Siri, write this article for me!

December 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Smartphones

That’s what I tried to tell her her anyway, to write this article for me, because it is a she isn’t it-that new voice control system that comes with Apple’s iPhone 4S? The name Siri doesn’t really give away the gender and the default voice is female, so let’s sick to that.

The day will come, although it’s still quite far away, when I can tell Siri to write a 500 word article on a particular topic and she will do just that. And I suspect I will get to experience that before I die, or at least I hope so.

Since iPhone 4S officially is just about to go on sale in UAE by both du and Etisalat, I guess many of you will be trying out Siri soon. Unfortunately, I suspect that the result will be varied.

Not my first attempt

I’ve dabbled with voice control and voice recognition before. In the early 90s I owned a Macintosh Quadra 660AV, which had something called PlainTalk. This was basically a simple system for speech control. You spoke into a special microphone and said things like “open window” and other similarly simple things.

Considering how long ago this was, it was really cool and it was always impressive to demonstrate to others. I could really say “get a Mac” to anyone who went “cool” when they saw how it worked. But as cool as it may have been, in the end, it was practically useless.

Since then I’ve used speech recognition a few times, trying to dictate to the computer and have had varied success. Most of the time, after going through the prescribed training of the software, it’s worked okay. With that I mean it understood most of what I’ve spoke, but there were enough issues to manually correct that it turned out to be a bit unproductive. To be fair, I’ve not had the patience to stick to one solution for very long.

Some people argue that it’s only with time that speech recognition becomes really good.¬†That may be so, but with a mouse, keyboard and touch, I don’t have to train the computer and the software – it just works. And isn’t that how it should be?

Siri is clever

In my experience, so far nothing has come even close to being as clever and accurate as Siri.

Bless her heart, she doesn’t alway get my growling accent and when I’m in too much of a hurry she just packs up and leaves. But for the most part she works hard and tries to interpret my wishes. For Siri it’s truly a case of “your wish is my command.”

And back to the topic of Siri writing this article. I guess she could have, but it is actually me typing it on my Mac. First, Siri has to get much, much better at understanding continuous human speech. Once that’s working, I could dictate to her. Then comes the next part where she would have to come up with the text herself.

That’s a nut that no one has cracked yet and we’ll have to see much more developments from speech recognition and artificial intelligence before we arrive at something that smart.

Picture credit Witness Design.

RIM’s unsold PlayBook tablets: visualizing the disaster

December 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Industry

I’m sure you’ve heard that Research In Motion announced it had to take a $485 million write-down because of its miserable PlayBook sales. In other words, there are too many unsold PlayBooks around so RIM had to write them off, more or less, because it’s unlikely they will sell.

But how many PlayBooks are still gathering dust in warehouses around the world?

Let’s first look at how many have actually been sold. RIM has reported sales of 500,000 units in the first quarter after the April launch, 250,000 in the quarter after that, and 150,000 in the third fiscal quarter, which ended November 26.

That’s less than 1 million PlayBooks so far.

Poor RIM

I actually have a PlayBook and I’ve always thought it was a very nice tablet in many ways. Even though I’m no huge fan of 7-inch tablets, the PlayBook was a pleasant experience, with fast processor, great multitasking, and a nice form factor.

My main complaint from the start was the lack of apps and unfortunately I don’t feel that has improved much. Sure, most of the apps I needed were there or I could find substitutes, but it was nowhere near as good as on iOS or even Android.

So, in terms of hardware the PlayBook is very nice but the software has killed any interest, which is sad, because it’s one thing that could have been avoided.

But let’s have a little fun with RIM, okay?

How many unsold PlayBooks does RIM still have?

Opinions differ but there seems to be consensus that 1 million or more is a fair estimate. Some even say it’s as high as 1.4 million but let’s stick with 1 million.

The PlayBook is 9.7mm thick, so how far do we get if we stack 1 million PlayBooks on top of one another? Basically, let’s visualize RIM’s unsold inventory of tablets.

Some quick math and we get 9,700m, stacking one PlayBook on top of the other.

With Burj Khalifa being just short of 830m tall, we need almost 12 of the majestic towers stacked up to match RIM’s unsold PlayBooks.

This is of course just a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun but it does show the scale of the disaster RIM is facing. Being able to run Android apps on PlayBook or de-coupling it from the BlackBerry smartphone is unlikely to make any dent in the sales.

At this point, all RIM can hope for is a firesale in TouchPad style, to get rid of as many tablets as possible. For that, I feel really sad as the PlayBook deserves better.

