Category Archives: Apple

Revisiting iTunes with HomePod

Like many I’ve been using iTunes since it’s first versions. Over the past year that use dwindled a great deal as my music playing was mostly via Music on an iOS device. And in the couple years before that I’d been using Plex on iOS devices and AppleTV to access my iTunes library on the Mac because, frankly, the home sharing was pretty crappy. Alternatively, I would also use the remote app on an iOS devices to control iTunes on the Mac which also worked pretty well. The downside was that I didn’t have a decent speaker. I alternated between various (and cheap) computer and/or bluetooth speakers and the built-in TV speakers. None of them were great but they were tolerable. I live in a fairly small space, a “tiny house” so even poor to average speakers sound okay.

Today I’ve got the HomePod and after a year of enjoying Apple Music on iPads and iPhone I’ve added lots of music that I usually just stream, often from my recently played or heavy rotation lists. But two things have surfaced now that I’ve been using HomePod for a few days. First, as I mentioned in my review of HomePod, I’m not very good at choosing music without a visual cue. Second, I live in a rural location and when my satellite data allotment runs out streaming Apple Music becomes less dependable. Sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes not. Such was the case last night. So, after a year away from the iTunes library on my Mac I opened the Apple Remote app. I set the output for iTunes to the HomePod and spent some time with my “old” music all streaming to the best speaker I’ve ever owned. So nice.

This morning it occurred to me that while I’m back on my “bonus” data (2am-8am) I should consider downloading some of the music I’ve added to my library over the past few months of discovery through Apple Music. And in looking at that list I see all that with each month or two, as I’ve discovered new music the previous new discovery’s roll out of my attention span. There are “new” things I discovered 5 months ago that I enjoyed but then forgot. It’s a great problem to have! So I’ve spent the morning downloading much of the music I’ve added to my library over the past year. I never intended to actually download any of it as the streaming has worked so well. But with the HomePod I see now that keeping my local iTunes/Music library up-to-date has great benefit.

Remote App

So, how well does this new music playing process work? I rarely touch my Mac. It’s a server and I use it for a few design projects that I cannot do on my iPad. So, as mentioned above, I’ve been using the original iOS “Remote” app which opens up an iTunes like interface and which works very well to choose music on the Mac which plays via AirPlay to HomePod. Of course I can still use Siri on the HomePod to do all of its normal features. The only thing I do on the Remote app is choose the music. Apple’s not done much with the interface of that app so it looks pretty dated at this point. Actually, it looks very much like iTunes but a slightly older version of iTunes. But even so being able to easily browse by albums, artists, songs, playlists is very comfortable. It fits a little better to my lifelong habit of choosing music visually.

Why not just access my local iTunes music via the Home Sharing tab in Apple Music app on my iPad or iPhone which could then be AirPlayed to the HomePod? I guess this would  be the ideal as it would allow me to stay in the Apple Music app. Just as the Remote app allows for browsing my Mac’s music library so too does the Music app. But performance is horrendous. When I click the Home Sharing tab and then the tab for my Mac Mini I have to wait a minimum of a minute, sometimes more for the music to show up. Sometimes it never shows up. If I tap out of the Home Sharing library I have to wait again the next time I try to view it. It’s terrible. By contrast, the Remote app loads music instantly. There is, at most, a second of lag.

But what’s even worse is that the Music app does not even show any of the Apple Music I’ve downloaded to my local iTunes library. It really is a terrible experience and I’m not sure why Apple has done it this way. So, the Remote app wins easily as it actually let’s me play all of my new music and does so with an interface that updates instantly even if it is dated.

I suspect that my new routine will be to use Apple Music and discovery via Apple’s playlists and suggested artists when I’m out walking which is usually a minimum of an hour a day. My favorite discoveries will get downloaded to my local library and when at home I’ll spend more time accessing my iTunes library via the remote app. All in all, I suspect that I’ll be enjoying more of my library, old and new, with this new mix and of course, all of it on this great new speaker!

