My Experience With The OS X Mountain Lion Developer Preview

Apple is on pace to bring a new OS X release on an annual cadence. They released today the first bit of information as a developer preview for their latest OS X release called Mountain Lion.

The big story around Mountain Lion is iCloud. Apple, with Mountain Lion, has taken another step in tightly integrating iCloud into OS X the same way iCloud is tightly integrated into iOS 5. This is key because when OS X Lion came out last year iCloud was not yet released. iCloud is becoming the glue which ties all your Apple products together and with Mountain Lion that glue is coming to OS X.

The other key takeaway beyond iCloud is that OS X Mountain Lion brings many of the primary apps and iOS 5 experiences to the Mac platform. Things like Notifications, Notes, Reminders, iMessages, Game Center, Twitter and other quick share features, along with many more. Although this is an early developer preview, I am guessing there are a few surprises with Mountain Lion up Apple’s sleeve.

I have had the privilege of using an early beta release of the developer preview of Mountain Lion for a little while now and I want to share my experience with this latest release. Keeping in mind the software is still in beta yet it is a VERY solid Beta.

There are three key experiences I want to share along with one final point that should not be missed about OS X Mountain Lion and China.

I do a lot of texting. Other than email, texting is one of my primary forms of communications with a range of people in both my work and personal life. Having iMessage on my Mac has been a profound experience.

Perhaps this is because it feels as if it is the union of two things near and dear to me, Instant messaging and texting. From about 1998 to 2004 I used AOL Instant Messenger heavily. iMessage is like the union of texting and AIM and it is bliss for those deeply committed to the Apple ecosystem.

When someone texts me, the ability to quickly respond without having to pick up my iPhone or iPad is terrific. Primarily because when I am on my Mac I am generally writing a column or an in-depth analysis for a client. Responding to a message with iMessage on the Mac allows me to quickly respond and get back to what I was working on without fundamentally disrupting my work flow. This is probably the case because I am a part of the multi-tasking ADD generation and this was something I used to do with AIM as a part of my work flow. Also having all my message threads in sync across my Mac, iPhone, and iPad is tremendous as well. Basically I can pick up whatever device is most convenient at the moment to respond with and my conversation threads are always in sync.

iMessages on the Mac is something I have wanted since I started using it on the iPhone. I am glad Apple agreed.

Next up is how useful notifications on OS X truly is. Notifications were one of the features I was most excited about with iOS 5. Mostly because notifications are one of my favorite features with Android, but I don’t use an Android device as my primary phone for a variety of reasons related to personal preference. So this feature with iOS 5 was great for me as an Apple customer. Apple bringing notifications to OS X is equally exciting.

On this point, it is important to note that I have set my applications dock to hide and not stay visible all the time. Therefore having a “badge” show up on the application in the dock is not terribly useful for me. With that established, you can see why having a better notification for important things like email has always been a desire for me. In fact I have purchased at least three different third-party plug-ins for Mac Mail in order to notify me of email and many of them were more hassle than valuable.

While writing a column, analysis, creating a presentation, etc, being notified of new email from key contacts, as simple as it sounds, has been a great experience–and it works even while in full screen app mode.

AirPlay mirroring in iOS 5 was more valuable of a feature to me than I originally thought it would be–especially with the iPad. It turns out that I use AirPlay Mirroring from my iPad to my TV quite a bit. Whether it is playing a YouTube video, sharing photos from my iPad, playing a game, or sharing a website, I love moving content from my iPad to my TV. I wrote a column about that experience on how my iPad is taking over my TV.

Bringing this feature to the Mac opens up many new possibilities. For example, streaming TV shows from the web. Not all TV shows are available through things like Hulu+ or other network apps. However, nearly all network shows are available as a catch up TV solution through the web browser on a notebook or desktop. AirPlay Mirroring in OS X Mountain Lion will bring the full web in all its glory to your TV wirelessly. And in HD since OS X Mountain Lion AirPlay mirroring supports streaming 720p HD as well as resolution matching of your display to the TV.

