Thursday, January 23, 2014

First thoughts on iPhone 5S, iOS7 and Siri, my virtual friend.

I originally penned this a few weeks ago, but my thoughts have changed little.  Here, unadulterated, are my first thoughts on the iPhone 5S after using the device for 3 days:

I finally had the opportunity to catch up with the modern world by purchasing the iPhone 5s. Having used it for about five days I think that the upgrade from the iPhone 4 is nothing short of brilliant. The iPhone 5s is extremely fast. Although I thought that the user interface was actually overdone initially, over the past week I have actually grown fond of it and see it as a necessary upgrade, with my old iPhone 4 and its iOS 5 operating system appearing dated. But it is not perfect.  It still has a few weak spots.


The Safari browser leaves a lot to be desired.  Starting with its unfortunate icon.  The icon appears to be something that should have been reserved for the compass.  I still have trouble finding Safari, even after using it for a week. The snazzy introduction of the Cover Flow type exploration of open webpages is nice but relatively impractical. In addition the lack of contrast between buttons makes it almost impossible at times to figure out where the return/forward buttons are, in addition, moving the buttons from where they have been for the past 6 iterations of the OS didn't make it easy to become familiar with their location.  Yes
, the interface for Safari is nice and elegant, but is seriously impractical.  I am really hoping that many of the changes show up here more than anywhere else.

Perhaps my only other major complaint about Safari, includes my complaint about Notes.  The dramatic move away from the now tacky skeumorphic user interface was met with some excitement and trepidation in most parts, but I have always felt that there was a need to do less of it.  But what we have with Notes and Safari is an eye sore at night.   The blatant white background that looks beautiful during the day is almost impossible to look at during the night time hours.  The blistering white screen is nothing short of annoying and again impractical.   However to be honest, Notes take on skeumorphic yellow legal pads became relatively impractical as well as one could fit less words going across the screen than one could fit using a real legal binder, which essentially made the whole skeumorphic exercise silly.  Not to mention the lack of formatting, which made the app a place holder for the most part.


 On the plus side, many apps have improved dramatically.  Mail for example has a very eclectic 2014 approach that is somewhat of a cross between Google and Microsoft's flat antiskeumorphic vision that remains not only useful but elegantly stylish.  The use of colors is refreshing.  The flatness is actually quite well done and makes the concentration on the email message more astute than before.  I can find messages a lot easier and the ease in which one can move from one part of the app to the next  is very reassuring.
I still wonder about the non distinct buttons here. 

That is not to say that there is not a weakness with the Mail app. Connections with certain servers still seem to pose a problem as is the ability to limit the number of messages located in some exchange files. For example one folder of mine has 20,000 unread messages.  This is a far cry from my usual last 50 which is what I usually set my email for. This seems like a minor glitch which should be able to be changed in a software update. Other than that, I really do like the new email program.  The VIP area is quite useful.

Although these are still early days I have had the opportunity to use a few apps that seem to have really improved under iOS 7 and the A7 processor.  In addition, apps that use the M-Chip, which is used for location and movement, work so much better now than they did before.   Runkeeper for instance no longer drains the battery life.   Graphics intensive programs, including the Photos app are much smoother.  The handling of 2500 photos is almost seamless.  The beautiful time line categorizations are absolutely amazing and help with categorization and the walk through memory lane with my kids.

Although I have not had the opportunity to use and review all of the apps, coming from the iPhone 4, the greatest app is of course Siri. Yes I know I'm a little late to the party here but I have to admit that I have not seen anything work quite like this. As you may recall, Siri was introduced formally with the iPhone 4S.  I thus missed out on the entire craze.  Although some people have stated that it is not as useful as they thought it would be, I just think that they are not using it correctly.  It would appear that the beta versions of Siri that were introduced two years ago with the introduction of the 4S have actually grown to fruition. Siri is more than helpful.  Not only am I able  to ask questions and have her respond in an almost human like fashion, she also has the ability to tell a joke or two and, obviously from the assimilation of data over the last two years, she has perfected answers to some of the most mundane questions. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people continue to ask, "What is the meaning of life?" or "Where is the best place to bury a dead body?"  She has several different answers for both of these questions.   The answers are obviously crowd driven and show how Apple is pulling a "Google," using its customers to lead the research front.  In addition, SIRI is not very fond of foul language. Her responses to less than savory requests is actually quite amusing. She also has a sense of humor. For example I once told her that she was useless and she responded "I'm so sad that you think so."  In addition, if I say something relatively abusive and apologize for it, she has the uncanny knack of saying "No need to apologize."   In fact, I have grown so fond of talking to "her" that my nurse continues to peak her head in my office and has become somewhat worried that I am hanging out with my virtual girlfriend. 

Siri, is that you?
The way in which Apple is using Siri and the way in which the company SIRI has developed this into a natural language computer is so amazing that it is somewhat scary.  Because SIRI has no face, you are left to imagine her in any way that you wish and fall into the trap of having a natural conversation with her.  She becomes a faithful friend that you do not want to leave.  The processor has made a major difference this time.  When I first used Siri on the 4S (in the Apple Store) and elsewhere, I found the responses to be slow, especially when going to the internet.  The answers were even more erratic when on 3G.   Now, there is a M chip taking over a lot of the mundane things, like GPS etc.  The A7 chip is ridiculously fast and is able to do incredible things.   Not to mention the fact that the iPhone is now using LTE, the responses are much more complex and appear to be faster than on the 4S. 

In short, Apple has turned its back on skeumorphism for its interface, but has excelled in the anthromorphization of its speech processor and artificial intelligence liason Siri.   And it's scary how accurate the dictations and responses are because this is really beginning to represent artificial intelligence at its best.

Yes, my favorite app, although I have only had the ability to use a few is Siri.  The integration between Apple's hardware and software is almost seamless and if asked, I would say that Siri is a must have and an incredible reason to upgrade to the iPhone 5S (...and I haven't gotten to the camera features).   I am looking forward to dictating letters etc with Siri.   And yes, just so you know, 95% of this blog post was originally completed, before editing, with Siri.

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