Microzon Introduces Digital Assistant Corlexa

Or is that Amasoft introduces digital assistant Altana..? I’m confused, man…

In a very surprising move, Microsoft and Amazon have agreed to a partnership where their digital assistants, Cortana and Alexa respective, will begin sharing information by the end of this calendar year, 2018. This will enable each digital assistant to leverage the unique abilities of the other in an unprecedented collaboration and data sharing initiative between the two Seattle, Washing based computing giants.

The partnership was announced on 2017-08-30. The effort began last year and began by a joint statement by both Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to the New York Times. Both CEO’s have indicated that they would also be willing to welcome both Siri and Google’s Digital Assistant to join the effort, but doubt was expressed on whether Apple and Google would be interested in joining the partnership.

Both Bezos and Nadella are touting the partnership as a precisely matched pairing that will complement the different data sets and service specialties that each assistant provides. According to Jeff Bezos, “[both Siri and Alexa have] strengths [that] will complement each other and provide customers with a richer, and even more helpful experience.”

Satya Nadella agreed, saying, “Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

The beginning of the program will require users of one to specifically “open” the other – “Alexa open Cortana and…” or “Cortana open Alexa and…”. You can use either to set a reminder or read email, or use Alexa via Cortana to control smart home devices or other activity.

It’s clear that both Microsoft and Amazon are looking for a deeper, more seamless integration, long term. The idea is that both know what the other can do, and knows the magic words to relay back and forth behind the curtain to make it all happen. All the user will need to do is ask…

The big thing you’re going to have to watch here is your privacy and the amount of metadata that will likely have to fly across the internet in order to give any contextual meaning to your overall experience. Both Alex and Cortana are going to share what they know about you – your contacts and their information (so you can call or text so and so a message…), your calendar, your action items, etc. Both Alexa and Cortana will also have to share your web surfing, video streaming, music playing, etc., habits and be able to know your audio and video likes and dislikes so that it can work its magic without making a mistake.

If you have home automation equipment (light bulbs, thermostats, sprinkler systems, door bells, etc.) hanging off your home network, your comings and goings, utility usage and consumptions, etc. will also be shared and trafficked across the internet.

I am certain that digital assistants that can share this pooled information will be amazing; but you have to wonder… how much is convenience worth? Is my privacy worth giving up for these features?

Only YOU can answer those questions…

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Apple Releases macOS Sierra

OSX 10.12 hits the streets with a multitude of new features

siri

Apple has released macOS Sierra – OSX 10.12 – making it available for free to those users and Macs able to run the new OS. This release comes after eight betas and a number of revisions to the GM (gold master) release before its official launch on 2016-09-20.

macOS Sierra can be obtained from the Mac App Store. Apple should be making it available to Yosemite and El Capitan users via their Software Update process before too long. Officially, macOS Sierra supports the following Macs

2009 and Later

  • iMac
  • MacBook

2010 and Later

  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro
  • Mac mini
  • Mac Pro

macOS Sierra does a lot to align compatible Macs with updates to iOS, watchOS and tvOS. macOS Sierra focusses on introducing features that specifically work with iPhone and Apple Watch to improve the overall user experience.

Some of the bigger updates to Sierra include the following:

  • Siri for Mac
    Siri allows users to use normal voice commands to conduct searches, find files, look up information and more. You can pin vocal searches to the Notification Center for continual monitoring.
  • Continuity
    New Continuity features allow you to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch or with iPhone.
  • Universal Clipboard
    You can share clipboard contents across iDevices.
  • iCloud Improvements
    You can now sync not only the contents of your Documents folder, but your Desktop as well, to iCloud Drive.
  • Photos
    A new Memories feature in Photos will display collections of pictures and bring back old events on their anniversary. Special learning algorithms also improve facial, object and scene recognition making searching for specific photos a LOT easier.
  • Apple Pay

You can now pay for items you buy on the web with Apple pay. Payments are authenticated through a connected iPhone or Apple watch.

I am currently working on a review of macOS Sierra and hope to have it posted before the end of the month – along with a review of both iOS 10 and the iPhone 7. Hang tight, kids. Its about to get very Apple-ie around here.