HomePod: Sometimes great, sometimes just grrrrrrrrrrr.

Tuesday Morning
I’m getting out of bed as two dogs eagerly await a trip outside which they know will be followed by breakfast. I ask Siri to play the Postal Service. She responds: “Here you go” followed by music by the Postal Service. The music is at about 50% volume. Nice. But in three full days of use I’m feeling hesitant about HomePod and the Siri within. And the next moment illustrates why. I slip on my shoes and jacket and ask Siri to Pause. The music continues. I say it louder and the iPhone across the room pipes up: “You’ll need to unlock your iPhone first.” I ignore the iPhone and look directly at HomePod (5 feet away) and say louder as I get irritated “Hey Siri, pause!” Nothing. She does not hear me (maybe she’s  enjoying the music?). By now, the magic is long gone and is replaced by frustration. I raise my voice to the next level which is basically shouting and finally HomePod responds and pauses the music. Grrr.

I go outside with my canine friends and upon return ask Siri to turn off the porch light. The iPhone across the room responds and the light goes off. I ask her to play and the HomePod responds and the Postal Service resumes. I get my coffee and iPad and sit down to finish off this review. I lay the iPhone face down so it will no longer respond to Hey Siri. Then I say, Hey Siri, set the volume to 40%. Nothing. I say it louder and my kitchen light goes off followed by Siri happily saying “Good Night Enabled”. Grrrrrrrrrrrr. I say Hey Siri loudly and wait for the music to lower then say “set the Kitchen light to 40%” and she does. The music resumes and I say Hey Siri and again I wait then I say “Play the Owls” and she does. I’d forgotten that I also wanted to lower the volume. But see how this all starts to feel like work? There’s nothing magical or enjoyable about this experience.

Here’s what I wrote Sunday morning as I worked on this review:

“When I ordered the HomePod I had no doubt I would enjoy it. Unlike so many that have bemoaned the missing features I was happy to accept it for what Apple said it was. A great sounding speaker with Apple Music and Siri. Simple.

It really is that simple. See how I did that? Apple offered the HomePod and I looked at the features and I said yes please.

I then proceeded to write a generally positive review which is below and which was based on my initial impressions based on 1.5 days of use. By Monday I’d edited to add in more details, specifically the few failures I’d had with Siri and the frustration of iPhone answering when I didn’t want it to.

I went into the HomePod expecting a very positive experience. And it’s mostly played out that way. But it’s interesting that by Tuesday morning my expectation of failure and frustration have risen. Not because HomePod is becoming worse. I’d say it’s more about the gradual accumulation of failures. They are the exception to the rule but happen often enough to create a persistent sense of doubt.

Set-up
As has been reported. It’s just like the AirPods. I was done in two minutes. I did nothing other than plug it in and put my phone next to it. I tapped three or four buttons and entered a password. Set-up could not possibly be any easier.

Siri
In a few days of use I’m happy to report that HomePod has performed very well. In almost every request I have made Siri has provided exactly what I asked. My hope and expectation would be that Siri on HomePod would hear my requests at normal room voice. While iPad and iPhone both work very well, probably at about 85% accuracy I have to be certain to speak loudly if I’m at a distance. Not a yell1, but just at or above normal conversational levels. With HomePod on a shelf in my tiny house, Siri has responded quickly and with nearly 100% accuracy and that’s with music playing at a fairly good volume. Not only do I not have to raise my voice, I’ve been careful to keep it at normal conversational tones or slightly lower. I’ll say that my level is probably slightly lower than what most people in the same room would easily understand with the music playing.

For the best experience with any iOS device I’ve learned not to wait for Siri. I just say Hey Siri and naturally continue with the rest of my request. This took a little practice because earlier on I think Siri required a slight pause or so it seemed. Not any more. But there’s no doubt, Siri is still makes mistakes even when requesting music which is supposedly her strongest skill set.

