Siri might ditch Nuance so it can finally understand what you’re saying.

Apple-Siri
For many people, Siri has been more of a nuisance than an empowering personal assistant since debuting on the iPhone 4s in 2011. Sure, she’s received some upgrades and is getting even more in iOS 8, but fancy new features mean nothing if she can’t understand what you’re saying.

Siri’s favoriting line, “Sorry I didn’t get that,” might soon be a thing of the past though as a report from Wired says the time is ripe for Apple to unleash a neural-net-boosted Siri.

Despite using Nuance technology for years, Apple might be looking to move away from licensing the voice recognition technology in favor of its own neural network engine built by Apple’s team of speech recognition experts.

Over the last three years of development, Apple has turned Siri into its own search of sorts. Drawing on third-party sources like Wolfram Alpha, Yelp, Wikipedia, and Shazam. Siri can help with your math homework, find new songs and buy them, tell you sports scores, but understanding what you’re saying could be the biggest upgrade of all.

According to the report, Apple hired Alex Acero to be the senior director in Apple’s Siri group after researching speech technology for 20 years at Microsoft. Apple has also poached top speech recognition talent from Nuance.

“Apple is not hiring only in the managerial level, but hiring also people on the team-leading level and the researcher level,” says Abdel-rahman Mohamed, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, who was courted by Apple. “They’re building a very strong team for speech recognition research.

Microsoft, Google have been using neural network algorithms to power Skype and Android Voice Search with noticeably better results. Apple is the only major tech company that hasn’t adopted the technology. Nothing was mentioned at WWDC, but if Microsoft’s head of research is right, Siri could get its new neural network super powers within six months.

Apple will now alert you when the NSA wants your data.

spying-privacy-peeping-tom-peeping-through-keyhole
The data-hungry tentacles of the NSA have managed to choke America’s top tech firms into silent submission on data requests, but after months of demanding more transparency, Apple is ready to defy authorities and let you know when the NSA wants your data.

Prosecutors warn that such a move will undermine investigations by tipping off criminals and allowing them to destroy sensitive data, but according to the Washington Post, Apple and others have already changed their policies.

“Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple,” company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft are also in the process of updating their policies to let users know in advance when their data has been swept into an investigation, giving users the option to fight disclosures in court.

Alerts to data requests won’t affect those approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which are automatically sealed by law, or subpoenas from the FBI that carry binding gag orders.

Apple and others say the new policies come with some exceptions, like if a potential victim is in imminent danger, especially if a child’s safety is vulnerable, but they argue the exceptions should be decided by a judge, rather than a company lawyer or investigator.

Source: Cult of Mac.

Microsoft unveils Office for iPad, free for reading and presenting.

The company made the announcement at a press conference in San Francisco that was webcast Thursday and hosted by Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s newly appointed CEO.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about the company’s strategy for Office for iPad.

A Microsoft official demonstrated Excel, Word and PowerPoint working natively on an iPad and said the suite would be available later Thursday at the Apple App Store.

The decision brings together two of the world’s most massively popular personal computing products: the ubiquitous and dominant Office productivity suite and the iPad, which Apple first released in 2010, igniting a tablet revolution. 

Microsoft had been taking gradual, deliberate steps in this direction. It released a version of Office for the iPhone last year, but that product hasn’t caught on, primarily because many Office functions don’t lend themselves to smartphone screen sizes.

Microsoft has also progressively tweaked Office Web Apps — a browser-based version of the suite with limited functionality — to work better with Safari on the iPad.

Moreover, Microsoft has released individual apps for iOS in recent years, including SkyDrive and OneNote.

However, the company had resisted releasing a full-featured, native version of the suite with its core Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps. This opened the door for competitors to offer a wide range of alternatives.

As it did with its version for iPhone, Microsoft will sell Office to iPad users via a subscription to Office 365, the suite edition that people pay for annually.

In a research note published last week, Morgan Stanley analysts predicted that if Microsoft offered Office 365 for iPad users would increase Microsoft annual billings by about $1.2 billion.

However, Microsoft will also make the Office for iPad applications available for free download and use with a limited set of their capabilities.

Touch-first editions of Office for Windows 8 and for other operating systems will be released later.

Just Like Microsoft, Apple Reserves The Right To Read Your iCloud Email Anytime.

Last week, Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft employee living in Lebanon, was arrested on charges that he had sold the Windows 8 source code in retaliation for a bad performance review. What was most shocking about the arrest was the means by which Microsoft gathered evidence pinning the crime on Kibkalo: they went into his personal Hotmail account and read his email to figure out it was him, without a court order to do so.

Apple would never do something like that by reading iCloud email without a court order, right? It’s not that simple, actually. Like Hotmail, Yahoo, and other webmail providers, iCloud’s terms of service specify that Apple reserves the right to read your email at any time.
Courtesy of Fortune, here is the relevant section of Apple’s iCloud agreement.