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The Top 11 New Features in iOS 7

With tons of new features on tap, iOS 7 brings updates o-plenty to Apple’s Mobile OS

Please note that while this article was being written, Apple released iOS 7 Beta 2. This article contains comments and issues on both beta releases.

Introduction

It’s summer, and as such every young geeks fancy turns to thoughts of new techy goodness from the top tech companies of the world. In like fashion, Apple’s WWDC and its opening keynote presentation often heralds the introduction of not only new hardware but the software that drives it. This year was no exception.

During Apple’s streamed WWDC Keynote, Apple’s leadership team introduced us to a number of really cool features that would be coming in iOS 7. There are a number of different changes and I’ve had a chance to play with it for a week or two. Its different, that’s for sure; and the OS has a number of new features that are sure to be of interest to a great many people.

So, without further ado, here are what I feel are the top 11 new features in iOS 7. Please note, however, that the mobile OS also a bit buggy as of Beta 1, so I’ve got a section at the end where I’ve listed some opportunities for improvement as well.

IMG_0006Control Center

I was hoping for something like Control Center when I wrote my Top Must have Changes in iOS 7 blog post in May of 2013. The new feature puts some often used toggle switches (Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DND and Rotation Lock along the top, Flashlight, Clock, Calculator and Camera along the bottom) at your immediate disposal. I also gives you access to brightness and music controls You also have access to AirDrop and active, Bluetooth connections in case you want to send a quick file or manage an active connection.

Control Center slides up from the bottom of the screen, and is (or will be) available from any app or screen on your iDevice. All you have to do is swipe up from the bottom. I’d still like to see the ability to customize this just a bit. I’m never going to use the clock; and I’ve got access to Camera thru the Lock Screen, and I never lock my screen rotation, so me actually using those 3 shortcuts is unlikely and an unfortunate waste of functionality and space.

 

Notification CenterIMG_0007

The revamped Notification Center is a bit problematic. To get access to it, you swipe down from the top of the device screen; and like the Control Center, its available on the Lock Screen, too. I like the idea of a Today screen that gives you specific information about today, but its very long and scrolls too far down the device, if you ask me. For example, Stock information used to be a crawl across the bottom of the device and Notification Screen. When you have a long watch list like I do (3 indexes and 7 symbols), the list is really long, and takes up way too much room. Apple either needs to give me the option to have it list or crawl, or not display it at all.

Its not all sunshine and daisies, though. Make sure you check out the Bugs and Issues section at the end…

 

iTunes Radio

IMG_0018Apple’s long awaited Pandora competitor, branded iTunes Radio is probably one of the biggest and most anticipated features in iOS 7. Built into the Music App, iTunes Radio is the newest music option that the user has available to them, next to Playlist, Albums, Artists, etc.

The service allows users to stream ad-supported internet radio to their iDevice from anywhere you can get an internet signal. You get music from the three big music labels, and iTunes Match subscribers can listen to music without ads.

You can create your own stations, purchase songs through the iTunes Music Store as well as see what you’ve previously listened to through the service. The service will be available not only on your iDevice, but on your PC and Mac as well through an updated version of iTunes, and through Apple TV.

As some may remember, one of the big holdups in the service was the ability for users to skip songs. iTunes Radio users can skip up to 6 songs per station, regardless of whether or not they are iTunes Match subscribers or not. Skips should reset every hour the service is used.

Next Page

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What Siri Really SHOULD Be – Part I

Siri leaves a lot to be desired. Here are my thoughts on what Apple’s introduction to AI really should be.

I recently read an article at a major, pro-Apple website that said that if Steve Jobs were still alive, he’d absolutely hate Siri (as currently implemented). Given what the general public knows about Steve, I’d have to agree. While CLEARLY labeled a beta effort, Siri leaves a bit – ok… a great deal – to be desired. With Apple’s WWDC event coming up, and the opening keynote, presumably given by Tim Cook, I think its important to expect some major developments related to Siri as a precursor to the introduction of Apple’s 6th generation iPhone, currently expected in October 2012. I’ve got a couple of ideas on what needs to happen to Siri, and what the digital AI/assistant really should do. Let’s take a quick look in this multipart series…

Beta-Be-Gone

The iPhone is revolutionary. The iPad is a magical device. The iPod/iPod Touch completely transformed and modernized the music industry (even if it did go kicking and screaming into “that good night”). Apple has done some extraordinary things with its products over the years, and I haven’t even come close to listing them all.