The first was not surprising. I requested music by Don Pullen, a jazz musician that a friend recommended. I’d never listened to him before and no matter how I said his name Siri just couldn’t get it. She couldn’t do it from iPhone or iPad either. Something about my pronunciation? I tried, probably 15 times with no success. I did however discover several artists with names that sound similar to Don Pullen. I finally turned on type to Siri and typed it in and sure enough, it worked. I expect there are other names, be they musicians or things outside of Music that Siri just has a hard time understanding. I’ve encountered it before but not too often. The upside, the next morning I requested Don Pullen and Siri correctly played Don Pullen. Ah, sweet relief. A sign that she is “learning”?

Another fail that seems like a learning process for Siri, the first time I requested REM Unplugged 1991/21: The Complete Sessions she failed because I didn’t have the full name. I just said REM Unplugged and she started playing a radio station for REM. When I said the album’s full name it worked. I went back a few hours later and just said REM Unplugged and it worked. Again, my hope is that she learns what it is I’m listening to so that in the future a long album name or a tricky artist name will not confuse her. Will see see how it plays out (literally!).

Yet another failure, and this one really surprised me. I’ve listened to the album “Living Room Songs” by Olafur Arnalds quite a bit. I requested Living Room Songs and she began playing the album Living Room by AJR. Never heard of it, never listened to it. So, that’s a BIG fail. There’s nothing difficult about understanding “Living Room Songs” which is an album in my “Heavy Rotation” list. That’s the worst kind of fail.

One last trouble spot worth mentioning. I have Hey Siri turned on on both my iPhone and Apple Watch. Most of the time the HomePod picks up but not always. On several occasions both the phone and watch have responded. I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping the phone face down but I shouldn’t have to remember to do that. I definitely see room for improvement on this.

I’ve requested the other usual things during the day with great success: the latest news, played the most recent episode of one of my regular podcasts, gotten the weather forecast, current temperature, sent a few texts, used various Homekit devices, checked the open hours of a local store and created a few reminders. It all worked the first time.

There were a couple of nice little surprises. In changing the volume, it’s possible to just request that it be “turned up a little bit” or “down a little bit”. I’m guessing that there is a good bit of that natural language knowledge built in and we only ever discover it by accident. Also, I discovered that when watching video on the AppleTV, if the audio is set to HomePod, Siri works for playback control so there’s no need for the Apple remote! This works very well. Not only can Siri pause playback but fast forward and rewind as well.

Audio Quality
Of course Apple has marketed HomePod first and foremost as a high quality speaker, a smart Siri speaker second. I agree with the general consensus that the audio quality is indeed superb. For music and as a sound system for my tv, I am very satisfied. My ears are not as well tuned as some so I don’t hear the details of the 3D “soundstage” that some have described. I subscribe to Apple Music so that’s all that matters to me and it works very well. Other services or third party podcast apps, can be played from a Mac or iOS device via AirPlay to HomePod. I also use Apple’s Podcast app (specifically for the Siri integration) so it’s not an issue for me.

Voice First: Tasks and Music
The idea of voice first computing has caught on among some in the tech community who are certain that it is the future. I certainly have doubts. Even assuming perfect hardware that always hears perfectly and parses natural language requests perfectly (we’re not there yet) I certainly have problems with the cognitive load of voice computing. I’ll allow that it might just be a question of retraining our minds for awhile. It’s probably also a process of figuring out which things are better suited for voice. Certain tasks are super easy and tend to work with Siri via whatever device. This is the list of usual things people are doing because they require very little thinking: setting timers, alarms, reminders, controlling devices, getting the weather.