Apple products are also invading the enterprise and corporate accounts in large numbers and this includes Mac products as well. I will bet that AirPlay Mirroring within OS X Mountain Lion is going to be a very handy feature for many conference rooms and work place settings.

Even creating Mac OS X apps that work in conjunction with your TV to give you a “two-screen” experience, similar to apps that do this on iOS, is exciting un-explored territory.

Don’t Miss Mountain Lions Impact to China

Lastly, I want to point out something that I think is very important. Because Apple so tightly controls not only the hardware they sell around the world but also the software, they are able to make very specific regional solutions as a part of their operating system. They have done just that by tightly integrating some incredibly useful features for the Chinese market.

A few key features for China:

  • Better suggestions: As you type, Mountain Lion offers more up-to-date and relevant candidates for words and phrases.
  • English and Chinese: You can now type English words in a Pinyin sentence without switching keyboards.
  • Better handwriting: Mountain Lion more than doubles the number of Chinese characters supported in handwriting recognition.
  • Autocorrection: If you enter Pinyin incorrectly, Mountain Lion suggests a likely candidate for the word you meant to type.
  • Fuzzy Pinyin: Mountain Lion adds support for Fuzzy Pinyin, which makes text input easier for users who type Pinyin with regional pronunciations.

Also full support for many popular services in China like Baidu search in Safari, Sina weibo, Youku, Tudou, is integrated right into Mountain Lion.

What is important to point out is that all of these specific features for the Chinese market will increasingly become a key differentiator for the Mac in that market. This also sends two messages. The first that Apple is very serious and committed to China. The second is that Apple is telling Chinese customers that they are interested in innovating uniquely for them.

Related: Don’t Miss OS X Mountain Lion’s Potential in China

Mountain Lion proves that Apple is still innovating specifically for the Mac. Yes the growth in iPhone, iPad and iOS is astonishing but the Mac remains an important part of the Apple ecosystem.

From what I have seen with the Mountain Lion developer preview, I see a myriad of things for Mac app developers to be excited about and many features consumers will find valuable.

How iCloud is Like Amazon’s WhisperSync

One of the interesting features I am picking up on iCloud is not the usual data syncing but how some apps are integrating iCloud. A good example of this is with games that are built to support iCloud.

Games or apps in general that are built or updated to support iCloud bring with them the ability to know where the consumers last usage point was and let them pick up where they left off on other devices.

This is a feature similar to Amazon’s WhisperSync with e-books, also a feature built into iBooks now, that lets you pick up where you left off of any book on whichever device you choose.

Clearly there is a great deal of value to the consumer to be able to use the same app on multiple devices and always be able to pick up where they left off. Some apps, like games for example, this is more practical for but I expect developers to find more creative ways to use iCloud app syncing in the future.

What is strategic about this for Apple is that this feature begins to become more valuable the more iOS devices you have.

If all I had was my iPhone then I would never be in a position to use the app on any device but my iPhone. Therefore, the need for apps to sync my last position isn’t all that necessary. This feature becomes more valuable, as does iCloud, the more iOS devices I own. The more possible devices I have in my personal ecosystem the more something like iCloud becomes valuable.

The game experience has been extremely useful and for the time being has encouraged me to play more games knowing I can pick up where I left off on another iOS device. This is the case in many times where as I play a game on iPhone and then when I get home I want to play the game on my iPad.

I can see value in this with music and perhaps video also. Suppose I was watching a TV show at Starbucks on my iPhone, because it was the only screen I had with me, then when I get home I want to pick it up where I left off on my iPad. I can see a great deal of value in that experience.

Given that iOS and iCloud are so new, I imagine that over time we will see these experiences get better and more comprehensive.

In many ways we are just scratching the surface with the personal cloud concept and I am excited to see where it goes.

How My iPad is Taking Over My TV

I have been enjoying the new AirPlay iPad and iPhone mirroring a little too much. Every since updating to iOS 5 on Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone, I have been using the AirPlay mirroring function every chance I get. In case you are unfamiliar with this new feature, AirPlay now lets you mirror any iOS 5 device through Apple TV to your big screen. This brings not just streaming video, photos, music from certain apps but from every app.

