Sep 302010

I’ve always been enamored with the idea of speech recognit(ion softwa)re. Ever since Dragon NaturallySpeaking, I have attempted to incorporate dictation software into my workflow.While it is not always the most natural way fo(r) one to control their computer or even bang out one or t(wo emails,) its utility in creating long pieces of narrativeis frankly quite impressive. When MacSpeech’s d(ictate) was acquired by Nuance, the developers behind the Windows version of NaturallySpeaking, I was hopefu(l) a program would acquire som(e of) the Windows versions ease-of-use.

I chose to use Dragon Dictate to write the first paragraph of this post to illustrate the central point. The parenthetical portions are words that were not transcribed. The paragraph above is actually a very generous deviation from the norm. I regularly drop a word from every other sentence.

The problem isn’t the recognition. I know this because I have Growl set up to detect what the software is hearing and display it as a pop-up as it’s being transcribed into the text field.

The “hearing” is fine, but the transcription suffers from something that required some digging on MacSpeech’s discussion boards (the problem apparently dates back to MacSpeech Dictate. Nice to see that Nuance’s acquisition of Dictate from MacSpeech – and “major” product update that milked another $49 from its users kept this bug intact). Apps or programs running in the background on your Mac that use any kind of auto-completion can conflict with Dictate’s ability to make words appear as they’re heard. The fix: shut off these programs or deactivate those preference panes if you want to use Dictate. A partial list of those programs include Typinator, TypeIt4Me, Clips, Pastebot – basically anything that can produce text from an abbreviation or a keyboard shortcut.

This is bullshit.

First of all, this makes zero sense to me intuitively. As I mentioned, the Growl dialog box displays what I’m saying perfectly, so there is some ability to properly turn my voice to words. But I’m sure there’s some awesomely technical explanation as to why that has nothing to do with solving the problem. Here’s the point: Dictate is productivity software and I doubt there is a single person using Dictate that isn’t using at least one of blacklisted programs. Personally, I have 3 running on that partial list. If you can’t have your program work with other processes, you shouldn’t be on the Mac platform. The fact that you’re the only option for recognition software might make you think you don’t have to make this work. I’m here to tell you that if you don’t get your shit straight, you’re on your way to failure on the Mac platform. People didn’t buy a Mac to fuck around with their preference panes to accommodate a poorly-coded program. Nuance is carrying the equivalent of a System 9 extension conflict as a major bug in its shipping software.

Fix it or fail.

 Posted by at 11:13 am
Sep 282010

So you’ve read about the financial difficulties of running a newspaper because of competition from lazy, incompetent news aggregators that don’t check sources and don’t provide much critical value. Print media is struggling to find its way in the digital economy, even though their role of honest broker is one of the most important in all of media. Bloomberg gives us a good example of what we’re losing.

The premise of “Sprint Lures AT&T iPad Users With Portable Wi-Fi Hotspots” is that the introduction of AT&T’s tiered pricing for 3G data and the exclusivity of Apple’s contract has created an opportunity for Sprint. For only $59.99 (or $30 more than AT&T’s 2 GB/month data plan), you can have unlimited data back. Tell me what these statements would lead you to believe, or risk stupidity blindness by reading it yourself:

Sprint’s palm-sized Overdrive 3G/4G hotspot device allows users to connect to the lower-priced Wi-Fi-only iPad from anywhere the carrier has coverage.

Sprint Chief Executive Officer Dan Hesse has said the Overland Park, Kansas-based carrier has no plans to end unlimited data plans.

(Portland resident Bob) Morgan said he’s found the Overdrive to deliver 3G speeds where other carriers don’t reach, such as on 11,300-foot Mount Hood in Oregon.

You’d think that coverage would be universal across their entire network. Well, as “universal” as coverage gets on a network shittier than AT&T’s anyway.

Well, nowhere in the process of regurgitating the mindless drivel from the PR flacks at Sprint did it occur to Greg Bensinger that he should ask about the universality of this great deal. Because it only applies to Sprint’s 4G network, which makes for one of the most hilarious coverage maps in telecommunications. Seriously, see if you can discern one 4G coverage area on Sprint’s website when you zoom out to the U.S. view.  3G is capped at 5GB/month. This restriction is mentioned a total of zero places in the article. It’s not even implied.

Oh – and about those intentions of keeping data unlimited? If Sprint really had the balls required to steal customers from AT&T, they’d stop being grossly disingenuous with their media enemas and either open up their “unlimited” plan to include 3G or guarantee that 4G would be unlimited for life for those signing up. Because these great sounding proclamations about unlimited data sound an awful lot like AT&T and Verizon did last year.