But let’s talk about HomePod and Siri as a “musicologist” for a moment. An interesting thing about playing music, at least for me, is I often don’t know what it is I want to play. When I was a kid I had a crate of records and a box of cassette tapes. I could easily rattle off 10 to 20 of my current favorites. Overtime it changed and the list grew. But it was always a list I could easily remember. Enter iTunes and eventually Apple Music. My music library has grown by leaps and bounds. My old favorites are still there but they are now surrounded by a seemingly endless stream of possibility. In a very strange way, choosing music is now kind of difficult because it’s overwhelming. On the one hand I absolutely love discovering new music. I’m listening to music I never would have known of were it not for Apple Music. I’ve discovered I actually like certain kinds of jazz. I’m listening to an amazing variety of ambient and electronic music. Through playlists I’ve discovered all sorts of things. But if I don’t have a screen in front of me the chances of remembering much of it is nil. If I’m lucky I might remember the name of a playlist but even that is difficult as there are so many being offered up.

So while music on the HomePod sounds fantastic when it’s playing I often have these moments of “what next?” And in those moments my mind is often blank and I need a screen to see what’s possible. I’m really curious to know how other people who are using voice only music devices decide what they want to play next.

Conclusion
There isn’t one. This is the kind of device that I want to have. I’m glad I have it. I enjoy it immensely. It is a superb experience until it isn’t which is when I want to throw it out a window. Hey Apple, thanks?


  1. Well, sometimes a yell is actually required. ↩︎

Using HomeKit

Smart Plugs
Last spring I finally purchased my first smart plug, a Homekit compatible plug from KooGeek. It worked. I bought a second. A few weeks later the local Walmart had the isp6 HomeKit compatible plugs from iHome on sale. Only $15. I bought three. My plan was to use these with lights and to have one for my A/C in the summer to be swapped out to the heater in my well-house in the winter. I’m pretty stingy in my use of energy so in the winter I make it a point to keep that heater off and only turn it on when when I must which requires a good bit of effort on my part. I don’t mind the walking out to the well house as I can always use the steps but it’s the mental tracking of it and the occasional forgetting that is bothersome. Having a smart plug makes it convenient to power it on and off but I’m still having to remember to keep tabs.

Automations
Enter automations. The Home app gets better with each new version. By using automations it is now possible to automate a scene or a device or multiple devices at specific times or sunset/sunrise or a set time after sunset/sunrise or before. Very handy for a morning light but not too helpful for my well-house heater. But wait, I can also set-up an automation for a plug based on a Homekit sensor such as the iHome 5-in-1 Smart Monitor. I put the monitor in the well-house and create an automation to turn on the heater if the temperature dips to 32. I’ve turned my not-so-smart heater into a smarter one which will keep my water from freezing with no effort from myself. Even better, it will reduce my electricity use because of it’s accuracy.

I have a similar dumb heater in my tiny house as well as a window A/C. I might use the same monitor to more accurately control heating and cooling in here. Currently I do that with constant futzing with controls and looking at a simple analog thermometer. It would be an improvement to just have a set temperature to trigger devices.

Lights
I’ve been avoiding purchasing Homekit compatible lights because most, such as those from Phillips, also required purchase of a hub. Also, cost was a bit much. My reasoning being that if I just pick-up smart plugs as they are on sale I can use those for lights or anything else. Cheaper and more versatile. That said, one benefit of the lights is that they can be dimmed which is appealing. So, two weeks ago I picked up one of Sylvania’s Smart bulbs. It works perfectly. I’ll likely get another but in my tiny house I don’t need that many lights so two dimmable bulbs will likely be enough. It’s very nice to be able to ask Siri to set the lights at 40% or 20% or whatever. I have an automation that kicks on the light to 15% at my wake-up time. Very nice to wake up to a very low, soft light. With a simple request I can then ask Siri to raise the brightness when I’m actually ready to get out of bed.

Lighting Automations
An hour after sunrise I’ve got another set of LEDs that kick on for all of my houseplants that sit on two shelves by the windows. An hour after sunset those lights go off and at the same time the dimmable light comes on at 50%.