The beta label currently attached to Siri, Apple’s artificial intelligence powered digital assistant currently ONLY available on the iPhone 4S, needs to go.

And it needs to go YESTERDAY.

What does this mean? Simple – Apple needs to stop whatever its doing as far as iOS development is concerned and ring the all hands bell and rally the resources around Siri and finish the damn thing.

Siri has some major bugs and some major holes that need to be plugged and the biggest is that it needs to become, at the very least, a 1.0 released product ASAP. This means that its recognition engine needs to come out of the garage and join the rest of the iPhone in the spotlight – meaning it needs to be finished and improved…for all supported languages.

I’d like to be able to be John Malkovich, and have a one word conversation with Siri through my iPhone 4S; but its not currently possible. I don’t have any kind of speech impediments; and I’ve lived in the Midwest US most of my life, meaning I don’t natively have any accent to my English as a first language, voice. Siri should understand just about everything that I say; and she doesn’t.

I make simple requests now and again – what’s the weather like, will it be chilly the rest of the week, remind me to pick upat the grocery store when I leave the train station, or something as simple as, Siri, call myetc.

I often get, “I’m sorry, Christopher. I didn’t quite get that,” or, “I’m sorry; but I can’t do that right now.” This morning when I asked if it would be chilly the rest of the week, Siri responded, “Ok Christopher, which Beth would like like to call?” and then presented a list of 5 people named, Beth or Elizabeth out of my contact list. I checked. It correctly grabbed and displayed the right question, “will it be chilly the rest of the week?” I looked more than once to confirm it; but instead Siri asked me which Beth I wanted to call.

What?! Really? REALLY?

If its not something totally off the wall like that, the Siri simply doesn’t understand what I’m saying. Blurring the words, “wife” and “life” is sort of understandable. I often get “What do I call my life?” instead of “Siri call my wife,” or something similar. Its really ridiculous. I don’t have anything in my mouth when I talk, and as I mentioned, I don’t have any kind of speech impediments or thick accents that would make my speech difficult to understand, and yet Siri and I don’t seem to see eye to eye on a number of things.

These basic comprehension and speech recognition issues have to be resolved immediately, or else the device is never going to be able to make reliable use of the digital assistant at all. If Siri has trouble understanding even the most basic of questions or commands in the car, in a room with moderate to low volume or even in a quiet room (I’ve encountered my problems with Siri in all of these locations), then Apple may as well hang it up and kill the feature.

Its getting a bit silly, really. This is the feature’s basic functionality and I can’t rely on it for anything at this point.

Support for Bluetooth and other External Microphones

As I mentioned in part 1 of this multipart series, Siri has some serious comprehension and recognition issues that need to be resolved in order to break it out of its beta label and become a full-blown 1.0 feature.

As either part of that effort or in a separate update, Siri needs to really support use through a wireless headset and other external microphones. Right now, while use via a wireless mic is possible, the recognition and comprehension issues that Siri has when used with a wireless headset really prohibit that interaction.

This is a huge problem, as I know many people that use an iPhone often do so with a wireless set of headphones or a wireless headset (or both in a single unit). They may also use Apple’s included set of wired ear buds. Siri’s recognition quality through all of these leaves a bit to be desired.

The Bluetooth and wireless microphone issues with Siri are mostly well documented and widely reported. The entire tech journalist world has been ripping clothes, wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth over Siri’s inability to understand most anything when used in conjunction with any other microphone other than the hardwired mic in the iPhone itself. Recognition quality through Apple’s own wired headset isn’t completely horrible, but isn’t as accurate as it is via iPhone’s built in microphone.

Most of the people that I know use their iPhone with a wireless headset. Let’s face it – Apple’s wired headset is ok, but the wires constantly get hung up on something and one of the first purchases most everyone with an iPhone makes, is a wireless headset or hands free kit for the car.