You acknowledge and agree that Apple may, without liability to you, access, use, preserve and/or disclose your Account information and Content to law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party, as Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate, if legally required to do so or if we have a good faith belief that such access, use, disclosure, or preservation is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process or request; (b) enforce this Agreement, including investigation of any potential violation thereof; (c) detect, prevent or otherwise address security, fraud or technical issues; or (d) protect the rights, property or safety of Apple, its users, a third party, or the public as required or permitted by law.

So would Apple read your iCloud email if it was in their best interests to do so? Apple has gone to lengths to protect user privacy from the government, even going so far as to build a warrant canary into its future transparency reports so people can know if they have been compelled to give user information to the federal government and simultaneously beenn put under a gag order from talking about it. That said, all that means is Apple wants to protect you from the government: it doesn’t necessarily mean the company wants to protect your data from Apple itself.

Source: Cult of Mac.

Apple’s iPhone 5c ‘failure flop’ outsold Blackberry, Windows Phone and every Android flagship in Q4

iPhone 5c

Calibrating failure and hysteria with Apple’s iPhone 5c

Apple’s fiercest critics spent most of 2013 complaining that the company wasn’t “innovative enough,” but its latest high-end iPhone, the 64-bit iPhone 5s With Touch ID, managed to outsell every other flagship smartphone on any platform, by far, becoming the world’s best selling handset.

In fact, Apple’s high-end iPhone 5s has been so remarkably successful, in spite of the supposed cheapening trend in smartphone buyers’ tastes, that Apple’s critics have been forced to pounce upon the supposed “failure” of the iPhone 5c instead; a phone that sells so “terribly” that it also outsold the ostensibly successful Samsung Galaxy S4 on half of America’s top carriers, and pushed every other Android phone out of the top U.S. sales charts entirely, from the first month it went on sale.

The primary data point supporting the “5c Failure” propaganda campaign is that the cheaper model hasn’t been able to outsell Apple’s top of the line 5s, as if Apple would prefer to sell the 5c and collect at least $100 less per sale.

Note that the war on iPhone 5c focuses entirely upon Apple’s smartphone model mix, a topic that has never raised any interest among any Android or Windows Phone smartphone makers, none of whom detail the unit sales of each price tier in the phones they sell. Few smartphone makers even provide an official figure for the overall numbers of units they sell.

Grave concerns about Apple’s product mix were raised as a distraction from reality, and continue to grow in their fevered pitch as the reality of Apple’s leading market position in premium smartphones becomes more evident, from taking 80 percent of premium phone sales in China to 76 percent of all smartphones in Japan and 45 percent of all smartphones sold in the United States.

Chevys, Cadillacs and lemonade

Proponents of the 5c Failure Meme have even twisted Tim Cook’s words to suggest that Apple’s incorrect initial expectation that it would sell a larger mix of cheaper models in 2013 really meant that Apple was upset that buyers weren’t as interested in its middle tier phone as its high end iPhone 5s.

Imagine General Motors being upset to find that the majority of its customers preferred to pay a 20 percent premium for an option package that included fancier trim, greater horsepower and a lucrative technology/convenience package.

No doubt GM would be ecstatic to discover such unexpectedly favorable market demand from its customers, even if it meant a mid-season retooling to accommodate buyers’ desires for more premium vehicles, regardless of their higher price in our hypothetical economy where few other car makers could earn anything on sales of their cheaper, bare bones cars, nor manage to introduce a successful luxury model.

If you prefer lemonade stand analogies to cars, Apple is selling all the premium organic lemonade it can produce at prices more than two times higher, on average, than everyone else can sell any sort of drink.

Note that Apple isn’t just asking for more money; consumers are readily paying twice as much to buy iPhones. That’s indicative of a failure on the part of Android. Either the entire world has been fooled, or Android is simply not as desirable as its proponents claim. Samsung does appear to be blowing its promotional billions ineffectually, but it’s hard to imagine that the majority of the world’s most sophisticated consumers are being fooled by one company to pay that much extra, were there no real difference.

Apple subsequently makes more money, by far. It also has far more capital available to expand into a variety of other offerings, were demand for its lemonade to ever decline (and there’s no credible signs of this happening so far). If demand were to shift toward orange juice, beer or even cheaper lemonade, the best capitalized lemonade stand would certainly be best positioned to shift its operations to accommodate that change.

The 5c Failure Meme, largely invented by some sloppy reporting from the Wall Street Journal attributed to Lorraine Luk, Eva Dou and Ian Sherr, and subsequently regurgitated by Brad Reed and Chris Ciaccia of BGR in various forms at a regular pace ever since it became clear that Apple’s high end iPhone 5s was far more successful, is particularly bewildering in its brass ballsiness because Apple’s iPhone 5c was indisputably more successful than the middle tier model Apple sold last year.