Home
All of the set-up happens via the built in iOS Home app. It’s a fairly easy to use app that gets better with each new version of iOS. My set-up is pretty simple but Home is designed to scale up with larger homes with more rooms and devices. In my case, I’ve go the Home app split screen with Apple Music on my iPad Air 2. It’s on a shelf within easy reach of my usual sitting spot on my futon/bed. While I do most interaction via Siri or automation it’s nice to have easy visual access. Especially handy for monitoring the well house heater and temperature. Having Music open and ready to play to a speaker via AirPlay is very nice.

AppleTV as Hub
Of course, to really make this work a hub is required. A recent iPad running iOS 10 or one of the newer AppleTVs will work. I’m using the AppleTV because I’ve always got one on. Set-up was easy and I’ve never had to futz with it. The nice thing about this set-up is that I can access my Homekit devices from anywhere. Whether I’m in town or visiting family or out for a walk, checking or changing devices is just a couple taps or request from Siri.

HomePod
Last is the device that has not arrived yet. My HomePod is set to arrive February 9. I don’t need it for any of this to work but I suspect it will be a nice addition. Controlling things with Hey Siri has always worked pretty well for me though I suspect it will be even better with HomePod. Will find out soon.

Hey Siri, give me the news

Ah, it’s just a little thing but it’s a little thing I’ve really wanted since learning of a similar feature on Alexa. In fact, I just mentioned it in yesterday’s post. We knew this was coming with HomePod and now it’s here for the iPad and iPhone too. Just ask Siri to give you the news and she’ll respond by playing a very brief NPR news podcast. It’s perfect, exactly what I was hoping for. I’ve already made it a habit in the morning, then around lunch and again in the evening.

One Year with Apple AirPods

It was a year ago that began selling the AirPods and they were sold out instantly. In fact, it was difficult to get them for months as Apple struggled to keep up with demand. Production finally caught in mid-summer up only to fall behind in recent weeks as holiday demand surged. I ordered mine within minutes of them going on sale so was lucky enough to get in on the first shipment. I’ve worn them many times a day every day since they arrived.

It’s been said by many over the past year that the AirPods were their favorite Apple product in recent memory. There’s no doubt, they are a delight to use. For anyone that enjoys music or podcasts on the go, especially those with an iPhone or Apple Watch, these are well worth the cost.

A few highlights:

  • They stay in my ears very well and many report the same thing. Even if the fit is not perfect, because there is no wire tugging, they tend to stay put.
  • The batteries last 3-4 hours and recharge very quickly in the case which lasts for 3-4 days.
  • Siri works fantastically.
  • Phone calls are great. The mic does a great job of cancelling out background noise providing clean audio for the person I’m talking to.
  • With the occasional oddball exception, they pair up quickly with whatever device I’m trying to use. Usually iPhone or AppleWatch, sometimes an iPad.
  • I’m often streaming music from my iPhone to the AppleTV. When I head out for a walk I pop the AirPods in and the music switches to them with no action from me. That’s the kind of magic that makes me smile.
  • They rarely drop the connection and have a pretty fantastic range. I often step outside my tiny house, forgetting the phone inside (sometimes leaving it deliberately) and can take care of little tasks such as refilling bird feeders, watering plants on the deck, etc. A 30 foot range is pretty typical. At about 40 feet they start to drop a bit.
  • I use them a lot with Siri to control audio especially in the winter when my phone is in a pocket, I’m wearing gloves and the watch is under layers of clothing. I often tap through hats and hoods to activate Siri and it works great to change artist, repeat a song, skip forward, etc. Same to answer or initiate a call.
  • I have not lost them. They are in my ears or in the case. The case is on a shelf (they have their spot) or in my pocket. Basically I treat them the same way I treat other little things such as my keys.

