Archive for March 15, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

What Went Wrong With Siri

Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin (9to5Mac, MacRumors, Mashable, Hacker News, iMore):

Many of the former employees acknowledged for the first time that Apple rushed Siri into the iPhone 4s before the technology was fully baked, setting up an internal debate that has raged since Siri’s inception over whether to continue patching up a flawed build or to rip it up and start from scratch.


Several former employees said Mr. Williamson made a number of decisions that the rest of the team disagreed with, including a plan to improve Siri’s capabilities only once a year.


Mr. Williamson wrote that he tried to get the team to implement SiriKit and allow for outside developers to improve Siri’s functionality, but the team resisted because Siri’s “original software was so brittle and inflexible.”


The Siri Data Services team was eventually lumped into the Topsy team under Mr. Prakash with the plan to integrate all of the tech into a single stack. But they’re based on two different programming languages and are tricky to reconcile. […] Users could get completely different responses to the same question based on whether they were using Siri or Spotlight[…]


Several members on the Siri team took an immediate disliking to Mr. Sinha, who had no background in the natural language processing world. One former employee said Mr. Sinha’s decisions seemed to be driven by office politics instead of science.


In a sign of how unprepared Apple was to deal with a rivalry, two Siri team members told The Information that their team didn’t even learn about Apple’s HomePod project until 2015—after Amazon unveiled the Echo in late 2014.

None of this is surprising based on what we’ve seen from the outside. Unfortunately, I do not see any evidence that Siri is about to turn the corner.

John Gruber:

If you’re not a subscriber and want to read the full article — and I encourage you to, there’s a lot in it — you can do so with this shared link if you’re willing to give The Information your email address.


The gist of The Information’s story is that Siri has existed for seven years without cohesive leadership or product vision, and the underlying technology is a mishmash of various systems that don’t work well together.

Jessica Lessin:

“After launch, Siri was a disaster,” Mr. Williamson wrote. “It was slow, when it worked at all. The software was riddled with serious bugs. Those problems lie entirely with the original Siri team, certainly not me.”

Dag Kittlaus (who left Apple for Viv):

This statement, wholly false, was made by the architect and head of the biggest launch disaster in Apple history, Apple Maps. In reality Siri worked great at launch but, like any new platform under unexpectedly massive load, required scaling adjustments and 24 hour workdays.

This matches my experience that Siri was more responsive initially. But I don’t understand why the load was unexpectedly massive. It required an iPhone 4S, and Apple must have known how many of those it could make.

John Bafford:

@AppleSupport @tim_cook Can you guys please make Siri responses A) consistent; B) straight and to the point, not cutesy. It is really irritating to hear meaningless filler like “the suspense is killing me” when setting a timer. Thanks.

Previously: The Original Siri App Compared to Siri Today.

Update (2018-03-15): See also: Dan Masters.

Update (2018-03-16): See also: Kontra (2012).

Update (2018-03-24): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Update (2018-03-29): See also: The Menu Bar.

Update (2018-03-31): Chance Miller:

Following last month’s release of HomePod, which puts Siri inside of a $349 smart speaker, Apple appears to be ramping up Siri hiring. According to hiring data tracked by Thinknum, job openings for Siri-related positions at Apple are at an all-time high…

Apple’s job listings indicate that it currently has 161 openings for jobs that contain the term “Siri” in their title or description.

Update (2018-04-14): Juli Clover:

Apple appears to have recently updated Siri on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and HomePod with a slew of new jokes to tell.

YouTube to Outsource Truth to Wikipedia


YouTube will accompany conspiracy theory videos with links to Wikipedia to better inform viewers, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference on Tuesday in Austin, Texas.


Wikipedia is a crowdsourced digital encyclopedia — anyone can edit it — and editors sometimes engage in fierce partisan battles over divisive topics. It remains unclear how YouTube will ensure factual accuracy of suggested pages. The reliability of Wikipedia’s information has been disputed over the years, as detailed on the encyclopedia’s page about its own reliability and its catalogue of hoaxes that have appeared there.

Similarly unclear is how “informational cues” might work for breaking news events, where subjects involved may not have a complete or even partial Wikipedia presence.

Melanie Ehrenkranz (Hacker News):

It’s unclear why YouTube didn’t feel the need to ask or inform Wikimedia about its plans ahead of this week’s announcement. That’s a pretty crucial piece of information not to share. And given that YouTube has failed at efficiently moderating conspiracy theories on its platform, it might have been smart to consult with Wikimedia about how to best use its resources to fight misinformation. Of course, maybe YouTube would’ve learned that showing users a Wikipedia link isn’t the best way to fight hoaxes.

See also: Ryan Mac.

Overcast 4.1 and Smart Resume

Marco Arment (tweet):

Smart Resume is actually two features:

  1. It jumps back by up to a few seconds after having been paused to help remind you of the conversation.
  2. It slightly adjusts resumes and seeks to fall in the silences between spoken words when reasonably possible.


I was using an NSNumberFormatter to read the total [time saved] value from Overcast’s server as a double. My server always sends values with U.S.-style number formatting, using a period as the decimal separator (e.g. “1234.5”). But by default, NSNumberFormatter uses the device’s locale, so in countries that use a comma as the decimal separator (e.g. “1234,5”), it was interpreting the server’s numbers with periods as invalid and returning zero. So the Settings screen thought they hadn’t saved any time, and hid the time-saved label.

Fortunately, it was an easy fix: setting that NSNumberFormatter locale to en_US to match what the server was sending.

Macro Arment:

My first instincts were all surface-level UI issues: string localization, nil strings, and UILabel sizeToFit problems.