Without even citing sales figures anymore, Reed and Ciaccia have taken to calling iPhone 5c a “flop,” as if saying something outrageous over and over automatically makes it factual. Unsurprisingly, the site also described iPhone 4S as a failure in late 2011, iPhone 4 as a failure in early 2011 and spoke of iPhone 3GS as a failure before that, if for no other reason that that its writers didn’t like the name.

“To be honest,” wrote BGR’s Zach Epstein back in 2009, “we can’t remember ever having seen Apple fail so massively in this department.”

The “failure” of iPhone 3GS’ branding was ostensibly so incredibly bad that BGR coined it a “megafail,” specifically because it wasn’t clear enough whether there should be a space between the “G” and the “S.” Apple, it seems, can’t help but “fail” in various ways as it chows down the majority of the mobile industry’s profits building the world’s most desirable phones and expanding the world’s most important and sustainable ecosystem for apps and accessories. If sportswriting were as disingenuous and misleading as the tech industry’s bloggers, it’d be really hard to tell what teams were winning versus who was simply the team favored by a particular observer of the games being played.

Imagine the team winning the Super Bowl or World’s Cup being labeled a “failure” by sports commentators who groused about perceived flaws in how the winning team played while detailing the “whisper number” of points that “sports analysts” had expected the team to score, expressing great disappointment in the winning team’s inability to score what somebody had guessed might be possible.

If sportswriting were as disingenuous and misleading as the tech industry’s bloggers, it’d be really hard to tell what teams were winning versus who was simply the team favored by a particular observer of the games being played.

Perhaps that’s the point.

Wait, there’s more

Apple’s iPhone 5c was actually more successful than every other Android flagship smartphone, redefining what “flop” can possibly mean. Would Microsoft’s Zune been a “flop” if it had outsold any model of iPod? Would Microsoft’s Surface or HP’s Slate PC, Motorola’s Xoom, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab or Google’s Nexus 7 have still been flops if any of them had outsold iPads? Would Blackberry, Windows Phone, HTC’s One, Google’s Moto X or LG’s G2 been flops had any of them outsold Apple’s iPhone?

iPhone 5c billboard

Apple’s iPhone 5c has taken over Microsoft’s Surface “flawed math” billboard in San Francicso

In fact, while the exact iPhone sales ratio is a closely held secret inside Apple, data from multiple sources, compiled by blogger J. M. Manness, indicates that about 12.8 million of the 51 million iPhones Apple sold in the winter quarter were iPhone 5c, while 6.4 million were iPhone 4S and 31.9 million were iPhone 5s. That number aligns with reports that the 5s outsold 5c by a ratio of around 2.5:1 overall.

That means iPhone 5c sold twice as many units as all Blackberry smartphone sales combined (6 million), more than all of Nokia’s Windows Phone smartphone sales in the winter quarter (8.2 million), and in fact, all of Microsoft’s Windows Phones sold globally in the winter quarter (slightly more than 8.2 million, as Nokia makes 90 percent of the world’s Windows Phones).

Even Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4 reportedly sold just 9 million units in the winter quarter. If you do the math, that’s less than 12.8 million.

LG’s heavily marketed flagship G2 reportedly sold just 2.3 million units in the winter quarter. That indicates that Apple’s mid tier iPhone 5c outsold Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and LG’s G2 put together.

It’s certainly possible that the actual number of iPhone 5c units Apple sold could be less than estimated. Even if for argument’s sake Apple sold many more higher-end 5s iPhones for every 5c than the app analytics firms are seeing, it would still mean that Apple’s single iPhone 5c model was one of the top most successful smartphone designs created and sold in 2013.

As the ratio of 5c’s to 5s’s that Apple sold goes down, the amount of revenue it made from iPhone sales overall increases. There’s no way around the fact that Apple sold more premium smartphones above $400 (the only kind it sells) than anyone else. The only question is to what degree Apple’s iPhone 5c helped the company sell more phones to consumers who would otherwise have considered moderately priced Android models or Apple’s own lower end iPhone 4S, an outdated model lacking a Lightning connector or support for 4G LTE.

Plastic vs plastic: iPhone 5c upgraded Android buyers, as intended

Kantar reported in December that almost half of iPhone 5c buyers were switching from Android-based competitors, especially those from Korean giants Samsung and LG. That’s quite obviously what Apple wanted the iPhone 5c to do.

It’s not hard to understand why consumers are picking iPhone 5c over Android phones: it’s ademonstrably better product. Despite being clocked higher and having more RAM, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 delivers similar performance benchmarks to iPhone 5c.

iPhone 5c is no cheap, low end slouch. It’s a mildly enhanced, discounted version of what was the best selling phone throughout the first half of 2013.