HomePod Pricing

It’s always funny when journalists give advice to Apple. Here’s Shira Ovide at Bloomberg who suggest Apple’s HomePod is priced too high:

But if Apple truly wants to become more than a hardware company, it needs to think different — to steal from a Steve Jobs advertising campaign. It needs the quality of its digital music service, mapping app, Siri, future web video products and more to be up to par and not only good enough to help differentiate its hardware from that of rivals. Apple doesn’t necessarily need to sell $50 Siri speakers. But if Apple wants its software and internet offerings to stand on their own, then it needs to borrow from Amazon and Google and make the hardware a means to an end — and rethink gadget prices, too.

The same thing was said about the AirPods. But interestingly Apple has been selling AirPods so quickly that they have barely been able to produce enough of them to keep up with demand. Apple never engages in the race to the bottom as we see is now happening between Amazon and Google as their smart speaker prices fall lower and lower. The market is flooded with dirt-cheap tablets but iPads continue to sell at normal iPad prices. Same goes for the AppleWatch. And the iPhone X. The list goes on.

It always surprises me that journalists and analysts get to keep their jobs regardless of how consistently wrong they are.

Given the number of bluetooth speakers that are available in the $300+ range I consider the HomePod at less than $400 a bargain. Unlike a bluetooth speaker which does nothing but play music piped in from nearby device, a HomePod is a self-contained speaker capable of not only pulling down it’s own music via the internet but will also allow for playing from iPhones, iPads, AppleTVs. Not to mention all the features that come along with Siri and the convenience of voice control.

HomePod and the Siri Ecosystem

homepod-white-shelf

I’ve recently written about my hopes for a more proactive Siri. I’ve written about Siri quite a bit over the past couple years and it’s been mostly positive. Frankly, I think “she” is pretty fantastic and I call upon her many times a day. I remember when a friend first showed me his Echo a couple years back. I instantly wanted a Siri powered speaker by Apple. I’ve been waiting ever since. I will buy the HomePod the day it becomes available. No hesitation and with the same excitement and for the same reasons as I bought the AirPods the minute they were available: music, podcasts, Siri.

But much of the tech press has another take on the voice assistant market. Over the past couple of years it’s become fashionable in the tech media, especially among the Apple nerds that love to pride themselves on their very high standards, to complain about Siri while holding up high Alexa and the Echo1.

Interestingly, Pew has recently come out with an article on the very issue of voice assistants by Americans. Not too surprisingly 46% use voice assistants and of that 42% access via smartphone. 14% access via computer or tablet. Only 8% access via a stand-alone device such as an Echo. My own experience and observation of family mirror this. Practically all of my extended family have and use Siri on a myriad of devices on a daily basis. But in that same group the Echo is only in one household.

There are a few exceptions to the common chorus of the bandwagon and two of my favorites are Daniel Erin Dilger and Neil Cybart. They offer a more mature, big picture analysis. It’s less about whether or not they are personally pleased with how a product suits them but more about the larger context and trends. They seem to do a much better job of taking into account how the potential interactions of the larger public will play out.

I agree with their recent analysis of the HomePod, digital assistants and devices. Their posts were less about Siri and more about the varied form factors of devices through which digital assistants are accessed as well as the larger function of those devices.

First, Daniel Erin Dilger over at AppleInsider recently discussed the intent of Apple’s upcoming HomePod. I agree with his take on it, nicely summarized by the article title, Apple’s HomePod isn’t about Siri, but rather the future of home audio. He does a great job of digging into the difference in the intended function of the devices. Specifically, the role of the devices in the home. This bit comparing the audio quality of HomePod to the Echo made me giggle:

It’s an emotional experience, which is exactly what Apple has been increasingly pursuing as it enhances its products. Amazon Alexa isn’t an emotional experience; it’s an intellectual one. It’s a polite conversation with a librarian who moonlights as a sales agent at an online warehouse and plays songs with the fidelity of a clock radio.”