Ryan Jones:

Overcast’s new Smart Resume feature has allowed me to turn voice turn-by-turn directions back on in Google Maps. Driving is easier (and safer – I don’t look down for next turn). I swear I’m not just saying this either. Honest truth.

Very small wins make products.

It’s amazing how much better Overcast—from a solo developer—still is than Apple’s Podcasts app. If anything, its lead seems to be increasing.

Marco Arment:

Thanks for all of the Smart Resume praise and press coverage!

To be clear, skipping back a bit after being paused isn’t a new idea. I think Instacast was first to it, years ago.

I think adjusting those (and other) seeks to fall on silences is new, though.

Jake Achée:

Overcast feature idea:

SmartStop. When enabled, wait for a silence that would normally be SmartSpeed optimized THEN stop.

Marco Arment:

I actually tried this during the beta, but it’s much more complex to implement than seek adjustments, and I couldn’t get it stable enough to ship in time.

Update (2018-03-30): Marco Arment:

If there’s any doubt why I file trademarks…

(Didn’t for Smart Resume, unfortunately.)

France to Take Legal Action Against App Stores

Bloomberg (MacRumors):

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday France will take legal action against Google and Apple and fines could be in the “million of euros”. Fines are likely to be about 2 million euros ($2.5 million) per company, accused of taking advantage of local developers. This comes after a two-year investigation by the ministry’s fraud repression unit, according to an official in Le Maire’s office.

“I learned that when developers develop their applications, and sell to Google and Apple, their prices are imposed, Google and Apple take all their data, Google and Apple can unilaterally rewrite their contracts,” Le Maire said in an interview with RTL radio. “All that is unacceptable and it’s not the economy that we want. They can’t treat our startups and developers the way they do.”

Update (2018-03-16): Pierre Lebeaupin:

I sure hope the actual suit is drawn from better information than what we’ve been given here, because while I’m on the record as deeming the current system of exclusive distribution through an app store (something which Google isn’t even guilty of) as being unsustainable in the long run, to have any hope of improving the situation through a suit Apple should be blamed for things it is actually doing. For instance, developers do not sell their wares to Apple (or Google) by any definition of that word, they do have to use a price grid but have full latitude to pick any spot in that grid, and Apple at least does not get that much data from apps.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I’m confused as to why so many reporting on this seem to be confused about the pricing comment. I would have expected it to be about price tiers and not being able to set specific prices, not about the 30% cut

Nicolas Lellouche:

That’s it actually. The French secretary is blaming Apple because developers are forced to choose between different prices. The 30% cut is not even discussed.

Brijit Sheelia:

They are just abusing us. They just removed my app (the original) instead of a copycat app..

Chance Miller (MacRumors):

In its statement, Apple explained that it has a relationship with “tens of thousands” of developers in France, who have collectively earned over 1 billion euros via the App Store. The company highlights how developers can start with a company of one or two people, but ultimately grow to a full team.

John Gruber:

And what’s the point of a $2 million fine? Last quarter Apple made $200 million in profit per day.

Previously: That 30% App Store Tax.

The Apple TV 4K’s HDR Nightmare

Josh Centers (tweet):

As much as it pains me to say this, Gene Munster was right. For years the former Piper Jaffray analyst was routinely mocked because at every Apple investor call, he would ask Apple leadership if they were planning to make an Apple-branded smart TV set. But after weeks of fighting to get HDR working with my Apple TV 4K, I’m convinced that if Apple intends to succeed in the TV business, the best thing to do would be to ship a television set that just worked. I’ve been writing and updating “Take Control of Apple TV” for four years now, so I know that if I’m flummoxed, the average user has little hope.


Imagine: no calibration, no special settings, nothing to twiddle with! Just sit down and watch TV in the best possible quality. Sure, it wouldn’t be Apple’s most profitable business, but neither is the current Apple TV.

Until that day comes, I’ve seen my family relying more and more on my Chromecast Ultra. It has no interface, and no settings as such — it just works.

Matt Birchler:

I would have paid $10 more to get The Last Jedi in 4K, but the option just isn’t there. This is a Disney thing more than an Apple thing though, as this is the case on all major storefronts.

Previously: Apple TV 4K, Still a Hobby, Cultural Insularity and Apple TV, No 4K iTunes Videos on iPad Pro or Mac.

iPhone Wireless Phone Charging Comes at a Cost: Your Battery

Sasha Lekach:

Kingsley-Hughes determined — based on Apple’s claim that an iPhone battery is “designed to retain up to 80 percent of its original capacity at 500 complete charge cycles” — that his phone would hit 500 charges in about a year and a half. Most phones are expected to keep a charge at 80 percent for two or three years of use.

In about six months, he’s already hit 135 charging cycles. He looked at his charging behavior and realized that since switching over to a wireless charging plate about six months ago, he was eating up his charges at an alarming rate. Now instead of the cord bearing the brunt of power duties, his battery is constantly working to charge. It’s a losing battle.

Other phone users on Android devices have their suspicions about heavy battery wear on the devices with inductive charging.

Dan Masters:

Fantastic. Basically, if you don’t want your phone throttled in less than a year, don’t use wireless charging.

iPhone wireless phone charging comes at a cost: battery health

My iPhone SE does not have wireless charging, but according to coconutBattery it has already dropped to less than 80% capacity after less than a year.

Previously: iPhone Charging Speeds Compared, iPhone 8, Qi Wireless Charging, and the Challenge of Open, Apple’s Message to Customers About iPhone Batteries and Performance.

Update (2018-03-29): I now realize I was misinterpreting coconutBattery’s display. My iPhone SE battery actually retains its full design capacity.

Update (2018-04-06): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.