Tag Archives: iPhone

Siri – a week later and my next killer Siri app idea

It’s now been nearly a week since my wife got her iPhone 4S.  I’m surprised that the way she uses her phone has changed slightly.  All because of Siri.

I’ve caught her talking to that Siri person, even late at night.  And I know she’s been talking to Siri in the car.  Why is she talking so much with this person?

It just so happens that it’s much faster to say “Remind me to call the dentist at 9 tomorrow” than to pull up the Reminders, click the +, give it a title, select a time, etc. 

It’s just so much faster to say “What’s the weather tomorrow?” than to find a weather app, click on it, etc.

It’s just so much faster to say “Play Fix You” than to click the Music icon, scroll up and type out “Fix You” using the keyboard.

But I now wish that Siri could connect and be used by apps.  

On the theme of “Personal Assistant”, my killer idea for today is to integrate Siri with shopping list intelligence.  Imagine how useful Siri could be if you could dictate your shopping list throughout the week.  If you run out of something during the week, just tell Siri “Remind me to buy toothpaste”.   Or if you’re looking up a recipe to cook up, just dictate what you need to get like “Add onions, garlic and tomatos to my shopping list”.  Then when you get to the shops, it can remind you to buy those items.   That would be absolutely brilliant.

Or all TomTom or other GPS app interaction should be by voice like “Drive me home” or “I wanna go home”, or if you’re on a long roadtrip with the kids, “Navigate to the nearest McDonald’s” or “We need to get a toilet quick!”


Thoughts on Siri and Artificial Intelligence

When I was at Uni, I did some work that covered a bit of Artificial Intelligence.  Now AI is a huge field, but my project was on a basic speech recognition engine.  There are many areas being researched in AI, but one large problem is “learning”.   If we could train an AI system by feeding it more input, and if it can continually get better at categorising/recognising/classifying the input, then it would appear to be get more “intelligent”.

One problem is getting enough input.  For my speech recognition project at Uni, I had access to a CD with a handful of sound samples – of different people saying the same set of words.  The idea is, the more it heard different people saying, eg. the number “One”, then it should get eventually be able to recognise anyone saying “One”.   It would have been wonderful to record everyone in my unit, or even everyone doing Engineering as input to my project – but the logistics were too hard.

The problem of getting a large bank of input is not just for my speech recognition project – it’s for any AI learning system.

And that’s one thing that I’m so excited about for Siri – the new Personal Assistant Application on the iPhone 4S.

Imagine this – you gather over 300 researchers from 25 of the top research institutions in the world to work on an Artificial Intelligence project to build an AI assistant.   Then you put the findings and results of their work into a common handheld device, combine it with a voice recognition system, and unleash it to millions of people around the world who might be using it regularly, if not just to play with for novelty’s sake.

That is one MASSIVE bank of input data from an Artificial Intelligence point of view.

Just imagine the amount of new input data that is being received and processed.  On one hand, I wonder if Apple are collecting and storing the phrases people are saying into Siri and the privacy concerns around this.  But on the other hand, if Apple are using this data for Siri to continually improve its responses and intelligence, then you’d hope that it will get better at producing more useful results as time moves on.

The other thing I’m excited about (wow, readers must think I’m a real Apple fanboy), is that, yes, even though speech/voice recognition is not new by any means, Siri’s conversational interface is in line with the touch UI of the Apple iPad/iPhone – in that user’s shouldn’t need to THINK about HOW to interact with the technology, it should just work naturally.

All those patents about how the iPhone touch interface bounces at the end of scrolling, and how it slows down – those are concepts to make the screen appear and act like a physical object with momentum and inertia – it makes it seem more “real”.   And so with Siri – I know it’s not perfect, but the user doesn’t have to remember some strange sequence of words or to re-work sentences into specific structures, or speak slowly one syllable or word at a time to make it understand you.   You should be able to talk to it like any other person, and it should just understand.   I like where Apple is heading with this – where technology really is there to “assist” humans when required, and us “humans” don’t need to try to translate our intentions into the computer’s view of the world.