Over at Above Avalon Neil Cybart recently wrote a post in which he explores, in part, the bias of the media in relation to the perceived success of the platforms and ecosystems. As he has in the past, he does an excellent job of providing some context about where the market is at based on numbers rather than the din emanating from the excited bandwagon.

We are in the midst of a massive mindshare bubble involving stationary smart speakers in the home. While the press talk up the category with near breathless enthusiasm and positivity, there is a growing amount of evidence that stationary smart speakers powered by digital voice assistants do not represent a paradigm shift in computing. Instead, the stationary smart speaker’s future is one of an accessory, and it will be surpassed in prominence by wearables. It’s time to call out the stationary smart speaker market for what it is: a mirage.

On more than one occasion Neil has compared the consistent praise heaped upon the Echo as compared to the criticism put upon the Apple Watch which, in terms of sales, has not only sold more units but at a greater profit. Amazon is practically giving away its Echo devices. Put another way, in terms of the number of form factors offered by each ecosystem, Apple’s is far more diverse and as a result, more useful and it’s also making a profit for the company.

Another of my favorites and the host of the Vector Podcast, Rene Ritchie, has recently covered the topic with guests in two different episodes.

The first, in which Rene interviewed Jan Dawson in episode 18, mirrored the points made Neil Cybart. Jan points out that contrary to the fixation on the Echo, it’s actually Siri that has the largest number of users. The only way that Apple appears to be behind is if we focus only on home speaker hardware such as the Echo, a market Apple has yet to enter but will enter in early 2018. But he correctly points out that Alexa-based hardware, as a share of the voice assistant market, is actually very small. He also makes the point that voice, as a computer UI, is still only one in a larger pool of UIs and that it is often not appropriate for use in many settings.

In the second, Rene interviews Ben Bajarin in episode 35. In this second interview Ben Bajarin disagrees somewhat the the above three takes. He suggests that there is a large and growing market for what he calls ambient computing. He suggests that Google is in the weakest position with search being it’s differentiator. Amazon is in a very good position with it’s differentiator being commerce. He goes on to say that Apple is very much a part of the market and that it’s differentiator is communications and service. He also suggests that while Apple is already in the game he looks for them to do more a lot more.

In the second half of the interview there is a great conversation about Siri’s future. Ben Contends that Siri is already quite good and that the general public is largely satisfied with it. They then delve into machine learning for Siri and the line that Apple is walking in regards to differential privacy as a technique for collecting large-scale social data and how this contrasts with more personalized data as the base for machine learning. It’s a great conversation.

I’m with Ben that I hope Apple can figure out how to better personalize it’s approach. In short, many of us trust Apple with our data and would like Apple to use it for a more fine-tuned machine learning for individuals. Their discussion concludes on the problem of making Siri in the HomePod work in the context of families. How can a communal device be used in both a communal context and an personal one? Or can it?

It will be interesting to see how the Apple’s Siri ecosystem evolves. While Amazon is offering various Echo devices all of which are tied to the home2, Apple offers global distribution in many languages in form factors ranging from wearables to pocketable to carried and soon, a stationary, home device. In the Apple ecosystem I am connected to Siri and thus, a variety of services, all of the time. Or, more precisely, anywhere I have an internet connection which, these days is almost everywhere I am. In other words, Siri is already providing, to a great degree, ambient voice-controlled computing.

This plethora of devices has me covered in a variety of circumstances but I’m curious to see how that works in the home with the HomePod. I’ll have an iPhone and iPad sitting within range all the time. The watch on my wrist and the HomePod somewhere in the room. What will happen when I say “Hey Siri”? I’m just one person in a tiny house. I’m also curious what happens when you have 4 or 5 family members each with devices in a larger house. Currently Siri does a good job of responding only to the device owner and even does a pretty good job of responding with the right device when several “Hey Siri” devices are within range. I assume this will be no different when the HomePod is introduced.