Apple’s iOS also makes far more efficient use of included storage. A 16GB iPhone 5c leaves 12.6GB available for users, while Samsung’s 2013 flagship hogs up so much storage that only 8.56GB is left. And unlike various higher-end Android or Windows Phone models, Apple’s iPhone 5c runs all of the apps and games designed for iOS, including many exclusive titles only on iOS (among those are Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iPhoto and iMovie which Apple now throws in for free).

And yet ostensibly legitimate news sources keep repeating the 5c Failure Meme and even grouse about how Apple might be forced to withdraw the model while issuing embarrassed apologies for it not selling better. None of those same people are also reporting that every individual Android flagship failed, nor predicting that Windows Phone will be canceled next year due to a lack of interest for failing to outsell, across the entire platform, Apple’s rewarmed iPhone 5 from the prior year.

It’s not true to say that Apple’s iPhone 5c is the world’s best smartphone, or even an incredible value.AppleInsider recommended that potential buyers skip the 5c and pay $100 more for the faster, fancier iPhone 5s instead, a more capable device with significant advantages, including a much better camera, a much faster A7 Application Processor and the convenience of Touch ID. But calling the world’s second most popular smartphone behind iPhone 5s a “flop” isn’t just a radical opinion, it’s a lie.

Microsoft confirms new version of Office for Mac coming this year.

office-for-mac-2011

According to a new report from Computerwoche, Microsoft representatives have apparently confirmed that a new version of Office for Mac will arrive this year. The update would be the first major release of Office for Mac since Office Mac 2011 released almost four years ago.

The news apparently came straight from a Microsoft representative at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany who told the publication to expect a new version by the end of 2014 and more news in the second quarter of the year.

Macworld was able to get a comment from Microsoft confirming that development of a new version of Office for Mac is underway. It wouldn’t confirm a specific release date in the statement, but it said Office 365 subscribers will get the update for free:

A representative for Microsoft confirmed that development work for the next version of Office for Mac is ongoing. “The team is hard at work on the next version of Office for Mac,” she said in an email. “While I don’t have details to share on timing, when it’s available, Office 365 subscribers will automatically get the next Office for Mac at no additional cost.”

Microsoft has long been rumored to bring a version of Microsoft Office to iOS devices. Recent reports claimed that Office for iPad is under development and coming soon, but the company has never officially confirmed the reports.

Apple device sales have finally caught up with Windows.

iPhone iPad ios Macbook

In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates’ vision for the company was a “computer on every desk and in every home,” all running Windows of course.

And as John Gruber wrote in his short but astute summary of Microsoft’s history, the amazing thing is that Gates actually realized this dream. By the mid-90s, if not a few years earlier even, we were living in a Windows world. At its peak, Windows share of the computer market checked in at an astounding 95+%. Even today still, the majority of desktop and notebook computers are running some variant of Windows.

But the computing world today is vastly different than it was 20 years ago. While Bill Gates’ original vision centered on a computer on every desk, the battle today is to put a computer in every pocket and in every hand.

Over the past six years, mobile devices have flourished and our definition of “computer” has fundamentally changed. While the computer of yesteryear was essentially a clunky beige box paired with an frustratingly heavy and awkwardly shaped monitor, the modern definition has expanded to include tablets and smartphones; hyper-light and super portable devices capable of accessing the entire history of the world’s information from anywhere in the world.

That being said, Benedict Evans last week posted a chart which encapsulates how the dynamic of computing marketshare has been completely turned on its head in just a few short years.

ios and Mac computing marketshare

If we count iOS devices as computers, and indeed, there are more reasons to do so than not, last quarter marked the first time Apple sold about as many computers as Microsoft.

Evans writes:

A symbolic moment, this: in Q4 2013 the number of computers* sold by Apple was larger than the number of Windows PC sold globally. If you add Windows Phone to the mix they’re more or less exactly equal.

This quantum leap in mobile computing is precisely why Tim Cook has been so vocal in championing the notion that that we’re currently living in a post-PC era. With the iPhone and the iPad, Apple finds itself at the forefront of the post-PC revolution that Microsoft keeps trying to convince itself isn’t happening; hence the mishmash that is Windows 8.

The following chart from Horace Dediu of Asymco further serves to illustrate how the computing landscape shifted with the advent of the iPhone and iPad.

But the bigger story is how Apple’s mobile platform has nearly reached the sales volume of Windows. In 2013 there were only 1.18 more Windows PCs than Apple devices sold. Odds are that in 2014 they will be at parity.

At Macworld 1997, Steve Jobs said that the “battle for the desktop is over. And we lost.”

What was not apparent at the time was that the next battle would be fought over portable consumer technologies — MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets.

And now, 17 years later, Apple has finally caught up to Microsoft.