I have been using this new feature to browse the web, play games, check twitter, watch Hulu and YouTube, make music with Garageband, Face Time and more all on my 55″ TV. I am not sure how terribly practical all of this is in the long run but I am exploring the possibilities.

One use case that has been interesting in particular, is using the iPad and mirroring it to my Apple TV, then using my Bluetooth connected keyboard to use my big screen as an external large display for my iPad. In this use case I have responded to e-mail, wrote a column, and done general text entry using the iPad now on a large screen.

Again, this I’m sure is not something many are doing, or will want to do, I am simply exploring the possibilities.

In this experiment, I again have been debating in my head whether or not Apple needs to or should build an actual TV set. It seems to me that Apple TV as a set-top-box along with operating system mirroring could go along way in satisfying the needs of a TV solution.

This has also made for a great technical demo. Countless times now, when people were over, I have shown this demo and quickly brought up photos or video I just took on iPhone or iPad and brought them to the TV. Even just for fun I have showed off new apps using the TV rather than just showing people on my phone. Again, not terribly practical but fun.

As much as I have been having fun with this experiment it needs to improve in several ways.

First of all, I’d like to see my iPad or iPhone mirroring go full screen on the TV. There are obvious technical challenges involved with this but they are ones which can be solved. As you can see from this image I have my Hulu+ app on my TV using AirPlay mirroring but there are black bars on the side.

When using the iPad this was less of a big deal as the screen is larger but with the iPhone using mirroring is almost pointless because it is so small.

Another change that needs to be made is when the iPad goes to sleep, Apple TV mirroring goes off. In many cases where I was typing with an external keyboard for example, I was not actively using the iPad screen. I’d like to still use iOS mirroring in many cases even if the iPad or iPhone goes to sleep.

I’d really like to see perhaps a split screen, with iOS and my live or broadcast TV done better. It would be interesting to be able to watch TV, whether recorded or live, and have something like the Twitter app or Facebook app up on the screen simultaneously. I know certain TV’s from Samsung and a few others can run apps but doing this without the need for a new TV using what I have (Apple TV and an iPad) is a better value proposition.

Lastly, I would like the same iOS mirroring on Apple TV with OSX. I’d like to be able to do something similar to what Intel offers with Wi-Di, where you can mirror your notebook to the TV.

Key Takeaways

After seeing iOS on my TV, I am absolutely convinced it belongs on my TV. Using apps on the big screen has been a fascinating experience. I literally can not wait for the day when iOS developers can write apps specifically for the TV.

Another interesting take-away has been notifications. As I have been doing app mirroring and using the Hulu app for example, I have found it valuable to see a quick alert from either a news source, email, twitter etc. My wife finds it annoying but just the experience of seeing notifications of things I care to be notified of, on my TV while being entertained, was interesting.

This experience has shown me a vision of what I believe a more encompassing Apple TV experience could provide. Apple is clearly only scratching the surface with iOS mirroring on Apple TV and I am excited about the possibilities.

Just to show it, here is Face Time and the Writer App on my TV.

iOS Morphing Into a Desktop OS?

imageDuring the Apple WWDC, I was really struck at just how many features were added into iOS 5 and just how few new features had been added to Lion. Don’t get me wrong here, I like Lion a lot but after using many of the 250 new features, few altered how or what someone can do with a computer or already to with a tablet. The one exception was AirDrop, which makes peer-to-peer sharing easier. Also, many of the iOS features seemed like desktop features, and the new Lion features appeared to make it look more like iOS features. Let’s take a look.

New Desktop-Like Features in iOS 5

  • Tabbed Browsing: I remember some apologists explaining away the lack of tabbed browsing with the iPad 1. Now Safari has tabs…. on its 9.7″ display.
  • Basic Photo Editing: No longer an add-on app like my favorite, Photogene, photo enhancements are available right inside the Photos app. Users can use auto-enhance, remove red eye and even crop photos.
  • Reading List: Previously available on the Mac, the iOS Safari browser has the Reading list, a place to save articles you wish to read later.
  • Mail Features: Now users can edit email text, add or delete email folders, and even search all the email text, not just the subject line for topics. All of this in the new Mail.
  • Calendar Features: Like on Lion, users can drag time bars to set meeting time, can view attachments inside the calendar app and even share calendars.
  • Mirroring: Via a cable to wirelessly through an Apple TV 2, see on a monitor or TV exactly what is on the iPad 2 or iPhone 4s.
  • Improved Task Switching: With new “multitasking” gestures, users no longer need to click the home button to return to the home screen or switch between apps. They use a four-finger left-to-right gesture to switch tasks and what I call the “claw” to go to the home screen.

