Tag: Apple

How to have Siri read articles to you

On a dri­ve recent­ly and want­i­ng to lis­ten to a long­form arti­cle over Blue­Tooth, I con­sid­ered my options.

Apple News has a great new human-read audio ser­vice, but only for select arti­cles.

There have been a half dozen human-read news apps that came to (and some­times went from) the App Store in the last few years, but their library of con­tent is often small — Noa and Lis­tle, to name a cou­ple.

Instapa­per and Pock­et can “read” arti­cles with gen­er­at­ed speech, but the qual­i­ty of the speech isn’t great.

I remem­bered the impres­sive demo of the new Siri voice at the iOS 13 keynote and thought it’d be cool if Siri could read an arti­cle to me. I said, “Hey Siri, read this arti­cle to me,” with no luck.

But there’s an unob­tru­sive acces­si­bil­i­ty set­ting you can acti­vate that will allow you to trig­ger Siri read­ing any web con­tent.

In “Set­tings > Acces­si­bil­i­ty > Spo­ken Con­tent,” turn on “Speak Screen.” Then in “Voic­es,” down­load one of the “Siri” voic­es, which should be bet­ter than the default “Saman­tha.”

Now, when you’re view­ing an arti­cle in Safari, swipe down with two fin­gers from the top of the screen, and Siri will start read­ing the arti­cle, even with vari­able speed. It’s not per­fect, but it’s bet­ter and even eas­i­er than the third-par­ty options I’ve found.

Observations on Apple’s “The whole working-from-home thing” video

I love these videos, where Apple show­cas­es its fan­tasies for what a ful­ly Apple-ified life looks like. (I’m remind­ed of this Mar­tin Scorcese/Siri com­mer­cial from 2012.) I’m also fas­ci­nat­ed by pro­duc­tion design and the small east­er eggs hid­den in stuff like this. And I like watch­ing people…be pro­duc­tive? It’s weird I know.

I imag­ine the pur­pose is to pull all of Apple’s devices and fea­tures out of the abstract and into some­thing resem­bling a real-life con­text, so that you can more eas­i­ly say, “Oh that would make things easier/better/faster/cooler for me.”

So here’s some stuff I noticed:

Con­tin­ue →

What if the iPad trackpad is for focus, too?

I’ve been think­ing about the rumored iPad track­pad late­ly, and find myself hav­ing thoughts along the same lines as Dieter Bohn, name­ly that adding a cur­sor to the iPad would be a step back­wards. Not only would it inher­ent­ly inval­i­date and derail the cur­rent path of the touch com­put­ing par­a­digm, it could lead to lazy devel­op­ment of iPad apps that employ “touch tar­gets” that are at too fine a scale for actu­al touch. Slap­ping an arrow cur­sor onto the iPad is a cop out. The addi­tion of mouse sup­port for acces­si­bil­i­ty is great, for acces­si­bil­i­ty, and impor­tant­ly that addi­tion does­n’t mim­ic a tra­di­tion­al cur­sor.

Bohn sug­gests that the track­pad would be use­ful even if just for text manip­u­la­tion, but I think it could go fur­ther. Mul­ti-fin­ger ges­tures, of course, for access­ing slideover and expose, for instance; but as I heard Fed­eri­co Vitic­ci point out that there is no “focus engine” in iPa­dOS as there is in tvOS, it occurred to me that maybe the track­pad could per­form this func­tion, too. Apps on the Apple TV can’t respond to touch, of course, so every­thing is han­dled with the remote’s touch­pad mov­ing focus around. Would this be a use­ful addi­tion to iPa­dOS, giv­ing users the abil­i­ty to “tap” touch tar­gets with­out remov­ing their hands from the key­board?

If it’s not an RSS feed, it’s not a podcast

Recent­ly a pod­cast I like “moved to Spo­ti­fy,” which is the only place it can now be heard. A cou­ple weeks ago I was rec­om­mend­ed a pod­cast that sound­ed inter­est­ing, but it turned out to be exclu­sive to the Lumi­nary “pod­cast net­work.”

These are not pod­casts. It’s not a mat­ter of being behind a pay­wall (though Spo­ti­fy’s aren’t, as far as I know); sub­scrip­tion fees aren’t anti­thet­i­cal to pod­cast­ing (though they may be tech­ni­cal­ly chal­leng­ing).

A pod­cast is a text file, an XML or JSON out­line, that points a pod­cast play­er to a list of episodes. The pod­cast is indif­fer­ent to the thing down­load­ing it, and the play­er is indif­fer­ent to the thing host­ing it. Any­thing else isn’t a pod­cast — it’s just an audio show.

The term “pod­cast” has long out­grown its ety­mol­o­gy as “some­thing you play on your iPod,” but it’s nev­er­the­less notable that these new “pod­casts” can­not even be played on an iPod, oth­er than an iPod Touch with a WiFi con­nec­tion.

If I can’t lis­ten to it on my iPod Nano, it’s not a pod­cast.

