by Samuel Iglesias
Seemingly everyone has gotten their kick in over the past week bashing the latest Mac ads, presumably because they are so easy to identify as not Warm and Fuzzy. No, as far as we know Steve Jobs did not rubber stamp them, didn’t ruthlessly refine the concept or pick it after a maddeningly long string of rejections. Are they different? Yes. Does that make them crap? No.
There is, surprise surprise, a method to the madness. It’s just that most of the critics were too busy panicking to try to find it. Most ad consumption doesn’t happen on the comfort of your computer chair in a quiet room free of distraction (where the complaining has been coming from), but on television.
At that, we’re talking about the Olympics here, the one event that spans multiple weeks and is guaranteed to be displayed on each and every public television in the country: in bars, restaurants, Best Buys, gyms, you name it. What all these places have in common is that they’re loud. Really loud. Want the intended impact?
Watch these ads on mute and experience them as you would in a noisy place.
What will immediately jump out at you is that they communicate much more through body language than through speech and sound (hence why Siri got the snub). Gestures and facial expressions are exaggerated. The situations are easily graspable. Lips are surprisingly readable—note for instance the deliberately overmouthed delivery of the word “iPhoto.” “Nos” are always accompanied with shakes, “yeses” with nods. With full audio fidelity, yes, something of a departure from the Apple norm. Without sound, enormously impactful and easy to grasp. What’s more, nearly every frame of these ads, conceivably, could serve as stills for magazine ads or billboards, as they feature a decidedly friendly Apple employee helping somebody. Like any Apple product of late, its design sensibility truly shines when you try to use it in the real world.
Now consider the excellent Mac vs. PC ads. Watching these on public televisions during the Olympics you’d have no idea what the two guys were talking about because of the ambient noise problem. Product closeups? Fine, but everybody already knows what a MacBook looks like. And voiceovers would be unable to reliably deliver their impact. Siri commercials, lacking audio, would look like celebrities chatting on speakerphone.
When all is said and done and the Olympics are over, folks will remember that some nice Apple employee in a blue shirt helped people in trouble situations, and hey maybe Apple can help me because customer service matters.
And the ads will have done their job.
by Samuel Iglesias
It has been widely rumored that Siri will be supporting 3rd party apps. Right now most heavy users of Siri have become accustomed to the multitude of apologies and I-don’t-knows that accompany out-there queries. Examples:
- “What’s the score of the Duke Carolina game?”
- “What are the latest tweets by at gruber?”
- “Update Mac Tyler’s email address to desk at Mac Tyler dot com.”
- “When is Moonrise Kingdom playing tonight?”
- “What’s going on in the world right now?”
- “Send my latest presentation to Jennifer.”
- “What do I need to make on my next exam in Chemistry to get an A?”
One can go on. Clearly these are kinds of questions that aren’t all optimal for Wolfram Alpha to handle. Instead these requests should be handled, respectively, by ESPN, Twitter, Contacts, Movie Trailers, CNN, Keynote, and Grades 2, using, to wit, a system-wide API. But what would a Siri API look like?
To start, let’s keep in mind that some kind of private Siri API already exists, apparently wired into non-system apps. Consider Find My Friends. Without Find My Friends installed, Siri answers thusly the query, “Where’s Edward Sanchez?”
As you can see, Siri intelligently routes me to Contacts and gives me whatever I have input as Edward’s address.
Now with Find My Friends installed:
Voilà. Find My Friends serves up a location with the private Siri API. One can safely assume that Weather, Stocks, Mail, Messages, Clock—all of the stock apps (surely with Movie Trailers to come to handle showtimes) are responsible for sending data (and graphics) to Siri.
If this is true, we third party developers have a lot of work ahead of us, and this work can be broken into two parts: Services and Semantics. Services already exist in OS X, Android, and Windows 8. This is the system-wide ability for an app to accept various kinds of tasks from another app. For example, if I develop a new music app, I’ll want to be considered by Siri if the user makes a music request. Thus, I’ll register my app with the “Siri Play Music” Service.
The second half of Siri integration, Semantics, is the tricky part: something that most iOS developers have never dealt with. Semantics will attempt to capture the various ways a user can ask for something, and, more importantly, the ways Siri, in turn, can ask for more information should that be required. This means that developers will need to imagine and provide “hints” about the numerous ways a user can ask for something. Sure, machine learning can cover some of that, but at this early stage Siri will need human supervision to work seamlessly.
For example, if I ask “When does the Duke game start,” Siri will somehow have to know that this is the same question as “When does Duke play tonight,” and so on. It’s not magic. Someone has to tell Siri that those two things mean the same thing, and that someone, if it can be helped, should not be the user. It should be the developers of the ESPN app. This of course won’t be enough. Entire response trees will need to be implemented by app developers. The ESPN app will need to be smart enough to reply, “Which sport, Duke Men’s Basketball or Duke Women’s Soccer?” And so on.
