What happens when you try to swear at your Digital Assistant . . it’s either very polite to you, or more likely, trys to pretend that you really said something other than a swearword or insult.
Background: On my way into work today, I got Siri (the voice activated assistant and voice to text transcriber on the iPhone) to play a song out of the library that I fancied hearing.
When it was over, I said “Repeat”.
It repeated the last thing it had said to me (which was “Now Playing Disobey” but didn’t actually play the song. Obviously it associated the “repeat” command with wanting to hear what it said, but not replaying what it had just finished playing.
OK, so I decided to be more specific.
We take it up from there:
The iPhone 4s has arrived in Ireland from October 28th, bringing the upgraded specs and the new “Intelligent Assistant” Siri to the Republic’s smartphone soaked market.
The improved camera and processor will be welcomed by those trading up, but how does Siri cope with Irish placenames, and an Irish accent? Is it just a gimmick, or a useful interface for the phone? I put it though its paces with some surprising results, including new weapons technology and a gift for diplomacy.
The iPhone 4 has been reviewed in a million places by people much better than I at judging the smartphone market, so this piece is really focussed on:
- How it feels for me upgrading from a 3GS
- Playing with Siri (for fun)
- Working with Siri (will it do practical stuff for me?)
- Siri and the local market (Irish accent/placenames)
If you’re used to the iPhone anyway (and especially if you have already used iOS5 on your older phone) the 4S will be very easy to adapt to – everything is pretty much in the same place, just with extra bells and whistles.
I was moving from a 3GS and found the experience absolutely painless – it takes a while to go through the activation process, but when it is finished, everything has been copied across from your old phone (if that’s what you choose to do) including all your photos, music, apps, favourites etc. The only thing you will need to do is a once-off re-entry of passwords for things such as your Apple ID, email, Google+ etc. (this is a positive – you wouldn’t want someone to be able to access these simply by hooking up to your computer and migrating your data).
In my hands the phone feels much the same, perhaps a little lighter, and certainly more square. I’m not sure I like the new style of volume buttons, they seem easy to mishandle when simply holding the phone.
Reception seems to me to be identical to my 3GS in difficult places such as my front room, which is in a communications death-zone and only ever gets 1 bar (even right back to my Nokia N95 days).
I have seen today reports of 4S users experiencing battery-life issues, however I’m not in a position to say if this affects my 4S, as I’ve had it on and off the laptop several times during the day doing various tests and copying stuff. I think it is possible that the battery on standby is dropping a little faster than I might expect, but I’ll need another couple of days to confirm that. If some sort of an OS bug is responsible, it should be easily addressed by a patch in any case.
UPDATE: Don’t seem to have the battery issue myself – tested today, 6 hours on standby with 3G, Wifi, Siri and Location Services enabled, dropped 8% in the 6 hours.
The new camera, by the way, is excellent, and the jump in quality from my older 3GS is especially evident. I’ve not had time to try out the video yet.
AND SO TO SIRI
Siri is the new voice-activated “intelligent assistant” on the iPhone, and the bar that it has to jump for me is not speech recognition itself (such systems have been around for decades, albeit clunky in some cases) but accuracy and more vitally, practical usefullness. By which I mean, yes, it’s fine to have fun playing with the system by having offball conversations, but does it actually do useful stuff that I would need on an everyday basis?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes. (I say surprisingly because I’ve used voice recognition systems in the past, particularly on the Mac 12 or 13 years ago, and while they were fun, they took a lot of effort for very little useful return).
But Siri is on the way to greatness. Not brilliant, yet, because it has a few minor glitches, but there is without doubt a set of useful functions already, and this is just the beta version.
So what can it do?
Well let me start with one tiny, tiny thing, that just on its own makes it worthwhile for me.
It’s 7.30am, it’s a bitterly cold morning, and I am trudging up the hill to work, with my iPhone buried deep in an inner pocket to protect it from the rain. I have 12,000 tracks currently in my collection, and am buying new albums at the rate of three or four a week, plus receiving many as promos, and there are simply many tracks on my system that I do not know yet. Even if I know I am listening to the new Florence album, it’s my first time hearing it, and I want to know what the current track is called.
No more stopping and fishing out the phone in the rain to see what’s playing – a simple squeeze of my earphone button and Siri asks me what i want, and gives me the info, then goes back to playing the song. Simple as that. (whatever you ask Siri, and its spoken response to you is echoed on the screen too, as above).
