Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Rare Reflective Moment of Steve Jobs

I found this short excerpt of Steve's interview in 2010 D8, a time when he was already publicly and visibly known to be quite ill. During the Q&A session, a member of the audience asked Steve if he would add anything to his famous speech in Standford; the question struck him with deep emotions that was rather unexpected from a figure like him.

It is quite remarkable that, knowing what was happening to him, he was able to remain so composed yet candid at the same time, expressing himself ever so eloquently and poetically. I browsed through his biography for his state of the mind then that may explain how he could do so, to no avail (I haven't given it a careful read). I am sure a throughout read of this book would allude a lot more about his way thinking.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Steve Jobs Biography On Sale Today

Bookstores everywhere is scrambling to put the hard copies of Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson on display this morning. E-book sellers have already started selling the electronic versions since midnight.

Source: Simon And Schuster

You can get a copy of Steve Jobs biography at

Hurry in and get your copy today!

Celebrating Steve: Event Video Now Available

Apple has made available the video archive of its internal event on October 19, 2011 celebrating the life of Steve. Apple stores worldwide closed momentary to allow its retail employees to participate in the event via live cast.

Go to this site on Apple to watch the event while still available. The event was hosted by Tim Cook, the new Apple CEO. Al Gore and Jony Ive were among those who gave their speeches about Steve. Steve's wife, Laurene was there too. I think the performance of Bob Dylan's Song "Forever Young" by Norah Jones was especially moving. Besides the fact that Steve was a big fan of Bob Dylan, the lyrics of the song was simply poignant.

A side note: while not that many readers here use Chrome, I found that the video was not accessible on the Google's browser. I have no idea why, but you shall have no problem using desktop or mobile versions of Safari to see the video.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Siri is a Great One Liner

When it comes to 2-way communication, Siri is quite limited. Before I go further on this allegation, let me make myself clear that I think Siri's natural language parsing is by no means a small achievement.

Seeing it in action

I spent a little time with Siri today and made this video to share:

Overall, Siri is very good at understanding natural English, to the point that you have nearly no need to learn any syntax to operate it. However, there are still some rules you need to be aware of. By and large, your day-to-day plain English, like "what are the Indian restaurants around here", or "find me an Indian restaurant", or any other ways of expressing this idea, can be handled quite comfortably by Siri, most of the time. Sometimes, you need to repeat yourself. Not a big problem.

But when it comes to a series of back-and-forth between you and the device, Siri can get a little stubborn. As you can see in the video, I asked "When is Christmas" and Siri answered perfectly. Impressive. But when I followed up with the request to "set an appointment on that day", Siri failed to associate Christmas with "that day" as a human being would.

In my test, had I say "set up an appointment on Christmas day" instead of "that day", Siri would have understood me perfectly. We human beings work mostly with implicit meanings in conversations; otherwise we would be a verbose bunch. With Siri, that assumption falls apart. To avoid yelling at Siri for being stupid, you need to start practicing forming complete, self-containing sentences today. Yikes! To some, that's more daunting that typing in an appointment.

Fair assessment

Having tried Siri, I must say, as long as you make your statement clear, you can say it however you want and Siri can understand you perfectly. Using Nuance technology, the voice to text conversion is mostly flawless too.

Where Scott Forstall tried to sell the idea of Siri "following along the conversation just like a human being does", I think it is mostly not true. To be fair, that type of conversation is NOT the intended use of Siri anyway, as that capability represents true AI that we human has yet to grasp. Looking at Siri's behavior now, it is safe to say that we have a long way to go before Siri can talk to us like Jarvis to Tony Stark.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Apple Overtakes Exxon Mobile, Again

The stock market has been on a roller coaster ride lately. Today is historical in the corporate history of Apple, not so much in overtaking the largest oil company in market capitalization as reaching its highest price per share yet, at $418.75 shortly after the morning bell. All that from a company that nearly failed a decade ago.

One Week Later - Ongoing Memorial for Steve Jobs

Today I took a trip down to the local Apple Store here in Houston Galleria, and saw this remarkable scene.

Eulogy for Steve Jobs at Apple Store, Houston.

Looking at the eulogy written allover the window on Post-it® Notes , I found Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and many other languages. As you can see in the pictures above, there is even one coming from the Andriod nation.

I stood at the window for a few minutes just to see the reactions of the mall goers. Sure enough, many people were curious about what was going on, and someone would whisper "It's for Steve Jobs". People were spontaneously picking up the blank Post-it® Notes and pens left by others to write something of their own to add to the wall. Flowers were laying before the storefront. As cynical as I could be, I must say, this phenomenon was genuine; it goes on to show how much of a cultural impact Steve has on this generation. If you want to hear more about how people reacted, I suggest watching the 10/5/2011 episode of Buzz Out Loud.

Flowers for Steve. Blank Post-it® Notes are available for passers-by's to write something.

No sign points to when this public display of mourning will end. Eventually, Apple will begin stopping people from "decorating" their austerely styled stores, but the company itself is still in the mourning phase and most likely will allow the public to express themselves this way for a little while longer.