New iOS-Like Features in Lion

New Gestures: Every iOS user is familiar with finger scrolling, tap to zoom, pinch to zoom and swipe to navigate. Now this is available on a Lion Mac.

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  • Full Screen Apps: By design, every iOS is full screen. Now Lion has this capability.
  • App Store: Required since the first iPhone, now ships with Lion.
  • Launchpad: This is Lion’s fancy name for iOSs Home Screen. A bunch of app icons.
  • Mail Improvements: Yes, even desktop Mail is getting more like iOS. In this case, adding full height message panes.


So What? Why Should we Care?

So what does this mean, if anything? It is too early to tell, but it could signal a few alternative scenarios:

  • Unity of UI? By uniting many of the UI elements across phone, tablet and computer, quite possibly it could make switching between iPhone, iPad and Mac easier. Also, as advanced HCI techniques like voice and air gesture emerge, do input techniques get even closer? Can one metaphor work across three different sized devices?
  • Easier Switch to Mac from Windows? The logic here says, even if you were brought up on a Windows PC, if you can use an iPhone or iPad, you can use a Mac.
  • Modularity? I’ve always believed that a modular approach could work well in certain regions and consumer segments, but only if the OS and apps morphed with it. For example, a tablet with a desktop metaphor makes no more sense that a desktop with a tablet metaphor. What if they could morph based on the state but keep some unifying elements? For instance, my tablet is a tablet when it’s not docked. When docked it acts more like you would expect with keyboard and mouse. They two experiences would be unified visually and with gestures so that they didn’t look like two different planets, but two different neighborhoods in the same city.
  • Desktop OS Dead or Changing Dramatically? What is a desktop OS now? If a desktop OS is a slow-booting, energy-consuming, keyboard-mouse only, complex system, then Microsoft is killing it with Windows 8 next year anyways, so no impact.
  • Simplicity Dead? If phone and tablet OSs are becoming more like desktop OSs, is that good for simplicity? Or are desktop operating systems getting more like phone and tablet operating systems? How do you mask the complexity and still be able to do a lot?

Where We Go From Here

We will all get a front row seat next year to see how users react to one interface on three platforms. Windows 8 will test this next year and Metro UI will be on phones, tablets and PCs. The only caveat here is the Windows 8 desktop app for traditional desktop which will server as a release valve for angst and a bridge to the future. Whatever the future holds, it will be interesting.

“PC Free” in iOS 5 Doesn’t Mean “Free from PCs” (or Macs)

There’s a new feature in iOS 5 that’s called “PC Free”.  While the definition is very specific, it conjures up a lot of images I would guess, specifically getting rid of the PC and Mac. So exactly what parts of the PC and Mac is it removing?

“PC Free” is about removing the PC for a few tasks that are frankly awful parts of the iOS experience and primarily administrative. Here is how it’s described on the iOS 5 landing page:


image“Independence for all iOS devices. With iOS 5, you no longer need a computer to own an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. Activate and set up your device wirelessly, right out of the box. Download free iOS software updates directly on your device. Do more with your apps — like editing your photos or adding new email folders — on your device, without the need for a Mac or PC. And back up and restore your device automatically using iCloud”.

It sounds promising, the promise of getting rid of that nasty horrible PC or Mac. :-).  Can you really dump your Mac or Windows PC?