The Problem with Apple as Creator and Curator

I haven’t watched much at all of Apple TV+‘s con­tent, so this isn’t about whether their shows are good or not. Hell, they’re win­ning Emmys after all.

One thing I used to love about the Roku is that it had no incen­tive to make you watch one thing over anoth­er. There was no “Roku store,” so its mak­ers weren’t moti­vat­ed to put paid con­tent front-and-cen­ter in the UI.

I gave that up once I switched to Apple TV, but I knew that, although Apple was incen­tivized to encour­age me to watch things that I could buy or rent through them, at least it was­n’t direct­ing me toward spe­cif­ic things for that rea­son; Apple does­n’t care whether I rent Bar­ton Fink or Trans­form­ers, as long as I rent it from Apple (and their library is exten­sive).

I love the TV app for its “Up Next” sec­tion, remind­ing me what I want to watch and where I left off. I even like the remain­ing rows, high­light­ing con­tent that is either being talked about (recent award win­ners, for instance, or big shows that are end­ing soon), or that is pos­i­tive­ly reviewed, or that is sim­i­lar to things I’ve expressed inter­est in in the past. With so much to watch these days, it’s nice to have dif­fer­ent ways for con­tent to be sur­faced.

On the oth­er hand are Ama­zon’s and Net­flix’s UIs, which late­ly seem to almost exclu­sive­ly show you con­tent pro­duced by them, to encour­age you to stay in their ecosys­tems. The “home page” of the Net­flix app has got to be one of the most valu­able adver­tis­ing spaces on earth, and they take advan­tage of that. (See: Bird­box.)

But unfor­tu­nate­ly what has taint­ed the Ama­zon and Net­flix UIs is now a prob­lem on Apple TV, for two rea­sons: Apple TV Chan­nels and Apple TV+.

Because Apple TV Chan­nels is lim­it­ed to a small hand­ful of net­works — CBS, AMC, HBO, etc. — Apple is strong­ly incen­tivized to pro­mote shows from those net­works to encour­age me to sub­scribe to them through Apple. And with orig­i­nal con­tent being pro­duced for Apple TV+, they’re also incen­tivized to rec­om­mend their own shows to me, some­times with an entire row of con­tent in the UI.

This destroys what trust I once had in the con­tent cura­tion. It would be naive to think the rec­om­men­da­tions weren’t at all pre­vi­ous­ly moti­vat­ed by sales, but now when I see an Apple TV+ or CBS show high­light­ed, I know it’s effec­tive­ly no dif­fer­ent from an ad. They would rec­om­mend “The Morn­ing Show” to me whether or not it was good.

I almost wish they had an “edi­to­r­i­al depart­ment” who curat­ed the con­tents of the TV app and were not behold­en to the oth­er teams at Apple what­so­ev­er.

Apple Arcade: Games That Won’t Piss You Off

This hol­i­day I’ve been trav­el­ing to spend the week vis­it­ing some of my fam­i­ly, includ­ing four of my nieces and nephews. My youngest niece is 10 and I thought she’d like sit­ting on the couch solv­ing some kind of puzzle‑y iPad game with me. I went to Apple Arcade and down­loaded Tint, which I’d nev­er played before.

The expe­ri­ence of play­ing Tint real­ly made appar­ent the dif­fer­ence in play­ing an Apple Arcade game ver­sus vir­tu­al­ly any oth­er game on the App Store. Play­ing it was almost uncan­ny — the genre it rep­re­sents as a geom­e­try-based puz­zle game is the kind of thing that absolute­ly floods the App Store and shows you unskip­pable 30-sec­ond ads for tow­er defense games between lev­els. Even games with­in this genre that do cost a buck or two up front will like­ly have some forms of in-app pur­chas­es, for rubies, gems, in-game hints, extra lev­els, etc. I kept expect­ing the game­play to be inter­rupt­ed by some­thing ugly, loud, or obnox­ious, but it nev­er hap­pened.

There are plen­ty of poor Apple Arcade games, but they’re poor in ways that oth­er games in the App Store aren’t — in a short­com­ing of game­play design, art­work, or exe­cu­tion, rather than in a dis­re­spect for the val­ue of cus­tomers’ time and mon­ey. These games feel as though they were made by peo­ple, not by cheap puz­zle-gen­er­at­ing algo­rithms, copy­cats, or fly-by-night App Store flood­ing.

No, your iPhone is not listening to you

There’s a lot of FUD going around about your phone lis­ten­ing to every­thing you say and sell­ing that data to adver­tis­ers. This is wild­ly and irre­spon­si­bly mis­lead­ing.

I can’t speak for Android phones because those things are the Wild West of APIs and out­dat­ed OSes and mal­ware, so use Android phones at your own risk.

Here is the claim being made, in short:

Any third-par­ty (non-Apple) app you have installed on your iPhone can record and remote­ly save con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place with­in earshot of your iPhone, even when the app isn’t run­ning (in the fore­ground or in the back­ground), and even when the phone is sleep­ing.