Business As Usual

Inside the store, things aren't any different. Tomorrow the demo units of iPhone 4S will be on display, and I wonder if there will be a line of fans here in Houston, eagerly waiting to bring home their new best friend named Siri.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Calendar App in iOS 5 - Followup Round 2 (Video)

Here are the new features in the Calendar app in action. I am using the iPad to demonstrate the tricks, but the operations are essentially identical on the iPhone.

Calendar App in iOS 5 - Followup Round 1

"What's that?" you said. Yup, remember the Week view we saw in earlier post? Turns out, even when your device is in portrait mode, you can go to the adjacent dates just by swiping left or right. That's right, just like how you navigate pages of apps on the home screen. Should've thought of that long ago, Apple. Just saying.

By the way, when you move an event by touch (see previous post), you can move to adjacent dates by dragging the event to the left or right edge of the screen. Again, similar to how you move an app icon across pages on the home screen.

Have fun!

Calendar App in iOS 5

The Calendar app in iOS5 is shipped with some new and useful tricks that is going to make your schedule making a little more touchy-feely.

The Long-Press Gesture

Up until iOS4, the only way to add a Calendar event is to tap the "+" button on the top right corner in the app.

New in iOS5, when in Day view, you can long-press anywhere with open slots, and a new event will appear on the screen right beneath your finger. Nifty. The new event will be hovering on the screen, following your finger wherever it goes until you let go of the touch, allowing you to place it on the time slot you desire.

Creating a new event by long-pressing the screen.

If you long-press an existing event, that event will also appear to be hovering, making it easy to move an event by touch.

Moving an existing event by touching.

Changing Event Duration

After lifting your finger from the long-press gesture, you will see two little circles attached to the event, one on top, and another below. These circles are the handles for you to change the duration of an event: dragging the top circle changes the start time, and the bottom circle the end time.

Changing duration by touching.

Week view in iPhone

Thanks to a larger-size screen, iPad's Calendar App has always have a Week view. In iOS5, iPhone gains the similar capability, finally.

Week View on iPad.
If you hold your iPhone in the landscape position, you will see a brand new view with multiple days going across, and the hours of each day going downwards. You can pan the view sideway or vertically by touching, no surprise there. Other than presenting your schedule in a whole new perspective, the aforementioned tricks still apply here, meaning you can move a event to a different day just by long-pressing and sliding your finger. This is by far my most favorite new trick on the iOS5 Calendar App.

Week View on iPhone.


More tricks have been discovered:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Upgrade to iOS 5 - with Cautions

By now you should have learned that iOS 5 is officially released. Without further ado, let's go over the steps to upgrade your iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch to the latest operating system:

  1. Make sure you remember your Apple account
    The account you use to purchase items from iTunes and the App Store will be your iCloud account. You will need that for iOS 5. Have it ready and it will come in handy later.
  2. Back up your device
    Connect your device to iTunes via USB and allow iTunes to make backups automatically.
  3. Install iTunes 10.5
    If you haven't already, download and install iTunes 10.5.
  4. *Important* Make some space on your device
    You should have copies of your music, movies and apps in your computer already. Make sure that's the case, and proceed to remove some content and make space available on your device, for reasons I'll explain later.
  5. Upgrade to iOS 5
    Click the "Check for Update" button in iTunes, which can be found on the device page when the device is connected. Follow the prompts, and let iTunes handle the rest.
  6. Set up iOS 5
    Once your device comes back to life, you will see some unfamiliar screens. No worries, they are simple steps for iOS 5 to set you up with iCloud services. All you need is your Apple account ID and password, and deciding on what services on iCloud you'd be using. These services are FREE!
  7. Refill your device
    If you followed my advice on the 4th step, now is the time for you to refill your device with content.
I encountered the problem of not having enough disk space during the upgrade process twice in the past: upgrading to iOS4, and to iOS5 Beta. Without going into details, let's just say that the experience wasn't pretty. Apparently, after a new version of OS is installed and running on your i-devices, the system will still need some time and (lots of!) space to reconfigure the apps and data. When space is low, the sight is ugly. While I think problems like this should not occur, I strongly suggest that you follow this advice.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs Remembered

Today the world misses Steve Jobs.

A man of his influence and celebrity status reaching far beyond the tech community, Steve had fiercely defended his and his family's private lives. It is a relief to learn that he was able to be with his dearest ones in his last days. A statement from Steve's family:

Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family.

In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family. We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve’s illness; a website will be provided for those who wish to offer tributes and memories.

We are grateful for the support and kindness of those who share our feelings for Steve. We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief.

Since the founding of this blog in 2005, much of what I do professionally has been tied to products Steve announced in various occasions. The original mission of this blog to share non-geek tips to Mac users was inspired by the first Macintosh's tagline: The computer for the rest of us. This spirit remained with the Mac throughout the decade of Steve's absence from Apple; today, I am confident to say that it will continue to inspire the rest of us in the tech community for years to come.

The public statement we last received from Steve on August 24, 2011:

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.


My condolences to Steve's family.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The "One More Thing" thing

Comes tomorrow, Apple will be unveiling the new iPhone (whatever that comes after iPhone 4), iOS5, and maybe more.