But then so did the TouchPad.

Picture credit: Wikipedia.

The best thing about HTC HD2

April 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs, Smartphones

Abbas reviewed HTC HD2 in February and said it’s “probably the best Windows Mobile phone you can purchase today.” For the most part I agree with that. I’ve said to friends, put Android 2.1 on the HD2 and you have the best smartphone around today. I think the hardware of the HD2 is great looking as well as high performance but the big problem is that it runs Windows Mobile 6.5.3.

There is however one aspect of the HD2 that I think takes it that step further compared to its competitors and it’s something that Abbas left out of his review as far as I can tell. That is that the HD2 can work as a wireless base station letting any Wi-Fi device connect to the Internet using it’s 3G data connection. It’s kind of like having a Mi-Fi device and a smartphone in one package.

We’ve had issues with broadband Internet in our home for the last while. I won’t go in to why, that’s a whole other post, but we’ve survived with tethering our iPhone and other solutions. Nothing’s been as simple and effective as the HD2 set up as a Wi-Fi access point.

The speed is not the greatest, but that will obviously depend on where you use it, but it gives us a Wi-Fi network to which almost any device can connect. So far I’ve only found one thing that apparently doesn’t connect and that’s our Apple TV (the Apple TV doesn’t seem to even “see” the HD2′s Wi-Fi network.) But overall it works fine and this functionality alone may be reason enough for someone to consider getting the HD2.

The tale of two Android devices

April 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs, Smartphones

The opening to Charles Dickens’ “A tale of two cities”, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” must be one of the most-quoted pieces from literature. You may think what does Dickens have to do with modern smartphones (because that’s the topic of this article) and we’ll get to that. Suffice to say there is a connection, I promise you, albeit a thin one.

In recent weeks I’ve had the pleasure to spend considerable time with two of the latest smartphones to hit the Middle East market, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 and Motorola’s Milestone.

They are both Android-based, they both have touch screens, but that’s about where the similarity ends. I’ll be up front with you and say that personally I prefer the Milestone and I think it offers a better option for most consumers but that’s not to say it’s the perfect choice for everyone.

So, they are both running Android but in very different ways (here’s where it’s “worst of times, best of times”.) The Milestone runs the latest Android, 2.1, with full Arabic support in both input and interface. The X10 runs the old-ish Android 1.6 with no Arabic support. Why is that a big deal? Actually it may not be but consider that these two smartphones are released almost at the same time (only a week apart) in the Middle East and the matter gets a bit confusing. These are both from major electronics manufacturers and presumably, since Android is open source, they have access to the same building blocks to start with and yet they arrive at so different destinations.

Sure, Sony Ericsson has included some of their own apps, mainly Timescape and Mediascape, which Sony Ericsson told me make up for the difference between Android 1.6 and 2.1, an argument that I don’t really buy. Add to that, that at least Timescape runs pretty slow even though the X10 is powered by a 1GHz processor. The Milestone, powered by a 600MHz processor, actually feels at least as fast even though it’s slower when it comes to the hardware at least.

What I do really like from the X10 is the 4 inch display. The Milestone is slightly smaller at 3.7 inches. Even though the Milestone can show more colors I would like to see the X10′s display on the Milestone. I’d also like to see some of the X10′s camera functionality, like smile and face detection, on the Milestone. Motorola didn’t exactly go out of their way to add great functionality to the camera on the Milestone.

Even thought the X10 is not “the worst of times,” far from it actually, I can’t help but feeling it could have been so much more. The Milestone, although it also has faults, is a much more mature and finished product. I’m not sure it could really replace my iPhone but it’s the smartphone that has come closest to that among all devices I’ve tried.

Now if Motorola could just “forget” that I have one of their review Milestones and I could keep using it. Oh well, it’s time to stop dreaming and get on with some more work.

Tired of iPad news? What would you want in your perfect tablet?

April 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs, Gadgets, Laptops

Apple iPads have started to arrive in the Middle East, not through official channels though, and iPad chat will be all over blogs, Twitter and more, if it’s not already.

Some of you may already be checking a courier’s web site to see how your iPad is progressing from China to a friend in the US and then on to you in the Middle East.

But of course not everyone is excited about iPad. Are you one of those that have not pre-ordered an iPad and really have no intention of not getting one at all?