Will such a system be subject to abuse? Almost certainly. Imagine Google claiming it can handle all queries then simply sticking them in its search engine. App screeners will need to carefully approve each registered semantic clause to make sure it isn’t too general (thus, not closely enough connected with the users’ specific intents) and also that it isn’t reaching beyond the app’s core capabilities. This is the kind of screening that human screeners will be especially adept at, something that Google, with Android, won’t be able to scale with robots anytime soon. This is a kind of service an open platform will struggle with.
If I were to speculate about what Apple’s big WWDC TBA session is (some have guessed television), I would guess Apple is going to teach its multitude of developers the basics of natural language processing and how exactly it plans to let them integrate with Siri. Let’s keep in mind that a conversational semantic services API of this kind —whatever it will end up looking like—has never been done before and will likely require new tools, new paradigms, to fully capture its power and breadth. And I can’t think of a better place, or time, to introduce such a platform than at the upcoming WWDC.
It’s almost here.
We are thrilled to announce that we are now accepting signups for Tea 2.0 beta. We won’t be announcing features today, but if you’d like to help us test it, we invite you to sign up here.
PS: Spots are limited! Selected testers will be notified within 48 hours.
We’re pleased to announce that Tea 1.23 is now available in the App Store.
- Tea 1.23 now integrates with iOS 5’s Twitter support.
- Some users experienced a timer bug related to app switching. That bug is now fixed.
Tea 1.23 comes amidst a larger set of changes that we can’t wait to tell you about. Stay tuned.
Happy New Year, Tea users!
We have a quick favor to ask of some of our European and Asian users. We would like to improve the quality of our App Store screenshots by using screenshots from actual Tea users. If you would be willing to help out, all we would need is a shot of your tea collection and of your History screen. You can shoot them over to sam at teaapp dot com. As always, we thank you very much for your help.
2012 is going to be a great year, and we’ve got some incredible stuff in the pipeline that we’ve been working on. Stay tuned.
The excellent teas my friend Michael brought back from Japan this summer have gotten some terrific discounts over at Chicago Tea Garden.
Kanbayashi’s Houjicha is a steal at $15 for 100g. Highly recommended.
Tea 1.2 is now available in the App Store. It comes with some fantastic new features:
- Leaf Match: many of us constantly switch between teapots and infuser mugs. Leaf Match automatically calculates how much tea leaf you need when you switch your water amount. Just tap the button that appears!
- Infusion Memory: Tea now remembers your time and temperature settings for your different infusions.
- iOS 5 support: Tea feels much faster and more responsive under iOS 5.
- New teas: Yerba Mate and Rooibos have been added as tea types, in addition to 30 new brew suggestions, making the total 230 tea names that Tea can recognize.
- Language Support: Tea now speaks Chinese, Dutch, German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, and French, making it now a truly global app. A big thanks to the Tea community for helping us undertake this massive translation project.
- Bug fixes and usability improvements (see if you can spot them).
We aren’t resting on our laurels. We have many, many more features in the pipeline. Stay tuned.
We’ve recently been featured in two wonderful design blogs.
Oliver Ames, Well Designed Apps:
I followed the progress and development of this app for a while and it even got into one of my favorite apps of 2011…. the design of this app is insanely thoughtful.
And today, Chaitanya Adgaonkar, Beautiful Pixels:
After you finish brewing a cup and return to the main screen, a small ’1′ leaves the cup denoting depletion of stock. It’s one of those small things that will make you smile.
Design is at the heart of what we strive to provide: an engaging experience that is both delightful and surprising. We not only want our app to look great, we want it to feel great also.
My friend Michael, on his recent trip to Japan:
My destination was Uji, a small town just outside of Kyoto city. Uji, though home to the birthplace of Japanese tea , produces just a small minority of Japanese tea. Uji-cha, as it’s called, is widely considered to be the highest quality Japanese tea available. I sought out teas that had the best taste, in small lots, from multi-generation family artisans.
Michael has partnered with Chicago Tea Garden to make available four teas that he purchased on his trip (all of them pre-earthquake, if that is a concern you have): Kanbayashi’s Sencha, Kanbayashi’s Houjicha, Hattori-san’s Kabuse Sencha, and Hattori-san’s Gyokuro.
I’ve tried all four and personally enjoyed the Gyokuro and Houjicha the most (and thus recommend those the highest) but the Senchas are very good as well.
Provided by Shanghai tea master Sun Yuping, some of these these are less obvious than others, but here are the few that I fixed on:
4. Water temperature affects the taste
Anybody who has brewed a bitter cup of green tea has probably brewed it with boiling water. What’s more, this disregard for temperature is responsible for bad tasting tea at popular cafes such as Starbucks and even the most premium coffee shops. A bad side effect of using water that’s too hot is often that customers wait five or more minutes for it to cool before removing the bag, which also oversteeps it. It’s a chain reaction of bad news. We try to help with this in Tea by providing temperature suggestions automatically based on the name and type users enter for their teas.
5. Kung fu tea is for real tea lovers:
Its art lies in that it’s a combination of the right amount of tea leaves, high water temperature, particular brewing time and special tea utensils…
While I’m not of the mind that “kung fu” (or Gongfu) style is what “real tea lovers” drink, I wholeheartedly agree that finding the right combination of tea, temperature, and time is the key to unlock good tea—and that’s what Tea is all about helping tea drinkers do.