I asked Siri to “Call the Natural Cafe”. Any other voice command software would have said either “I can’t find a natural cafe in your address book” or even worse “Calling Nathan Cole”. Siri, on the other hand, somehow recognized that I want a business and used Yelp to search for “The Natural Cafe”. She then went the extra mile and returned just the right amount of information. Business Name and the Street it’s on along with distance from my current position as well as the average review rating. Within about 10 seconds of pulling my phone out of my pocket it’s dialing a number that would have taken an experienced user a minute to retrieve, never mind a novice.

Siri starting a timer

Siri getting cheeky

By far the most common thing I ask Siri to do is start my timer. Like most things in life I’m very particular about how long my green tea brews and I’ve always relied upon some sort of timer to get it just right. I’ve used web apps, kitchen timers and iPhone apps but nothing compares to the ease of using Siri. Sometimes she even likes to get a little cute with me as she did here. I’ve also taken to using Siri to start my timer while I’m cooking. Using headphones my phone came with I can just hold down the button until I hear a beep and say “Start a 20 minute timer”. No more burnt cookies.

Siri Reminder

Location Aware Reminders

Ok this one is in the ads but it’s just too damn useful to pass up. All I have to say is “Remind me to call my sister when I get home” and when I get home the phone will buzz and pop up a handy little link that dials my sister. Don’t gloss over the when you get home part as it’s simply amazing. Some would even call it magic. Now, technically you don’t need Siri to set this up, you just need iOS 5, but doing so manually is quite tedious. By my count it’s a minimum of 10 taps plus typing out the actual reminder and I don’t know of a way to add a contact to the reminder which means no handy link. This is my 2nd most common use of Siri but by far the biggest time saver. It’s amazing how much more reliable I have become at completing items on my never ending honey-do list.

Siri Unit Conversion

How many ounces in a pint?

Back when I had a Nokia feature phone I discovered the wonders of searching Google via SMS (text message) and by far the most common thing I used it for was converting things from one unit to another. If I was cooking a special recipe I would bring an ingredients list and there would inevitably be some ingredient that would need to be converted. For example the recipe might say “1 pint” but the bottle in the store would be measured in fluid ounces. I was very proud of myself for being able to Google such a thing back in 2004 but the process was still a bit tedious. Even on my iPhone typing such a thing out accurately was something of a chore. Siri makes it the most trivial of tasks. You can also use it for converting currency which sounds like a great travel aid.

Siri understanding spanish words

I had no idea how to spell pasilla

I was having dinner at a friend’s house shortly after I unboxed my iPhone 4S and my wife, a little tired of the praise I was heaping on my new girlfriend, said “Well ask here if she knows what the difference between Pasilla and Pablano chilies is”. Of course Siri doesn’t know such an esoteric thing but I thought I would give it a try to push the language interpretation a bit and I was quite surprised when she got every single word correct. I now use Siri for any Google search that requires more than two words. I have also found myself asking her questions in plain English which can yield surprisingly good Google results. I also enjoy the look of incredulity I get from people I start talking to my phone like I’m a character in Star Trek. Siri rarely lets me down.

Correcting Siri

Not quite right Siri

The last tip I’ll leave you with comes in handy when Siri doesn’t quite get it right. I have found that 90% of the time she gets something wrong that word or phrase is underlined in red. Give that word a tap and she usually suggest the one you were looking for. Even if it’s not there the keyboard pops up and you can correct it. So even in this worst case scenario1 you are still saved time by not typing out most of your query.

  1. Well, worst case scenario is obviously when Siri can’t do anything because of either internet connectivity problems or an overloaded server but lets not be pedantic. []
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