Bluntly put, if Siri can’t accurately, reliably, consistently work through a headset, then the feature is never going to get used while a user is on the go, defeating the need for it – nearly – all together.

I recently saw the two new John Malkovich iPhone 4S commercials and decided to give Siri another go. As I mentioned in part one of this series, it was a waste of my time. Siri muffed the job entirely, despite understanding what I had said.

Removing a headset or wireless mic from the picture to help improve recognition reliability and accuracy isn’t realistic either. I’m not going to turn a headset off, wait for the iPhone to realize that it’s no longer paired with the headset and ask Siri my question and then turn it back on and repair my headset, just to give Siri the best chance to do her job right. THAT’S totally unrealistic and totally silly. I think I can actually HEAR Steve rolling over in his grave as I mention that. (No disrespect intended; but THAT would totally drive him nuts, based on what I learned about him while reading his biography from cover to cover.)

So, in order to get Siri correctly implemented as a usable feature, Apple needs to do two really big things:

  • Improve Siri’s general reliability, accuracy and comprehension (no small task)
  • Have all that work regardless of whether I’m speaking to her through the iPhone’s built in microphone, Apple’s included, wired headset, or a Bluetooth headset or hands free car kit.

Get that done, and done well, and I’d call that Siri 1.0.

Come back next time, and I’ll go into what features Siri should really provide once the bugs are ironed out.

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iPad 3 Rumors & Thoughts – Part 2: iOS 6

With Steve Jobs gone and his legacy not completely publically known or understood, the iPad 3 is almost a complete unknown as well. Let’s take a look at some of the rumors and see what’s what.

I’ve been reading the authorized Steve Jobs biography, and quite honestly, I’ve been learning a great deal. Apple very much *IS* Steve Jobs, and vice-versa. It’s been an interesting read. Much of the design and thoughts for the iPad itself came before the iPhone. It was put on hold to address and release the need for the iPhone. However, the magic that is the iPhone will forever be beholden to the iPad. This was probably one of the most interesting revelations I’ve encountered in the book so far. But the iPad… that was Steve’s baby. He really wanted to do a tablet to counter the netbook surge and push, which is pretty much OVER at this point.

Apple has the tablet market pretty much sewn up. At this point, Android can try all it wants, but without the walled garden that Apple has cultivated and nurtured, it’s going to be hard for Google, any of their hardware partners, or ANYONE really, to catch up to them any time soon.

So, with all that, let’s take a quick gander at what is likely to come to iPad and iPhone fans alike with the next major release of iOS.

Siri Matures
I’ve been using my iPhone 4S for a couple of months, and I really like Siri; though at times, I think she thinks I have a speech impediment. I keep on asking her, “what’s my day like;” and she keeps telling me that she doesn’t understand, “what’s my daylight.” Awesome. Love that. I’ve also noticed that Siri on EDGE isn’t as accurate as Siri on 3G/4G (HSPA+); but that’s another matter entirely.

With the next MAJOR release of iOS, meaning iOS 6, we’re going to see a major bump in Siri’s maturity level. You’re going to be able to ask her to do a lot more and she’s going to be more integrated in how the device works. While she won’t be a complete consumer AI, she’s going to be the closest thing that John Q. Public will likely see for a while

Siri’s biggest problem, however, is not what she can’t do, or even that she may not listen very well. It’s that people don’t really know all of what she can and cannot do. My biggest problem with Siri is that I really don’t know what she’s capable of; and depending on what kind of cellular coverage you may have, if your inside or outside the Wi-Fi zone or perhaps having a bad hair day, Siri’s success in understanding what you want/need/mean when you speak may vary.

Apple needs to improve her listening skills and needs to insure that the local device does as much of the heavy lifting as it can. Voice recognition shouldn’t depend on your network connection speed. For example, when I ask Siri to call so and so, Siri seems to do a lot of thinking on my end. I know I have 1600+ contacts, but the response back from her should be almost instantaneous if I have so and so in my Contact List.

Support for Siri over LTE is also pretty much a no-brainer, given the inclusion of the mobile technology at a hardware level.