Pay for your groceries in the future by waving your iPhone or iPad

Could you carry around your iPad or iPhone instead of cash or credit cards?

It seems that the latest rumours circulating around the upcoming iPad 2 is that it may contain an NFC chip.

What’s NFC?

NFC stands for “Near Field Communication” – basically a technology that will allow an electronic device to communicate wirelessly with other electronic devices – yes like RFID, Infrared, Wifi or Bluetooth, but with less range, faster and less complicated setup and compatible with existing RFID.   NFC is a technology primarily for mobile phones, and people are hoping that in the future, you could use NFC devices to pay for stuff, validating tickets for concerts, or interactions with electronic posters.

So, imagine this – if your iPhone 5 or iPad 2 had an NFC chip, and Coles or Woolies supportd it, and your bank supports it – you could just wave your iPhone or iPad in front of some scanning machine and PAY for your groceries!  No cash or card required.

Well, to me, it would seem totally impractical to carry around your iPad in your pocket just to pay for groceries.  Using your mobile phone seems to make a lot of sense though – I carry mine everywhere. 

But like many things – Apple are a little behind the ballgame here.  It seems that Nokia has already rolled out an NFC enabled phone in 2008 (http://www.engadget.com/2009/04/09/visa-rolls-out-its-first-commercial-nfc-payment-system/).  However, with the market share of iPhones and iPads, if Apple picks it up and promotes this, I’m sure most other mobile phone manufacturers will have to follow suit, and this could kickstart new trends.

For me, I’m most worried about the safety and security of the system.

What happens if you lose your phone?  How quickly can you cancel payments from it?

Could someone create another NFC device that could steal money from you electronically and wirelessly by just placing it next to your phone/pocket without knowing?

If it’s secure and safe, it’d be great to replace EFTPOS with this – imagine paying buying movie tickets online then just passing your phone over some sensor at the movies to get in, or paying for petrol or groceries with your phone?

Would you use something like this if it was available and safe and secure?

More here:



MyTown iPhone Game Review

The multitude of functions of the iPhone have introduced a whole new range of games.  MyTown, made by Booyah,  is one that combines location (GPS), map information (where buildings and businesses are) and social networking together to be a location-based game.  Some think of it like Foursquare, or an expanded version of Facebook’s checkin facility.

But I like to think of it as real world Monopoly that you play on your phone!  Sounds geeky right?

Booyah claim that it’s the most popular location based social game ever.   Big call!

I think the original idea was when you’re at some place (cafe/restaurant/business/anything), that you fire up MyTown and check in to say that you’re there.   You get a bonus for checking in to properties when you’re actually physically closer to it.  You can also receive items for checking in at places.

Radio City Music Hall - one of my properties

The next aspect to the game is purchasing properties.  At first I didn’t get this at all.   I mean why would you want to buy your local deli, cafe, bar, etc?  It’s definitely one way of saying “I like this place!”, but buying virtual properties lets you earn rent and create items.  Rent gives you money which lets you upgrade and decorate your properties.  Items lets you earn more money or items.   There’s only a fixed number of properties you can buy and you’re also constrained by how much money you have (well, the initial parts of the game) – but you unlock “slots” more as you play the game more.

Since MyTown must host a massive database of every property in the world (HA!), they can keep track of how many people check in at each one and calculates a popularity rating which can affect the current “price” of the property.

Besides upgrading, buying and selling properties, you can also create “items” at your properties – depending on what type of business it is.  I don’t see the point of this side of the game unless you’re into levelling up.  I’ve persisted for a while – for exmaple, getting my Gas and Convenience to 16 skill points.  But so what?  So I can unlock more items?  Little Miss 11 plays this game too but hasn’t even touched this side of the game.