Sep 202010

God bless Gene Munster. Today he broke news that Apple has signed a deal with guidemaker Rovi. Unfortunately, Gene’s having a hard time parting with his prediction that this is evidence of Apple’s someday (2-4 years) release of its own television. I don’t know how he assembles this conclusion, aside from the fact that people are more likely to click on a story that connotes that Apple will take over television, as opposed to Apple making yet another AppleTV.

Apple won’t be making a TV, but what Rovi does is important. They make content guides licensed by cable and satellite companies. According to their website, Rovi has over 50 years of metadata available for their IPGs (interactive program guides) with over 2.5 million television programs, 430,000 movies and 23.5 million music tracks in their database. It also allows for syncing across devices.

What does this mean? Well, if you’ve ever cursed the 3 second delay between your pushing the “Guide” button on your Comcast remote and the appearance of the guide on your screen, or howled at the nonsensical layout of your DVR menus, help may be on the way.  If Apple were to use Rovi’s guide infrastructure to create a program guide and – dare we dream – a DVR, it would fill a gaping hole in Apple’s current offering. Did I just hear TiVo’s stock take on water?

 Posted by at 8:49 pm
Sep 172010

Apple is usually pretty good about differentiating their product offerings, which is why the announcements of the 6G Nano and 4G Shuffle left me a little confused.

Apple’s PMPs fall along a line that runs from utility to features, like this:

Or, in product terms:

If you’re a gym rat, you likely bought a Shuffle – Nano ; if you were more of a multitasker, you went from Touch – Classic, depending on how many things you wanted to do besides listen to music.

As a product line, Apple’s PMPs were occasionally thrown a curve. In 2008, the Nano got a 240 x 320 screen and the last generation got an even bigger screen and a video camera, moving it closer to the Touch’s offerings. The last generation’s Shuffle lost its buttons, relying on the remote and its connection with iTunes to manage its contents. Although I believe Apple thought this would add convenience, the reality is that removing the buttons forced dependence on Apple’s inferior earbuds (or headsets with remote capabilities “blessed” by Apple) and made playlist control, for example, a bigger pain. So back came the buttons, which taken with the changes to the Nano, places these 2 products in almost the same place (for practical purposes, the Classic is a discontinued form factor):

They have a very similar footprint (1.14″H x 1.24″W vs. 1.48″H x 1.61″W). One has buttons; one has a 1.5″ touchscreen, which is 136 pixels shorter than the 5G Nano. The new Nano doesn’t (yet) play or shoot video like its previous incarnation, but it can show pictures. It is a Shuffle-sized iPod Touch, but it isn’t an iOS device (it runs only the menu items installed; no apps).

The question is: who will buy it? It’s not the kind of thing I’d want to poke at on a treadmill, and it doesn’t have any of the cool features of the Touch – or even the previous generation’s Nano. In the short term, people will buy it because its kind of cool and is a decent incarnation of MultiTouch. In the longer term, I think Apple has created its first true “Thunderdome” scenario across it’s PMP line. 2 form factors enter, which one will leave?

Although I could make a strong case for the Shuffle, I think the Nano will rule Bartertown. The next product refresh will drop the buttons and the Classic in favor of MultiTouch-only PMPs. Although this current Nano/Shuffle market spacing is slightly un-Apple, I think the ultimate direction of their product line is clear.

Sep 142010

I threw up 5 times this morning to fit into this bikini!

You may have seen Amazon’s cute ad for its Kindle e-reader recently. It depicts a dork with an iPad and a bikini-clad model with a Kindle, both reading from their devices poolside. One is struggling to read his glossy screen while the other is breezing through her electronic copy of Self magazine  (oops – that’s not available on the Kindle) Pride and Prejudice. And at $139, our model quips “I actually paid more for these sunglasses”. Check and mate Jeff Bezos!

The problem is that Amazon just laid out the entirety of its differential value proposition in that commercial. Sort of like the shitty movie with the awesome 2 minute trailer, that’s as good as it’s going to get. For $139, that might be disposable income for some, but if you’re in the market for devices that can read books, are you really going to drop $139 when you could have a device that does video, email and has access to a quarter million apps for twice as much? Book nuts will buy a Kindle to read to their 5 cats. Anyone who has thought about doing more with their device won’t.

Oh, and people who fry themselves poolside in 2010 with the regularity that would make the Kindle a clear “buy” should be making arrangements for their skin grafts now.

TMA is now at 100 posts. Thanks to all you comment spammers for giving me something to do with my free time. Try clicking through some ads.

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