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  • Cortana and Siri: A Lead Foot and a Sprinter?

    June 21st, 2016

    Apple is often accused of being late to the party. Other companies come out with a feature that appears to be a great fit for Apple. But no Apple gadget has it, and thus the criticisms are endless. Why can’t they do it too? Have they lost their edge?

    But one of the key differences between Apple and the competition is a matter of trying to first prepare the new features for public consumption. So it may appear that Apple is late to the party in some ways, while ahead of the curve for others.

    Obviously Apple didn’t make the first personal computer, nor the first digital music player, nor the first smartphone or tablet. But what they did create changed industries.

    Take the Macintosh which, as most of you know, debuted in 1984. At the time most PCs used a text-based OS,  PC-DOS and MS-DOS. Indeed, when Apple delivered a graphical user interface to the masses, the typical PC user laughed it off. Real PC users were expected to know the command line to get work done. Thus, Macs were toys.

    Well, until Microsoft improved Windows sufficiently to make it usable, and that was no mean achievement.

    It’s fair to say the first Mac still wasn’t quite the finished product. A lot of that was due to an immature operating system and a lack of apps. But it did resemble current models because it couldn’t be upgraded, and perhaps the best feature added by Steve Jobs’ successors was the ability to upgrade RAM and other components. But today’s Mac returns to the concept of the computer as an appliance.

    It may seem strange in retrospect, but the iPod was far from the first digital music player. Having tested a few at the time for ZDNet, I can tell you these other companies shouldn’t have bothered. Those gadgets were difficult to configure, and download speeds, moving music to the device, were pathetic. All right, the first iPod used FireWire; later USB 2.0 proved up to the task of downloading your music from your Mac or PC.

    Supposed iPod killers were legion. One, the Zune, came from Microsoft, but Apple got it right and kept doing it right until it was time to move on.

    When the iPhone was introduced, the critics insisted Apple had no clue about building mobile handsets and, besides, it didn’t even support 3G networking. Apple also seemed to take its sweet time to add LTE, but a lot of that was because the early chipsets were power hungry and buggy. How much were you willing to give up to get faster throughput? Did it make sense to have to charge it more frequently?

    Microsoft made a big deal of tablets for years. The initial concept was a PC notebook with a touchscreen, which you might be able to swivel or remove. But they mostly found their way into vertical markets, such as manufacturing facilities and physician’s offices. The iPad scaled up the concept of the iPhone. But Microsoft’s sole success with tablets, such as it is, involves a convertible PC, the Surface Pro, which employs standard PC parts, including Intel processors. Sales are in the low millions, way below even declining iPad sales.

    Now with tablets, Apple is still finding its way. The case for productivity hasn’t been fully realized. Some of that is the lack of support for entire app categories, and the other is the still-clumsy multitasking and the lack of accessory attachable keyboards that feel like keyboards and not mush. Regular readers will recall my criticisms of Apple’s Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro. I could barely use the one for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, because the spacebar was awkward and I kept losing wordspaces. I never could get the knack; the keyboard for the 9.7-inch version was noticeably better in that regard, but still didn’t quite make it as a keyboard.

    Still, Apple rose to the top of the heap with tablets, and, as iOS and hardware features and accessories improve, some day it may come into its own. It’s still a big profit center for Apple, and as users begin to upgrade in decent numbers, perhaps sales will improve to former levels.

    But it’s not that there’s a unique and powerful feature offered by competing tablets that put them way ahead of of the iPad.

    With the impending arrival of Siri on the Mac, the critics will remind you the Cortana voice assistant debuted last year on Windows 10. So what’s up with Apple? But a recent column from a noted Windows evangelist revealed the sad truth that the mics shipping with some PCs weren’t up to the task, and Cortana frequently crashed. This is yet another example of adding a new feature before it’s ready.

    Don’t forget that Siri debuted on the 2011 iPhone 4s as a beta. It took a couple of years to lose the beta label, and some of you will insist it still has trouble recognizing some commands. I manage well enough with wake-up alarms, but sometimes I have to repeat the command twice. And I’m a radio broadcaster with 25 years experience.

    Siri for macOS Sierra will arrive about a year after Apple acquired advanced voice recognition technology from VocalIQ. So it took something extra for Apple to feel Siri was set to move to a desktop personal computer. Microsoft didn’t sweat the details with Cortana, and Windows users suffered as a result.

    I think the point is clear. Sure, Apple sometimes is too early to release a product or service. Think MobileMe and the first release of Apple Maps. But they do better overall than most of the competition.

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    3 Responses to “Cortana and Siri: A Lead Foot and a Sprinter?”

    1. DaveD says:

      Well-written article on Apple’s late-to-the-party, game-changing products.

    2. Kaleberg says:

      The old saying in the tech field is that one can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. The winners usually were not the first in the field, but those who came after and fired the arrows. The list of innovators who lost is impressive with CP/M, Visicalc, Palm, Xerox, Rio and a host of others on it.

    3. Chessy Cantrell says:

      Why do you think Windows didn’t allow for Cortana to be usable on a Mac? Cortana can be used on an iphone, why not the Mac desktop as well?

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