Creating items and increasing your skill level

So when I started playing, I just had a few local popular businesses.  Then I started checking in more often when I was out and about around Perth.  And adding places like Burswood Casino, Subi Oval, Greens & Co, etc to my property portfolio.  But I wasn’t earning much cash at all.

Burswood Casino

Then I found out how you can “game” the system. 

Seems like you can turn off Location Services on your iPhone/iDevice for MyTown (or just play it on a non-GPS iDevice), and then when you start up, it asks you which city you are in.  You can put it any city in the world! 

Turning off Location Services for MyTownChoose any town you want!

It seems to make sense to buy the most popular properties in the game, and they seem to be the ones that are closest to the default location of each city.  Actually, if you look at the list that comes up, many people end up choosing Abilene, Texas and then checking in and/or buying the first properties on this screen or anything closer than 100m to where you are in Abilene, Texas.

Choose properties less than 100m away

Take a look at Abilene Educational Supplies!   The problem with this now is that the property rankings in MyTown have nothing to do with how popular the property is in real life at all.  In my eagerness to get more money, I ended up buying properties like this in the U.S. (Bitsy’s Flowers, Quiznos, Hoofbeats), and famous tourist destinations like the Apple Store in New York, Statue of Liberty, etc.

Hoofbeats - one of the most popular and valuable properties

And now I don’t really play the game much anymore.

I think they need to do a few things:

  • Stop people checking in and buying places that they aren’t actually at.  It means the whole property popularity thing has no meaning.   But then again, it’s a game right?  Not some official data collection service.
  • Change the UI.  The styling, colour and graphics need to be slicked up.  Maybe it’s meant to be targeted towards kids – in which case it’s fine.  
  • Perhaps see who just checked in at a location like Facebook or Foursquare?  But maybe this is not the intent of the game.
  • Increase the social aspect of the game.  At the moment I can “visit” someone else’s set of properties and send them a message, but that’s about it.  Would be nice to see common properties, or set up tasks/challenges like We Rule Quests or FarmVille.

For older players (like me!), I think I’ll be content in just checking in in Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare.

More info here:  http://www.booyah.com/products/mytown

First WordPress post from my iPhone

Where do you write your blog posts? I always have written
my posts on a computer – my laptop at home and sometimes proofing
and finishing my posts off during my lunch break at work. But one
of the first apps I downloaded on my iPhone was the WordPress app
but I’ve never taken the time to blog from it. Having the ability
to blog on the go is great. However, for me, the slowness of text
entry on a mobile device is too painful for me. Ok for short
updates like Facebook or Twitter, but not a multi-paragraph post!
As for capturing ideas on the go? May come in handy but I’d rather
take a photo…

App Store for Macs

Wow!  Apple is clever…   they seem to have recognised and acknowledged the ease and success of the App Store on the iPhone, iPad, iPodTouch platform and expanded this to their personal computer market.

Yep, if you haven’t heard – the latest update of the OSX operating system introduces the App Store to Macs.

What a great idea!!  I can definitely see myself buying and downloading apps and games, especially if they’re competitively priced.  So consumers will now get more out of the Macs.  And this will also encourage developers to write more applications and games for Macs since the distribution model is all there – the App Store is just too easy to buy and install a new application or game!!   I wonder if this will convert users who have iPhones but Windows computers at home to a Mac too.

The first thing I looked up was the new iLife 2011 upgrade.   I was thinking – maybe I can upgrade the parts I want, like maybe just iPhoto.   So I did some price comparisons between the Australian Apple Store and the AppStore.

Retail Store Price – iLife ’11  (iPhoto 11, iMovie 11, GarageBand 11 + existing iDVD and iWeb) = AUD $69

Retail Store Price – iLife ’11 Family Pack (As above but install on up to 5 computers in the house) =  AUD $99

App Store Price –  iPhoto $17.99 + iMovie $17.99 + GarageBand $17.99 = AUD $53.97

So, it looks like if you only have 1 Mac at home to upgrade to iLife ’11, it’s cheaper to buy it through the App Store than off the shelf.  But if you have more than 1 Mac, it’s already cheaper to buy the Family Pack off the net.   But if you don’t need all the new iLife applications for the whole family – for example, if I only wanted to upgrade to iPhoto and no-one else, it’s definitely cheaper to buy it through the App Store.