The new year is around the corner and with it the HomePod. I’m looking forward to trying it out. I don’t doubt that Apple is working on making all of it’s Siri devices work well together. I’ve got a spot on my shelf waiting for the new arrival.


  1. I‘ve come to dislike the Apple-oriented echo-chamber because they seem to approach every new thing from a very narrow perspective. To my ears and eyes, it comes off as snobbery. ↩︎
  2. And just a handful of countries ↩︎

What’s a computer

In one of Apple’s latest iPad ads we see a student exploring the city and making great use of an iPad in various locations. It’s a fantastic example of the many ways an iPad can be used. I think this is my favorite iPad ad to date. It’s a tool for exploring and creating. Good stuff.

Apple Watch Series 3

I never write reviews. There are plenty of folks doing that sort of thing. But I often post a few brief thoughts on new purchases.

I’ve not been a watch wearer in many years. And with the iPhone felt even less of a need to have one. I don’t need a watch given that I always have the phone with me. Since it’s release the Apple Watch has been only a slight interest for me, primarily in terms of it’s health application. But with Apple Music and AirPods the interest grew. The prospect of being able to get out for walks and still enjoy music and track steps without the phone was appealing.

I finally decided to give it a go with the Apple Watch Series 3 and I’ve not been disappointed.

I bought it with LTE but haven’t used the LTE much. I’m on Sprint and the signal here is a bit weak and so often times the watch doesn’t have an LTE signal. Not a big problem. I usually have the phone with me anyway. I do a lot of walking and outside work around the cabin and the watch continues to work as fitness tracker and for the Apple Music with our without a cell signal or nearby phone.

As a fitness tracker the watch is great. I’d expected that having the rings would be an additional motivator and that’s true. I didn’t have a problem getting in 10,000 steps on a regular basis but I knew that that was not the complete picture. The rings also provide a nice tracker of intensity, particularly the green ring. Turns out I can get all the steps and fill the red ring but not fill the green because 30 minutes of exercise requires a certain intensity, a higher level of exertion. So, now I don’t just get my steps I also make sure to quicken my pace for some of my walks. I’ve also learned that cutting grass with my electric push mower burns a lot more calories than I realized due to increased intensity.

Nice.

Music on the watch with the AirPods is excellent and honestly, LTE is not required. The watch easily syncs music when plugged in and attached to Wifi. By default it syncs Apple playlists such as New Music, Favorites, and Chill as well as any recent/often listened to music. I can also add any playlist I want. The result is that I have yet to need streaming when playing from the watch. The watch also works as a great remote if I happen to be playing music from the iPhone.

I’m not using many apps aside from Music and the fitness related apps. I’ve got Carrot Weather which is nice and I’ve found Messages pretty useful.

Last is Siri which probably could have come first. I use Siri a lot. Many times a day and Siri on the Watch is fantastic! Very fast and accurate. Possibly better than any other Apple device. A very pleasant surprise. I’ve now got Siri on my wrist, my phone and two always on iPads. Whether I’m scheduling an event, fast forwarding a podcast, creating a reminder or turning off the lights it is rare that I do not get the response I want.

As I wrote above, I’ve not been a watch wearer in a long time. But I am a Star Trek nerd and honestly, when I saw this LTE equipped watch in the keynote a couple months ago my brain just sort of tweaked. From the iPhone to iPad, we’ve had several years of amazing technology that seems like it belongs to the future. This watch is another part of that ecosystem, even smaller and less obtrusive than it’s larger siblings.

I think  wearing a tiny computer on my wrist is a habit I’ll be getting used to.

Catching Up

Wow. It’s been on my mind that I’d not posted to either of my blogs recently. September 29th since my last here. Jeesh.

A few things I’d like to address in upcoming posts. A few thoughts on recent Apple tech purchases, namely the Series 3 watch and the iPhone X. Oh, and I finally took a chance on the Brydge keyboard for the 12.9” iPad. Thus all three have proven to be excellent choices though it’s still early. More soon.