I don’t mind confessing that I’ve not ordered one myself and probably wouldn’t buy it until it’s officially in our market. But don’t take that as a sign that I’m not excited about iPad. From what I can tell from everything I’ve read about it, I think the iPad will be very attractive to me.

Of course there are competitors coming out. Having been at CES in January it seems obvious to me that pretty much every company that in some way or another puts together products with chips in them is working on tablets. And we’re not talking about what’s by some called crisps nor about medicine pills.

Asus, one of the biggest players in computers, has said that they’re ready to bring out two tablets – one Windows and one Android – in the next few months. That comes as no surprise and I’d expect many others to follow suit.

What would I be looking for in a tablet? I want something that is mainly a good web browser. I’d prefer it if it could run Adobe Flash, have some local file system, but it doesn’t have to have lots of space, I live mainly in the cloud anyway. If it had a slot for a regular-sized SIM card so I could use 3G data on the go, that’d be great, but I’d be okay with tethering with a smartphone too.

Something like that, running Android, Google Chrome OS, or some Linux version, could persuade me to miss out on the iPad. But it’d have to be considerably cheaper than Apple’s offering, which is not the case with the JooJoo at least.

Assuming your at all interested in the tablet form factor, what would the perfect tablet look like if you could design it?

The conundrum that is Android 1.6 on Xperia X10

April 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Features, Smartphones

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 that has just been launched in the UAE by du, runs Android 1.6.

Some would say that’s like launching a PC with the latest processor, graphics card but running Windows 95.

When a Sony Ericsson representative was demoing the X10 to me recently I asked why they hadn’t launched the new smartphone with the latest version of Android. He didn’t really give an answer other than to say that he didn’t see not having the latest Android OS on the X10 as a major issue. This was, as he said, because Sony Ericsson includes some of their own applications for the X10 that make up for the differences between Android 1.6 and 2.1.

I don’t really understand that argument as some of the differences between the two most recent Android versions are much more fundamental than some Sony Ericsson-developed apps can fix. Most important is arguably multi-touch support for the display, something that iPhone users have come to take for granted. What iPhone users don’t get is Adobe Flash and support in the web browser and neither does Android 1.6 users. You’ll also find an updated User Interface (UI), HTML 5 support, Microsoft Exchange support and an improved virtual keyboard among the updated.

What’s probably more interesting than all of that though is “optimized hardware speed.” To me that means that Android 2.1 is developed to run better on the same hardware as Android 1.6. That seems to be true too as my recent experience with HTC Legend shows. The Legend, running Android 2.1 on a 600MHz processor, feels overall faster in almost every aspect than the X10 running a 1GHz processor. Seems to me the main difference between them is the OS.

The question remains, why does Sony Ericsson launch their latest flagship smartphone, a device that’s very important to them, not with the latest Android? Obviously I don’t know the answer to that and Sony Ericsson isn’t really saying, so all we can do is speculate.

What are your thoughts? If you’re interested you can also read my first impressions of the X10.

Will Xperia X10 recapture some glory for Sony Ericsson?

April 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Smartphones

Sony Ericsson’s latest handset, the Xperia X10, announced in November last year, is rumored to hit the Middle East in the near future, after being launched in Sweden yesterday. Will it save the Japan-Sweden collaboration that once was a pioneer in the mobile phone field but has been fledgling in recent years?

Let’s take a quick look at the specs: 4 inch (480 x 854 pixel) WVGA display, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 1GB built-in memory (with MicroSD card slot), and a 8.1 megapixel camera. That’s pretty impressive.

Early reviews have basically said the smartphone looks great in best SE heritage but the early software is buggy and that it needs the latest Android version. Of course it’s unfair to judge a product on pre-production software and we reserve final judgment until we’ve tried one ourselves. I do think it looks like Sony Ericsson is on the right track after some confusing attempts lately to regain some of the former glory. For example, I tried the Satio last year before it was officially launched and it was a case of some pretty amazing hardware, like the 12 megapixel camera, hampered by questionable software (Symbian). That phone, I think, never really lived up to its potential and it was primarily because of the OS. With Android I think Sony Ericsson can focus on what they do best, design good-looking and exciting hardware. So without having tried the X10 yet, I agree with Engadget when they say it’s “perhaps the most promising of Sony Ericsson’s confusing crop of modern smartphones.”

I do wish Sony Ericsson all the best with this latest venture and hope they get back on the path that they somewhere along the way strayed from. I say this not just because I’m from Sweden, nor because of the fact that my first mobile phone in the late 1990s was an Ericsson phone, but because I do think they can come up with something really interesting.