I asked a few people in my family and at work what they liked doing on their PC and didn’t do on their tablet.  Here’s why they said they couldn’t ditch their PC or Mac to (UPDATED):

  • Text chat with someone on Google Chat at the same time as you are looking at FaceBook.
  • Quickly create a somewhat complex spreadsheet or presentation.  You really need a mouse to do this productively and iOS doesn’t support mice with Keynote or Numbers.
  • Download a file from multiple web sites in the background as you do something in the foreground.  There are a few exceptions with some apps, but certainly cannot be done in the iOS browser.
  • Compress a big file and email it.  Zipping or Rarring a file, attaching it, then emailing it.
  • Watch 1080p video. iPad has “768P” display for lack of a better term.  Yes, a user can watch 1080P on the iPad 2 on an extra display like an HDTV.
  • Importing HD video into the iPad that wasn’t taken on an iPhone or another iPad.  I am not aware of HD source video that’s shot to iOS specs.  I’ve had to reconvert gobs of videos on my PC to play on the iPhone or iPad.
  • Storing all your pictures. I am talking the multiple gigabytes of years and years of pictures. Alternatively you can rent iCloud space.
  • Store your entire music collection beyond iPads storage.
  • Store lots of personal videos.
  • “Perfect” personal video you’ve downloaded or shot with a camcorder that’s shaky, dark, etc.  Things that software like VReveal can do.
  • Face tagging. You’ll need iPhoto, Picasa, or Windows Live Photo Gallery for this.
  • Display different content on one display and different display on another.  There are a few exceptions, very few.
  • Any web site that uses Flash for navigation, like my local Mexican restaurant.
  • Print. I know, iOS says it can print. Have you gotten it to reliably print?  I didn’t think so. You think people don’t need printers anymore?  Tell my teenagers science and English teacher that.

OK, so you get the point here.  PC Free means you don’t need a PC to do some very basic and fundamental things. If you do need to do something the very basics, you will still need a PC or Mac.

iCloud is Awesome Yet Incomplete

After release to developers at Apple’s WWDC, the Apple iCloud is available to all consumers today with access to iOS 5 and updated iTunes.  In many ways, it is incredible that millions will have access to the consumer power of the cloud.  It’s very integrated into the experience, but then again, it’s not as complete or comprehensive when compared to the best-in-breed cloud apps and services available today.  Will that make a difference in consumer acceptance?  Let’s see.


What Makes a Great Cloud Experience?

A few applications define by example what a great cloud app or service can provide.  To a consumer, this will change over time and will also be dependent of their comfort and knowledge.   Some sites that are ahead of the cloud service game are Evernote, Amazon Kindle, and Netflix.  What makes these great examples of consumer cloud offer?   While very different in terms of usage, they share similar variables that in aggregate make them awesome:

  • Cross Platform: Windows, OSX, iOS, Android and the web.  Kindle and Netlix are even available on special-purpose devices like the Kindle and Roku.  Consumers can buy into the service and not worry about the platform going away.
  • Continuous Computing: Continuous computing means a few different things. On content consumption, the next device picks up exactly where the last device left off. On Netflix, if I am halfway through a movie on my iPad I can pickup at the same spot on my Roku. When I pick up another Kindle device, it asks me whether I want to go to the latest bookmark.
  • Sync: While a step back from continuous computing, it does assure that the same files are on the same system. On Evernote, every change I make is in synch when I open up the next device.
  • Continuous Improvement: Monthly and even weekly updates to add features and functionality.
  • Compatible and Data Integrity: Even with all these updates, the data keeps its integrity.  If the service has a question about which version is the master, it asks me.  Evernote will tell me that I have a duplicate entry and lets me pick the version or content I want.

iCloud: Cross Platform

As we all know, Apple by design works in its own “walled garden” but that doesn’t mean its completely closed off.  You cannot get iCloud-enabled apps like Pages, Numbers, Keynote or iBooks for Windows or Android.   Even worse, you cannot get to your photos and PhotoStream on any mobile device other than iOS.  To be fair, users can get access to Photo Stream on a Windows PC , but users should at least be allowed access to their own photos over the web if they want. Users can access iWork compatible documents on all “modern” browsers by going to and downloading files.  Windows users then need to drag and drop the updated file inside the web-based to update the file. – Grade D

iCloud: Sync

iCloud will automatically  “sync” photos (Photo Stream), purchased music and TV shows (iTunes), apps, letters (Pages), spreadsheets (Numbers), and presentations (Keynote), Reading Lists and Bookmarks (Safari), reminders (Reminders), calendar (Calendar), email (Mail), notes (Notes), and contacts (Contacts).