Likewise, if I suddenly get a gra for some Nine Inch Nails while walking up that hill, a quick squeeze to summon Siry, a simple command “Play Nine Inch Nails” or, if I want an actual track “Play Metallica, Nothing Else Matters” and it is straight on.
This works with other content like podcasts too – I tried it with “Play Podcast Feedback” and it had the latest unlistened episode of the Radio 4 show playing instantly.
Likewise texting, or sending emails.
Simply say “Text” and it will ask you for the receipient, then the content, and then read it back to you, and ask if you want it sent, changed or cancelled. (You can also speed it up, for example, by specifying “Text Steve Conway” and it will then only need the content. This works well for texts, but for emails it tends to only grab what you are saying until the first pause, and then make it the content of the email, which you can only change in its entirity, not add to.
For emails the way round this is to go into email editing mode, and a microphone symbol appears, you can press this and create your email in chunks. An ability to add to existing content on an email when in fully automatic mode would be good.
The system can read incoming texts out to you, and ask if you want to reply, but this feature is not available for emails – yet.
Likewise, it is easy to set reminders or schedule meetings.
SIRI IN IRELAND
So how accurate is the speech recognition? How does it cope in Ireland?
The answer is “pretty well” – it seems to have little trouble accepting my commands and emails, and it even copes with Dublin placenames well enough. The few times it flaked out on me were usually in situations where it understood my words, but not what I actually wanted (it will search for such things on the web if you want).
Below is a test I set the phone for an email with a mixture of Irish placenames and surnames.
First is what I dictated:
Hi Steve here’s the plan.
We meet in the city centre at 8pm and then travel out via Stillorgan to Dun laoghaire on the 46A, after that we can try O’Shaugnesseys, take a walk along the pier, and then go back into town for dinner.
If you can’t make it please send me text, regards Steve
Below is what Siri typed – incorrect parts highlighted red.
Hi Steve here’s the plan
We meet in the city centre at 8 PM and then travel out via Stillorgan to Dun Laoghaire under 40 succes after that recanted electroshock missiles take a walk along the pier and then go back to town for dinner
If you can make it please send me text regards Steve
Recanted elctroshock missiles? . .
Having said that, Irish surnames are probably a trial for any AI software!
So in review, a very useful tool, will certainly be used by me day to day, and will hopefully get better with upgrades.
Now we’ve done the work, let’s have a little fun:
1> Let’s talk about nature . .
2> – One of Siri’s rare failures, I was trying to educate it on how to find the best alternative music in Dublin, but it had Christmas on its mind . .
3> – Now lets ask it the big question.
OK, how about coming down on one or other side of a current politica; / social divide?
So there you have it. It can copy with the irish voice, knows our placenames, but can’t quite get the hang of our pub names yet . .
All in all, a great upgrade from the 3GS, and a genuinely useful voice interface.
My posting of an old picture on Facebook of myself in pre-Caroline days sparked a discussion below which has revived my memories of those great years in Surbiton in the mid-80s and prompted me to search for other pictures.
First, the facebook discussion:
Friday · ·
Mike KerslakeThat’s the van! 🙂Friday at 06:42 ·
Mike KerslakeSame here, only weddings ad funerals see me scrub up!Friday at 06:46 ·
John Burchand when it turned up at a TX site loaded with car batteries, tape machines, a TX and other equipment it looked most incongruous amongst the trees and bushes!!Friday at 09:30 ·
Mike Kerslake:-)Friday at 09:39 ·
Christopher EnglandLooking at the side of the van, whatever happened to ‘Apricot’ computers, eh?Friday at 11:22 ·
Warren StevensonAPS Systems: Were they at the bottom of Brghton Road Steve, close to the petrol station – before you got to the traffic lights at the Portsmouth Road ?Friday at 16:20 ·
Warren StevensonClose to the tyre repair centre I recall.Friday at 16:25 ·
Mike TerryBeing a regular Tuesday night 60s and 70s fan I’m looking forward to your show Steve. Hope you have loads of requests.23 hours ago ·
Warren StevensonIts a coincidence also Steve that the petrol garage in Brighton Road used to sell Epson computers in the late Eighties !21 hours ago ·
Warren StevensonOur paths may well have crossed Steve before I headed for a pint in the Black Lion for a pint or two of Youngs Special 🙂14 hours ago ·
Warren StevensonI also recall in the late Eighties that in a road just off the Brighton Road in Surbiton (The Mall), there was always a black Mini parked which was adorned with Radio Nova car stickers. There was also a Triumph Dolomite that could be seen also regulalry in the town with a Caroline 319 sunstrip . OT: There was an excellent fish and chip shop just down the road, next to The Lamb pub !.13 hours ago ·
So, the above has prompted me to search my hard drive for a photo I know I had of A.P. Systems itself, which was based in a tiny office on the forecourt of what is now the Total Service Station on Brighton Road in Surbiton:
Click any picture for bigger version
A. P. Systems was a wonderful little company, it was run by a great guy called Tony Williams whose father owned the petrol filling station (A.P Garage) which sold Total fuel (and was in later years taken over fully by Total).