Improved Google Maps and Navigation Integration
There are two issues here – an improved Google Maps (just called Maps in iOS, but it’s the same thing) and integration with a navigation app. Its separate for a couple of reasons.

  • Google Maps for iOS is a mapping only app. There have been improvements made to Maps over the past few full revisions of iOS, but it’s not done anything more than provide map information and directions from A to B since its introduction.
  • Google has kept turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps for its own Android OS.

In the next major version of iOS, Apple needs to give you support for the following use case:

  • 1. User – Siri, where’s the nearest ?
  • 2. Siri – I have found the following near your location.
  • 3. Siri – Would you like to navigate/go to any of them.
  • 4. User – Yes
  • 5. Siri – Which ?
  • 6. User –
  • 7. Siri – Would you like to walk or drive there from your current location? (if walking is a reasonable option)
  • 8. User –
  • 9. Siri – Which navigation application would you like to use? You have the following navigation applications installed.

or,

  • You don’t have any navigation applications installed. Would you like to search for and purchase one from the App Store?

or,

  • You don’t have any navigation applications installed. Would you like to me to generate directions with Maps?
  • 10. User – Makes appropriate choice
  • 11. Siri – Provides directions or launches purchased navigation app, passing the appropriate origin and destination variables to the app.

This will require modification on the part of the navigation app so it can accept these variables from Siri, but that should be doable, especially if Apple provides the appropriate API’s. Apple also needs to grow Siri so that she can control hardware iPhone components (volume, screen brightness, Bluetooth radio (Siri, turn on Bluetooth and pair/connect with/to.)

At the end of the day, though, you can see that Apple needs to do something with the current version of Maps, because it’s just not cutting it. Maps is nice, but giving me directions and not turn by turn navigation is not what users want. Apple doesn’t control the version of Maps in iOS, and while they can augment it some with Siri, and perhaps provide an API so other navigation apps can fit in, there are rumors that a recent acquisition may be a more likely result than an API for other navigation apps or than expecting Google to bring its Navigation to the party.

Come back next time, and I’ll dive into when and how the iPad 3 will be released.

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Siri-like alternatives for Android

Iris is… Siri in reverse and it’s inspired from the iPhone 4S feature: Siri. Iris makes your phone talk on topics ranging from Einstein to Mozart. Well, to me it is more as a voice assisted Google search but there is potential in this app and if you ask the right thing, Iris will talk to you about things ranging from Philosophy, Culture, History, science to general conversation. As I noticed, for all queries based on common topics, Iris is likely to provide you with information from Wikipedia.

Note: You need to have “Voice Search” and “TTS library” installed in your phone for Iris. to work. Most of the phones have these pre-installed, if not please install them from Android market before you try Iris.

What can Iris actually do?

  • Call someone
  • Text someone
  • Search something (on the web)
  • Lookup for a contact

What’s new in version 2.12 alpha ?

  • Ice cream Sandwich Inspired user interface
  • New Design, new logo.

Download Iris

Skyvi is another “Siri for Android” and knows about everything from local businesses to food nutrition! Skyvi makes witty remarks and even tells jokes. The app has a social side too, letting you access Facebook and Twitter using voice.

Key features in Skyvi:

  • Fun chats, witty remarks, tells jokes
  • Access Facebook with voice
  • Access Twitter with voice
  • Tweet or Update Facebook with Voice

What’s new in version 1.0 ?

  • Facebook / Twitter integration is optional
  • Major Speed improvements
  • Ongoing notifications can be toggled
  • Witty remarks, jokes, and personality added
  • You can ask now for things near you

Download Skyvi

If you’re looking just for an app which do accept voice commands (e.g.: to drive more safely) and perform predefined actions such as:

  • Send texts and emails
  • Voice dialSearch the web
  • Find local restaurants, shops and other businesses
  • Get directions
  • Update your status on Facebook or Twitter and check in with foursquare
  • Get answers to just about any question
  • Buy movie tickets and book hotel rooms
  • Open other apps and so on,

you may want to try Vlingo and/or Sonalight, however, these apps can’t be deemed as Siri-like assistants.

 

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