There are some major exceptions.  iWork documents will not auto sync with the Windows “Documents” folder, as I think users would expect.  Sugarsync and Drobbox will automatically sync documents with Windows and any other file type with Windows.  Also, personal videos and commercial movies do not sync on any iCloud platform which I don’t fully understand.  Maybe its a concern with storage on iOS devices or storage and throughput  in the iCloud.  – Grade B

iCloud: Continuous Computing

Within iOS phones and tablets, users can start right where they left off for TV shows (Videos) , games (Games Center) and book bookmarks (iBooks).  These are real awesome capabilities especially for those where it’s hard to know where you left off.

imageiCloud will not save the “state” for playing music (Music), playing movies (Videos), or web pages (Safari).  Add the PC and Mac into the continuous computing arena and iCloud experience starts to degrade for most all use cases for a variety of reasons.  iOS games don’t run or sync on a Mac or PC and on Windows  platforms iWork isn’t available.  Consumers over time will expect continuous computing on every usage model on every platform, the way Evernote does it today.   Grade C

iCloud: Continuous Improvement

I cannot definitively answer this question as it will emerge over time, but I must extrapolate from what I have seen from previous drops of Apple software. Apple software app drops, with iOS in particular, have been consistent, very often, and very solid code. – Grade A

iCloud: Compatible and Data Integrity

So far so good, even on difficult to manage applications like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.  I make a one line change to a document without going back to “Documents” inside iOS and web Pages, the one line changed on every other system. – Grade A

What, not Straight A’s and Does it Matter?

Apple has never needed to achieve a 4.0 in everything to be successful.  Getting all A’s in the core segment of users and building useful solutions that just work has been the Apple hallmark.  The first iPhone proved this and the iPhone 4s will prove this again as everyone else offers 4G but Apple doesn’t have to. A good fallback to Continuous Computing in good Sync, and I believe that as long as Apple still allows other services with better cloud capabilities into their walled garden, it won’t be an issue now. Over time, I believe Apple will fill in the gaps in iCloud and that have fully thought through where they could add the most value and that’s what they hit first.  Your move, Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

Siri Could Be Reason Enough to Buy the iPhone 4S

Siri iconFolks who found Apple’s iPhone announcement disappointing, and there were plenty of them, weren’t really paying attention. My colleagues Tim Bajarin and Ben Bajarin have outlined the reasons consumers should be excited about the new phone, despite the fact that it looks identical to its predecessor. I’m going to focus on just one of them, the Siri personal assistant.

It’s a huge mistake to regard Siri as a speech recognition component. Speech recognition has become highly developed, but by itself, it doesn’t do very much. Anyone who has used voice control on an Android phone knows it is very good at letting you dictate messages, but not much else.

Siri cracks a much tougher nut. For it to work, the software, which runs partly on the iPhone 4s and partly on Apple’s servers, must understand not just your words but your meaning. If you ask “should I wear a raincoat today?” and Siri responds with a weather forecast, were are looking at very significant advance in machine intelligence.

At this point, a couple of very important caveats are in order. Siri looked spectacular in Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller’s demo. But it was a demo, and the people who create demos carefully limit their choices to commands and functions that they are confident will work. Apple didn’t give attendees at the announcement any hands-on time with the phone. So until users have a chance to try out Siri in the wild, we’ll have to reserve judgment on how good it really is. In a move that seems more Googley than Apple-like, Siri is being released with the iPhone 4 on Oct. 14, but it is officially designated as a beta product, perhaps in and effort to temper expectations.

A second question is just how good it has to be for people to find it useful. If it doesn’t truly make the iPhone easier to use, people will abandon it quickly. But if it works anywhere near as well as it did in the demo, I suspect it will revolutionized the way we interact with devices.