As well as being a kind employer, Tony was quite a genius with computers, and had written software for the early Epson portable systems, which eventually led to his running a full dealership, at first for Epson, and then expanding to sell other brands such as the Victor 9000 and ACT Sirius system, Apricot, IBM and others. Tony was a very good salesman, and despite our small size, he managed to make sales into companies all over London and much of southern England. This was before the days of Windows (though it launced while I was there) and all programmes were Dos based – MS-DOS version 1.12 when I started (and the Epson PCs used the less friendly CP/M system).
Wordstar was the main game in town for word processing, with Supercalc or Lotus-123 for spreadsheets. But we also provided custom systems written by Tony himself.
I came to work for him in 1984 as the tech support guru for the firm (I had been trained up by the Irish sole distributor for Sirius/Apricot, so my knowledge was good). In those days desktop computers were in their infancy, and in almost every case the company we would sell to would be buying their first computer, and it would be my responsibility to deliver and install the systems, and train the staff in how to use them, as well as being on call for tech support for ever afterwards.
The general public’s knowledge of computers was limited, and employees would be very wary of these new systems I was installing in their firms, a lot of my time would be spent soothing people rather than fixing computers. I well remember one customer who had bought an Epson potrable computer asking, in all seriousness, how much heavier it would be once the data was loaded onto it!
In the three years before I left to work for Radio Caroline, I travelled to every part of London in that little van, as well as most parts of the home counties and beyond. As well as hundreds of small businesses getting their first computers, I also got to deliver and install systems in the GLC (in its dying days), Shepperton Film Studios, Gatwick Airport, and a law firm called Penningtons with offices in the City of London and in Godalming, where I encountered that most rare of beasts, the Apple Lisa – the almost unknown predecessor to the Macintosh.
I also have memories of making several trips down to the heart of Wiltshire, to install computers at a dogfood factory in Tisbury, whose owner was very forward-looking, and incredibly nice to me, putting me up overnight in his country lodge and serving me breakfast in the morning (no – not dogfood!) I think they were called Dinnodog or Dinnadog, but I can find no trace of them on the net these days.
AP Systems was a small operation, most of the time there was just myself as tech geek, Tony running the company and doing the selling, and young women called Kathy who acted as receptionist but did a lot more besides. There was also a guy called Nigel who came to us from South Africa and moved on to Australia, a bit of a programming wizard, and a wonderfully good-natured salesman called Brian Street who joined not long before I left, and I’m sad to have lost touch with these people over the years.
As well as us computer people, there were a steady stream of people working in the garage including a great woman called Ruth who I lodged with for many years, and a new recruit called Gail, who I remember as a part-time a couple of nights a week, but who turned into a mainstay of the site, so much so that now, almost 30 years later, she is still there, as manager for Total.
Another photo I have dug up shows the 65 bus, which in those days was the main route through Surbiton, taken in May 1984, just days after I arrived. This route normally went along Victoria Road, but was diverted due to roadworks when I took this picture. The 65 was two-person operated with Routemasters up until February 1986, but these days does not even reach Surbiton (except night services).
Notice the wonderfully high-tech (!) top-loading video recorder being advertised on the side of the bus – I think 1984 was an Olympic year, hence this being used to push video sales.
There were many nice places in Surbiton, it was quite self-contained, with a good variety of shops and eating places, and remains so today. It was a wonderful place to live a work, and I have many happy memories of the people and places of those three years before I headed off to sea to work for Radio Caroline. (see: Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline).
Though not an iPhone owner yet (waiting until they are on Vodafone) I’m pleased to see the below news from my friends at Phantom 105.2.
This will be one of the first apps I get when I do get the phone!
– See the name of the song “Now Playing”
– View our Twitter Feed (great for latest music news and Phantom events)
– E-mail your requests directly to the Phantom studio!
To download, go to App Store and search for “Phantom 105.2” on your device.
Please note: You should be aware that the Phantom app may download a significant amount of data while it’s running, so please make sure that you have an appropriate data plan if you connect through your mobile network or on a public wi-fi network.