In many ways, tomorrow's event and its aftermath will be very uncertain; exhilarating, but uncertain.

The Post Steve Jobs Apple

It baffles me that we still see no shortage of pundits flirting with the idea of receiving yet another dose of epinephrine-inducing encore called "One More Thing" from Apple. Worse, some pundits, like Darrell Etherington from GigaOM writing for Businessweek, suggests that none other than Steve Jobs will be delivering it on stage.

Okay, to be fare, if tomorrow's event will indeed be closed-out with the famed climax, it's got to be done by Steve. The reason is simple: no one can do it like Mr. Jobs, it's just one of his things, like the black turtleneck. Anyone thinking he can pull off the trick like Steve is just begging for mockery, and mockery is what the Apple PR is trying to thwart off in every step of their war game. Among what we can expect at tomorrow's event, "One More Thing" is not one of them. The trick is trite, it's time to move on.

Not only will we not see this encore stunt, we won't even see Steve running the show. I still think there is a chance of Steve being present in the room, even being on stage just to say Hi, but don't expect anything more from him. It is also likely that Steve Woz would be appearing alongside Jobs in the audience front row, signifying the passing-on from the founder's era while leaving us with the last bit of warm fuzzy feelings like a good ending in a Hollywood feel-good flick. Not to mention, the official biography of Steve Jobs will be published in a few more weeks. Personally and processionally for Steve, anything mentioned about him from now on will be about his legacy, not another blockbuster.

The key here is passing on. Beneath the Apple fanfare is the cold hard reality of running a business. The biggest brand of Apple is Apple itself. That brand stood on many legs, one of them the public persona of Steve. As I'll argue below, the event tomorrow will make it clear that Apple will be Apple sans Steve from now on, and that's alright.

iPhone 5

As always, we have seen too many rumors about what the next iPhone will be like. Forgetting the oddball speculations, I think a few things will materialize:

  • A5 processor, if not A6
  • Even better graphics processing power, think games & Airplay,
  • same retina display, with improvements,
  • iOS 5, of course,
  • unibody back, just like the iPad2,
Apple has always let the new products do the talking. We will see how true this is in tomorrow's event, now that Steve won't be distorting our sense of reality no more. The invitation lays out very clearly: Let's Talk iPhone. Pundits are tripping over themselves to read between the lines and pixels, making up stories on the symbolisms on the invitation graphics, to which I say: DON'T. The appearance of iPhone 5 will be enough to generate oohs and aahs, followed by a few app demos by some lucky but trembling developers to show off iCloud integration and some closely guarded secrets of the new model, cumulating to the net effect of everyone including yours truly wanting to get rid of their suddenly stinking iPhone 4. We already know that iOS 5 has reestablished parity with Andriod and outdone the competitors in a few places; iPhone 5 will complete the picture on the hardware front and the OS implementation front.

Uncharted territories

We will most likely see a few more product announcements to complete the picture of iCloud. Also, there have been enough rumbling in the TV space that we can expect to see some iCloud magic there as well.

In the iPod days, product announcements were simple and clean; Apple enjoyed a lot more creative freedom in the product design when it comes to something as simple as an MP3 player. That freedom gave rise to the strategy of multi-tier product lineup with iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, and iPod Classic that completely took the oxygen away from the competitors. Nowadays, Apple is all about tie-ins, platforms, and ecosystems. No wonder that we see Apple slow down on hardware designs compared to the iPod days, not least because a phone's form factor is a lot more rigid to work around with.

The trend is going to continue even after tomorrow's product announcements. It points to two directions that old Apple fans may not take too well:

  • Apple's strategy is becoming more convoluted, and
  • Apple is becoming predictable.
To be fair, Apple is still the best company to play this game it has written for the industry; no other company is as coherent, nimble, bold, yet huge and powerful; most are just one or another, or neither. To Apple and the shareholders, it means that Apple from now on will either concur the uncharted territories (something Apple has done repeatedly) or go down hill (something Apple has also done to an epic scale before). Going downhill is easy without even making big mistakes; sitting still in Steve Jobs's remaining halo is enough to do it. You can bet that Apple doesn't have that future in mind. Apple's current success also falls squarely in its ability to outmaneuver the competitors, a skill set that come with the current executive team with Tim Cook being the poster child in this department. What we don't know is whether someone, or someones, will fill in the crucial role of great leadership vacuum left by Steve, the role of all roles that attract the best and competing minds to work towards the same goals.

Apple is many things - good things - to different people. To the financiers, it's a money making machine. To the marketers, engineers, and designers, it's a house of superstar products forming an tight and impenetrable superstar team in the tech and media world. To the competitors, it points to new directions and make new markets possible. To consumers, it constantly generates wants and keep them excited. To b-schoolers and professional managers, it's the mecca of strategic and tactical management, from supply chain management all the way to retail management. To the media and journalists, it's a constant source of stories. All these things and more still remain valid at least for a little longer after Steve's retirement.

I do not expect to see the full potential of the new Apple sans Steve in tomorrow's event, but I am still looking forward to seeing signs that can give me more clues to the future. If I have to coin a tone for tomorrow's event, it will be "cautiously optimistic".