While science fiction computers has been able to carry on intelligent conversations for decades, it has taken real world computers about that long just to learn to recognize words reliably. Speech recognition, which companies such as IBM and AT&T began working on seriously in the 1960s, was based primarily on signal processing and statistical analysis. Natural language understanding seemed hopelessly beyond reach, whether the input was spoken or typed.

Siri was developed by a company of the same name that was acquired by Apple. The original research was funded by the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, but Apple may have thrown more engineering and computer science muscle into the project than even the Pentagon can afford these days. But it also had to wait foir a dramatic increase in the processing power of mobile devices—one reason that Siri will not be available with iOS 5 on older phones–and more seamless communications that allow the work to be split between the phone and the server.

As smart as smartphones have become, simple tasks can require annoyingly many steps. Setting up a meeting requires checking a calendar for the proposed time, finding attendees in a contact list, and sending out invitations. If all that can be replaced by pushing a button and saying, “Set up a meeting with Tim Cook for 10 am on Friday,” ease of use will have taken a great leap forward.

One secret to any successful attempt at natural language understanding is restricting the range of commands, known as the domain, that it must make sense of. If you tell Siri, “Write Mr. Smith a script for simvastatin,” your iPhone will probably stare at you blankly (unless, of course, someone uses the Siri application programming interface to create a prescription-writing program.) The range of things you can reasonably ask a smartphone to do is still pretty limited.

The critical question is how much of that repertoire of requests Siri will handle well.  If it is a reasonable fraction, Siri alone will provide ample reason for the iPhone 4’s success.

Consumers Will Be Delighted With the iPhone 4S

I’ve been reading and digesting much of the post Apple event news where they introduced their newest iPhone, the iPhone 4S. I’ve attended every major Apple product launch event since 2003. The last few years the media hype and anticipation around Apple product launches has reached astronomic proportions.

Even today post the event I am not surprised to see “disappointed” and “underwhelmed” in the headlines. It seems as though at every launch event for the past few years the question of “did they do enough” gets asked of me by the media.

The media, luckily for Apple, is not Apple’s target customer. In fact at the launch event Apple showed some very telling slides showing statistics that highlighted how much market share in every major personal electronics category is still left for Apple to gain. These slides tell the story of how Apple thinks about the market as a whole and how all their decisions are geared to grow their market share using product strategies that work.

When I look at the Apple’s current iPhone lineup with the 3GS being free with a new contract or the iPhone 4 being $99, I am convinced that now is as good of time as any for consumers to jump into the Apple ecosystem. However the 4S is now the flagship of the iPhone lineup.

The iPhone 4 is arguably the best designed handset in the cellular industry. In my opinion no handset on the market comes close to the iPhone 4 design. For this reason Apple didn’t need to change the design. In fact earlier in the year I argued that Apple didn’t even need to release a new iPhone this year and they would have still stayed the number one smart phone manufacturer. The iPhone 4 is that good so why fix what isn’t broken.

However they did improve on it and as a matter of fact they improved on it all the ways that make it even more useful than its predecessor. They made if faster both in terms of network speed and core performance. They gave it 7x better graphics which will make it one of the most impressive mobile gaming platforms graphics wise to date. They engineered a better antennae to make the phone download and upload data faster as well as deliver better sound call quality. They made the camera significantly better. They made a bunch of improvements that alone make the device attractive.

Apple is still attracting new iPhone customers at alarming rates. By offering the 3GS for free and the already amazing iPhone 4 for $99 and the iPhone 4S starting at $199 they have a very strong holiday lineup.

Design is important but it is only one part of the equation when consumers make buying decisions. The iPhone’s are still the leading objects of desire in the industry for the mass market.

One thing that seems to get left out, that I think is a very powerful point, is that by not changing the iPhone design new customers or those who upgrade will be able to tap into the already vast iPhone 4 accessory ecosystem. Consumers who buy the iPhone 4 or 4S will immediately find a plethora of accessories. This is a very attractive proposition.

Apple’s current tagline for the iPhone 4S is “Picking up where amazing left off.” That is fitting since they are still leading in the realm of handset design. The media may have expected more and the media may be disappointed however I am confident that actual consumers will be delighted with the iPhone 4S. And really that is all that matters to Apple.