This is patent­ly false. Third-par­ty iOS apps can only record audio when they are run­ning in the fore­ground or run­ning in the back­ground, and only if you have giv­en them per­mis­sion to do so. And even if you have grant­ed micro­phone access to the Face­book app, for instance, if you “kill” Face­book by swip­ing up on it in the app switch­er, Face­book is quit and can no longer access the micro­phone in any way.

Fur­ther, when third-par­ty apps are using the micro­phone, there is a big red bar with a micro­phone icon at the top of the screen of your phone in the sta­tus bar. There is as far as I know no way for devel­op­ers to pre­vent this from appear­ing.

In oth­er words, in order for any third-par­ty app to “lis­ten to you” through your iPhone:

  1. That app must be run­ning, either in the fore­ground or the back­ground.
  2. You must have explic­it­ly grant­ed that app per­mis­sion to access your micro­phone.
  3. There will be a red micro­phone icon at the top of your screen.

If any of those three things haven’t hap­pened or aren’t hap­pen­ing, then that app is not lis­ten­ing to you.

How do I explain, then, all the anec­do­tal evi­dence that ads for cer­tain prod­ucts show up after peo­ple start shout­ing about mat­tress­es into their phones?

First, this is anec­do­tal and can­not be trust­ed. Nobody behind these arti­cles has even tried to mon­i­tor what domains are being pinged by their router in an attempt to deter­mine where all these record­ings are secret­ly being sent.

Sec­ond, if you come up with a ran­dom prod­uct cat­e­go­ry, and espe­cial­ly if that cat­e­go­ry is mat­tress­es (!!! The most adver­tised inter­net thing there is!), and you only start to notice ads for that prod­uct cat­e­go­ry after you’ve begun whis­per­ing the phrase, then this is like­ly a fail­ing of your per­cep­tion. We are all way, way more blind than we real­ize and fil­ter out 99% of our sur­round­ings. If you say “I swear I nev­er saw an ad for t‑shirts before this!,” that is a com­plete­ly unre­li­able claim.

Third, adver­tis­ers already know tons and tons about you just from your brows­ing habits. They don’t need to lis­ten through your phone’s micro­phone. Face­book and Google already know every site you vis­it as well as in what things the peo­ple in your demo­graph­ic are inter­est­ed and prob­a­bly talk­ing about with you and your friends.

All this anec­do­tal evi­dence is coin­ci­den­tal.

That’s just not what “is the new” means

I know I’m the last and prob­a­bly least sig­nif­i­cant per­son to weigh in on this, but this “Safari is the New IE” arti­cle that I did­n’t read when it came out three months ago has been tucked away in the back of my mind since then, and I’ve final­ly put my fin­ger on the sim­ple rea­son it both­ers me.

[M]y point was to com­pare Safari to IE in terms of 1) not keep­ing up with new stan­dards, 2) main­tain­ing a cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy, and 3) play­ing a monop­o­lis­tic role, by not allow­ing oth­er ren­der­ing engines on iOS. Those accu­sa­tions are pret­ty unde­ni­able.


Per­son­al­ly what I want out of this whole debate is for Apple to real­ize that the web is start­ing to move on with­out them, and that their weird iso­la­tion­ism and glacial release cycle are not going to win them any favors in this new, dynam­ic web com­mu­ni­ty.

First of all, what does it mean to “be an Inter­net Explor­er”? What did Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent? A monop­oly, sure, to con­sumers and cor­po­rate attor­neys from the 1990s. “A cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy”? Maybe, though that’s not what comes to my mind. It also had a blue icon and a six-syl­la­ble name, but these are acci­dents — they’re not what Inter­net Explor­er was.

What Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent­ed to web devel­op­ers, the bulk of that arti­cle’s audi­ence, is not a pop­u­lar brows­er lag­ging behind mod­ern stan­dards, but a pop­u­lar brows­er egre­gious­ly dis­obey­ing estab­lished stan­dards. There is no Safari equiv­a­lent (that I know of, and almost cer­tain­ly not as sig­nif­i­cant) as, say, IE’s dou­ble-mar­gin bug. Every web devel­op­er who’s wres­tled with IE has tear­ful­ly ref­er­enced Explor­er Exposed! and QuirksMode for the sixth time in a week, their links in Google’s results seem­ing an even deep­er pur­ple than oth­ers. Every web devel­op­er has har­bored a sense of loom­ing dread as they glee­ful­ly devel­op in Chrome and Fire­fox, know­ing that there will soon be the reck­on­ing of hav­ing to fix what­ev­er IE bugs they’re will­ful­ly ignor­ing, but for right now it feels so good not to have to write ter­ri­ble, hacky code to sup­port a ten-year-old brows­er, and maybe my boss will announce tomor­row that we offi­cial­ly don’t sup­port IE 6 any­more?

This, I think, is where the back­lash comes from. “Devel­op­ing for Safari” is bare­ly a thing. “Devel­op­ing for IE” was hell. To see the two com­pared in — yes — a click­baity way is mad­den­ing.