LG Chocolate’s battery life more sour than sweet

March 31, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Smartphones

Last year I tried LG’s BL40 Chocolate mobile phone and I was pretty happy with it. I was a bit concerned with the format and that it may break easily when put in a pocket or something. You see, it’s so long, narrow and thin that it sort of looks like it’ll break any second. But after using it more extensively can say that that is an unfounded concern.

What’s amazing about the Chocolate is of course the screen. It’s in the 21:9 aspect ratio, the same format that you see on the screen in movie theaters. It means the picture is over twice as wide as it is high, or conversely, more than twice as high as it is wide. With 355 x 800 pixels is it arguably one of the best screens I’ve ever experienced on a mobile device.

Add to the screen a full set of good smartphone functionality like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 5 megapixel camera with flash and autofocus, etc. and you have a pretty good smartphone. In my experience the camera is really good and browsing the web with the wide screen means you don’t have to scroll much side to side. Sure, you’ll still end up scrolling a lot up and down but that’s not as bad. Also, putting a list of emails next to a full view of an email is also great, much like we do with our desktop email applications.

That all sounds very good, doesn’t it? For the most part I really like the BL40. It’s full of great functionality, more than most users will need. There’s no application store like for iPhone but that’s probably not much of an issue for most potential buyers of the Chocolate.

What will be an issue however is battery life. I had just fully charged the Chocolate and began to watch a movie but I only made it about one hour into the movie before it said the battery was low. One hour! At that point I stopped watching the movie and it took the phone perhaps another half hour to shut down after repeated warnings of “low battery.”

In comparison, I’ve watched two full length movies on my iPhone 3GS and the battery gauge has moved only perhaps 10%. Perhaps I should add that in both cases the phones were doing no data via Wi-Fi or 3G and nothing really¬† but play the movies.

So unfortunately I must say that the BL40 Chocolate is a bold idea by LG that has a striking design, glorious screen, decent functionality but pathetic battery life. Unfortunately to me that last point means that buying the BL40 is not something I can recommend to most people.

You can listen to me talking to a representative of LG about the Chocolate at CES in January.

It’s funny what you get used to (how to recover health in FPS)

March 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Blogs, Software

Isn’t it funny what you get used to? That’s probably true for most things in life but in this article I’m talking about how things work in video games.

Just the other day I was on my PC, well, iMac running Boot Camp, but who cares? Anyway, I was checking my Steam games and decided to download a few that I’ve got through some bundle purchases but never downloaded. Call of Duty was a game I happened to have downloaded already but not the expansion United Offensive. After United Offensive (UO) had downloaded I fired it up and began to play it.

Now here comes the funny part. No, not funny ha ha, more like funny strange. I kept dying all the time even though I was playing on normal difficulty.

I thought to myself that although I’m no FPS magician I get around these types of games a fair bit and I shouldn’t be dying that fast. I mean, I kept running to cover all the time so I should be okay.

It took me a while but then it dawned on me. In UO you loose health when you get shot, of course, but then you have to find first aid packs to patch you up with. It’s not like in most games I’m used to from recent times where the screen turns red or blood splatters across it and you have to run to cover where you recover after some time of waiting.

Listen, I’m not saying one system is worse or better than the other, in fact I think some form of combination is probably best, but it’s strange that I’ve gotten so used to something different lately. I don’t think I’ve played those old games for a year or more now so going back to it took some getting used to.

There were also a lot of other things I was surprised at playing an old game like that, both good and bad, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Call of Duty Zombies for iPhone

March 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Apple, Reviews

Even though the full title of this game is Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies I think we can for now safely call it just CoD Zombies. Basically it’s a first person shooter for iPhone and iPod touch in which you shoot Nazi zombies coming at you from all angles. As the name may give away it traces its heritage to Call of Duty: World at War and in many ways it looks and feels like it belongs in the proud heritage of CoD games.

Basically you play in a confined space that has openings through which zombies attack you. You have to keep the openings boarded up to keep them from coming at you or at least slow them down. You can by touching the wall in places upgrade weapons after you kill zombies to earn credits. Killing zombies on your own is fun but it is even more rewarding to play co-operatively with others over Bluetooth (two players) or Wi-Fi (four players). The game comes with one map but you can download one more map from within the game. CoD Zombies full game is available in the iTunes App Store for $9.99 but there is a lite version for free.

If you’re interested there’s a good post talking about the development of the game over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog.

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