But then I had an idea – one really valuable aspect of the iPhone App Store is that I can buy a game once, and then my family can also install this for free on their iDevices thanks to Home Sharing.  I’ve done a bit of Googling but can’t seem to find any mention of Home Sharing for the Mac App Store, which is disappointing.  Why should I be able to share Angry Birds between my iPhone, my wife’s iPhone and Little Miss 11’s iPod Touch, but not Angry Birds for the Mac to my wife’s Mac?   Apple – any Home Sharing planned?   I guess not being part of the iTunes framework might make it technically hard to do this?

So how does the purchasing and installation experience work?  Just the same as the iPhone platform.  After signing in with my App Store account, I clicked the “Free” button for a few of the free applications like EverNote and MindNode.   My dock showed them downloading and they just installed seamlessly to my Applications folder.  I did notice that downloaded applications seemed to be pinned to the dock by default.   Arghh!!   Does this have to be the default?   I guess it might help the newbie Mum and Dad who wondered where their purchase went, but this could cause a lot of clutter!!!!

Actually, on clutter – I think people’s Macs will now get cluttered with useless applications and games!

Anyways, I can see my whole weekend taken up by browsing all these apps I never knew existed for the Mac.  I expect that it will take a few weeks/months for the App Store rankings to settle down and be more meaningful too.   I can’t wait until more commercial and common software is available through the App Store for easy purchasing and/or installation – Adobe, Sibelius, Firefox, Chrome?

Adventures with We Rule on the iPhone

In the last few years, social networking and the internet have enabled all sorts of new types of games to appear.

One game that I am currently hooked on is called We Rule. 

The point?  Not much really!  I’d describe it as sort of a SimCity mixed with Tamagotchi mixed with Monopoly. 

It’s a little “kingdom” that is yours.  You can buy new buildings and decorate it the way you want.  In order to buy items, you need to earn it, by growing and then harvesting crops when they are fully grown.  As you buy and grow things, you gain experience points, which lets you increase your “level” which in turn unlocks new items.

Quite simple.

But addictive.

My kingdom at Level 12

For me, the addiction was in always wanting to save a bit more money to buy the next big thing.   And getting enough money to rearrange and re-layout my kingdom.   It was slow starting, but progression is relatively fast in the first few levels so it wasn’t too frustrating.

But this game keeps hauling you back as the crops take a fixed amount of time to grow.  At the moment, magic cauliflower is the most lucrative for me, taking 13 hours to grow.   So I’ve now added We Rule to my daily routine – harvesting and growing crops in the morning and late at night.   Aarghhh!!  

Added a moat around my castle!

In terms of basic gameplay, it’s only available on the iPhone at the moment, and the graphics and touch response is great!  I think the implementation is much better than Farmville on the iPhone.

I also like how you there is only a fixed number of “farms” you can have (although this grows as you level up).   This encourages users to be more creative with their lands, rather than the standard Farmville setup where most people have heaps of farming area, and squash buildings into a little space.

It wasn’t until I played it for a few weeks that I stumbled across the social part of the game.  I’m now friends/neighbours with a handful of random people around the world.   It’s interesting visiting their kingdoms and placing “orders” at their shops.  Another way to earn money and experience points, but also a way to see how they’ve laid their kingdoms out, or who has the latest new shop or building 🙂

Having played some Farmville lately, We Rule is not as social as Farmville.   There aren’t tasks to do, and you can’t interact with items on other farms besides ordering from them.

Expanded my river across the land

The game costs you nothing –  unless you want to purchase some “mojo” which is an alternate way to get buildings and items.