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Five Reasons to Upgrade to the iPhone 4S

While design enthusiasts may have wanted a smaller, lighter and even thinner iPhone, the fact remains that the current iPhone 4 design is about as thin as you can get a smart phone and still pack it with all of the additional new features that will make it the most powerful and best-selling smart phone on the market.

What disappointed people may have in the fact that it is identical in design to the last model, is made up by the high-powered A5 chip that delivers 50% more processing power, and a new dual core graphics chip that is 7X faster than the one in iPhone 4. It has a the new signal processor that makes it possible to deliver Siri’s voice command driven personal assistant, the new 8 megapixel camera with enhanced image sensor, the new video processor that delivers stunning video and the dual antenna system that makes calls and wireless sensitivity better than ever.

From an engineering standpoint, this is the most powerful iPhone Apple has ever made and should help them deliver their first 25-27+ million iPhone quarter this holiday season. With the 3GS being free with contract, this phone could finally attract the laggards who hesitated buying an iPhone because of cost. And the iPhone 4 starting at $99, with its dual cameras and capability to do Facetime, will also be in high demand. However, there are millions of users with 3GS contracts that are out of subscription hell and will gladly make the jump to this new phone in huge numbers. And many iPhone 4 users are close to being out of their contract and many of these folks will also upgrade as soon as they can.

From a consumer standpoint, there are five major reasons why a person should upgrade.

The first is the new 8-megapixel camera sensor at 3264 X 2448 which is 60% more pixels than in iPhone 4 that Apple has in the iPhone 4. This includes a new powerful image sensor and will become the gold standard for digital cameras in smart phones. The images are just stunning. They are 30% sharper.

The second reason is the new video sensor that delivers the best video recording on a smart phone available. The demo they showed of a video taken and actually edited on the iPhone 4 S has to be seen to be believed. It now shoots at 1080P. A user would likely now be more than happy to just use their smart phone to take all of their pictures and videos as the quality of this is beyond what most point and shoot cameras deliver.

The third reason to upgrade is for the SIRI voice assistant. This introduces a whole new way to interact with your iPhone. You can ask it things like, what is today’s weather and get an exact answer instantly via voice. Or you can say, set my alarm for 6:00 AM and it does that automatically for you. Or you can ask, what time is it in Paris, France and it reads out that time to you on demand. It can answer hundreds of questions and enact immediate commands to the phone as part of its design.

What’s more if you are driving and hear a message alert, you can just ask it to read the message to you. Or you can just speak it your message and who to send it to and it does that as well. It can also do dictation in messages, email, and in any app that uses a keyboard. Most importantly SIRI and its voice system only works on an iPhone 4S because of its use of this special signal processor that Apple has on this new iPhone.

And the fourth reason is because of the new antennas. Apple has employed a breakthrough in the way antennas work by making them handle incoming and outgoing calls and data signals differently. This enhances quality of service and it goes a long way to delivering a better voice and data experience. Along with their CPU boost and speed gains from the Antenna that let the iPhone 4S operate at 4G speeds even though it is still a 3G phone, should get it a lot of street cred with users.

And the fifth reason to upgrade is because it is a world phone. That means it can handle CDMA and GSM and can switch between networks when traveling in every country around the world. This is great for anyone that has to travel the world for work or pleasure.

Another hot feature for all IOS users will be the new iMessage system that provides free messaging to any IOS device, which now includes all iPod Touches with the new IOS 5 software.

Of course, iCloud and its amazing synchronization engine will be a godsend to those who want to keep all of their music, video and docs always in sync and up-to-date. In fact, I consider iCloud a most important Apple product and one that will actually help define what the cloud is for consumers and force all competitors to follow suit.

Lastly of course, iOS 5 with 200 new features, will deliver much more power and capabilities to all iPhone and iPod Touch users and make them even more indispensable than before.

iOS 5 and iCloud will both be release on Oct 12th.

The new iPhone 4S will ship on Oct 14th.
The 16 gig is $199. The 32 Gig is $299 and a new 64 Gig is available for $399 with contract.

In the US the iPhone 4S will be available on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. By the end of the year worldwide it will be available in over 70 countries.