Here’s a screenshot when I was able to secure my prison by water, but you can see my lands were getting quite crowded, especially in the “town center” on the left.

Kingdom getting pretty crowded now
I was finally able to expand my lands!  This allowed me to spread out the town center as well as buy the boats!   I’m now just saving up for the theatre to put in the empty green space!
Now with boats, a university and expanded lands

Fluff in my iPhone

I recently found that I couldn’t plug in my headphones into my iPhone properly.   I pushed hard but found that it didn’t click in – and so the iPhone sporadically thought it was connected, but also not connected.

I thought “Crap! My iPhone headphone jack is stuffed!”    But after some Googling I found that a common problem is just that the headphone jack gets accumulated with crap.  

And so a few weeks ago I performed surgery on my iPhone.   I searched around the house for the thinnest inflexible object I could find – which ended up being a really thin screwdriver.   And then proceeded to carefully scrape out fluff.

And fluff there was!!   Basically nearly 2 years of pocket lint blocking a good connection for my headphones.

Having iPhone headphone jack problems too?   Maybe it’s just lint 🙂

Ordered my iPhone 4!

I only have about 4 months left on my 24 month contract with Optus for my iPhone 3G.

I know a few of my friends had been contacted by Optus, asking if they wanted to upgrade to an iPhone 4.   But not me!!!

So on the weekend, I headed to an Optus store to see what options I had.   And amazingly, they had some “special weekend offer” where if I signed up for another contract, they would waive the remaining 4 months of handset payments, as well as early contract termination fees.    Sweet!  Basically, I keep on paying the “same” amount and get an iPhone 4.

How could I resist?

Wifey didn’t seem to mind – probably because she can’t wait for me to hand over my iPhone 3G.

So, in the end, everyone’s happy.   Now just to wait until they get one in stock so I can pick it up.    And to find a good plan for Wifey to go on.

When kids know more than you.. (and introduce you to We Rule)

An exciting change when your child passes the toddler ages and is in the Primary School age group, is that they start introducing you to new things.   Before then, the world as you knew it was as you knew it.   I imagined the information flow streaming from the parent to the child.  Even if they went to kindy or daycare, you knew what they were learning.

But once they hit Primary School and get older (like 9+ years), they explore other things, learn things that you never knew or can do.

Like seeing Miss 9 learn and play the saxophone.  I tried blowing through it and got a very unsatisfactory honk.  Or Miss 11 learning to read the tenor clef and thumb position on the cello.  I just look at the music notes and give up. 

I can safely say that my girls are now better than me at doing some things!   It’s a strange revelation as a parent when this happens – almost like your children have passed another stage of innocent childhood.    There’s nothing you can do but to encourage and support them grow.

Unfortunately, this has now also extended into iPhone/iPod Touch applications.

For a few weeks, I wandered why Miss 11 would rush to her iPod Touch at certain times of the day.  And then I saw a note next to her alarm clock “Carrots 7.30AM”.  What on earth was she up to?

I asked her a few times and she dodged the question like a politician.   But eventually she revealed to me that she was playing a game called “We Rule”, what I’ve now found out is a lot like Farmville on Facebook.

So a few weeks ago I decided to install it on my iPhone – of course primarily as a parental exercise to see if it’s suitable for her 😉

And lo and behold, I’m now ADDICTED to this time wasting game!!!  I’m not sure I can even call it a game, is there a winner?

But all I know is that I started pulling up my iPhone at certain intervals of the day, checking on my onions, pumpkins, magic cauliflower, building houses, buying shops, moving fences around, saving up for a stable, checking on my daughter’s kingdom and trying to out-do hers.   AAARRRGHHHHHH!!! What has she done to me!!!!??!?

An early snapshot of my We Rule kingdom

A week later I had overtaken her on the game…  I was so addicted to tending to my little kingdom that even my Wifey and Miss 9 got annoyed. 

Luckily I’ve recently toned down my tending, only once per day 😉 

Ahh, kids..   what will they introduce me to next?