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Siri and Apple’s silence - my thoughts

Ever since the iPhone 4S was announced, there has been a mixed bag of reactions surrounding the phone’s latest voice-control feature called ‘Siri’. A lot of people love it. A lot of other people either dismiss Siri’s usefulness or claim that this stuff has been around in Android for ages.

Despite the negativity surrounding the new iPhone 4S, people have been using “Siri” so much that it has overwhelmed Apple’s servers. (For the un-initiated, Siri needs to talk to Apple servers to process and recognize the voice commands.) And Apple’s response to all this hype and hoopla surrounding the Siri outage has been just “silence”.

Sascha Segan from PCMag has an interesting take on the recent response from Apple. And as always, John Gruber responds in his blog post defending Apple. He rules out any benefit for Apple in responding to this issue.

For once, I disagree with Gruber.

Apple really could have said something regarding the Siri outages. As Sashcha puts it, a public message that they are adding additional capacity to their servers to meet the increasing workload, would have certainly calmed angry/irritated/frustrated people. This gesture doesn’t actually solve the problem and it also requires Apple bowing down a bit to accept that their servers need work (remember the iPhone 4 antenna gate issue and how Steve came out to agree that Apple was not perfect?). An official message like this is sure to garner good-will from ‘regular’ people. Humans tend to be more forgiving when they have a better idea about what is going on. Also, it is in times like these that most people do realize that even Apple is not immune to failure.

Now, Apple has the unique luxury of ignoring customer complaints longer than most companies can afford to (not forever though). Even if it does not pacify users through public “we-will-fix-it” messages like this, most of the sales will continue as usual (the iPhone 4 sales numbers clearly show that). In most cases, Apple’s products work and speak for themselves. In cases where they don’t, and when there is a serious public outcry, Apple handles them really well by taking the time to think through it, identify the cause of the problem and then come out with a public statement. This has not happened (yet?) for the issues surrounding the Siri outage.

While Apple can quietly ignore most of the complaints about Siri, this is another (small?) opportunity for them to actually show that they care about their customers and that they can be transparent when it comes to making the customer feel comfortable about what’s going on. Again, they are not indebted to anyone to do so.

Note that I mentioned “regular” people. That is because, there are people who jump at the slightest opportunity to criticize successful companies that they do not have a liking for, no matter how what the companies do. This is true not just for Apple, but also for Google, Microsoft and other companies of the same size and reach. If you ignore those naysayers, and target the regular people with an honest message that would be a heck of a thing to do.

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A nice talk show about Amazon, Google, Webservices and Apple. Recommended listening.

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Fun. Must read. All the way to the end. (via @codinghorror)

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Ben Brooks’ cogent analysis on why Facebook isn’t a threat to Apple. It is so easy for all of us to forget that Apple is primarily a hardware company that uses beautiful software (and hence great user-experiences) to get people buy their devices. Must read. (via Daring Fireball)

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Wonderful advice by the brilliant Seth Godin.

My writing has not been as good as I would like it to be. To improve that, I have been meaning to follow the exact thing that Seth proposes in his article

"Write like you talk. Often".

Only when I actually get into some challenge like this that you realize how hard it is to actually write good, readable and cogent text that keeps the reader interested. The other time when I realize how hard writing can be is when I am at work and I have to write up a design document at the start of a release cycle to outline the general procedure or the algorithm before implementing a feature. A well written document is a direct reflection of a clear thought process. How I wish mine were easy to read and understand!

Much of my inspiration to write comes from stuff I read over the Internet. I have a lot of respect for writers - particularly in the tech industry - John Gruber, MG Siegler, David Pogue, John Siracusa (though I must confess I haven’t read a lot of his writing). Their way of reporting recent incidents, analyzing why some companies behave and act a certain way and their ability to put down their thoughts in writing just amazes me. I guess I just love the idea of journalism. But I do not know if I have it in me to write like those guys do.

Every time I read something inspiring I get pumped up, and I swear to myself that I will do something small, something everyday to improve my writing skills and thereby improve my thought process. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm dies out quickly when my sober self meets the challenges and responsibilities of daily life. Still, it is my hope that by writing small and writing often I will be able to better myself. Someday.

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Wonderful piece by a software developer about the importance of spending time with family. (via Marco Arment)

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Heck of a post. I have been thinking about setting up such a thing for various aspects of my life. Church, music, exercise, finances, learning a new language etc.

Questions to self:

  • What are my systems? Do I have atleast one already in place?
  • What are my goals? Specifically for 2011? And how many of them have I failed? Succeeded?
  • Report back with updates by the end of the month. Make this public to ensure I will be embarrassed if my friends see I do not live by my word.

(via Ramit)

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Excited to see Microsoft innovate in the tablet space. Windows 8 seems interesting. I do hope they deliver all this on decent hardware with reasonable battery life. With WebOS almost down the drain, the tech industry desperately needs someone to provide alternatives for iOS (Android cannot be the only one). It remains to be seen how this un-folds.

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Jeff Attwood makes an interesting suggestion about managing user identity on the world-wide-web. He argues that normal users having to remember username/passwords for every web service they use, is a huge problem and it indeed is. He postulates some high-level solutions as his dream (without getting too specific about the implementation details) and they are pretty interesting. I do believe web browsers will get better with time and his suggestions for identity management will be baked into browsers in some form. Here’s hoping that we all live to see that day the dream comes true.

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Dreamforce 2011 - my thoughts.

On August 31st 2011, I had the opportunity to attend the keynote at Dreamforce, a conference organized by Salesforce at San Francisco. The keynote was presented by the CEO of Salesforce Mark Benihoff. I wanted to pen down my thoughts on the experience. Here they are.

Emphasis on Social

Every conference has a theme associated with it. Recent and trending topics include the Cloud, Mobile applications, Green energy etc. This year, for Salesforce it was “Social”. And “Social” it was all the way. While the word social was quoted so often that it was repetitive to the point of being slightly annoying, one could clearly see why it really matters today and how it has the potential to change businesses and consumers alike.

Impressive product demos

All this talk of social being the next big thing and how it is a game changer does not matter much if there is no execution. And true to that, the product demos showcased several several important ways of integrating publicly available information about people into Salesforce. I was thoroughly impressed with what they showed! Here is a brief summary about each one of them.

  • Integration with database.com and data.com: If you are a running a business and if you manage your customer information using Salesforce, thanks to the integration with database.com and data.com, now you can pull up information about your customers from different social networks (if they are made publicly available). This is particularly useful for businesses if they are on a call with a customer about whom they do not have much information and if they quickly want to see what the person they are talking to has been posting to the public recently.

  • Chatter for enterprise: Chatter is primarily a messaging platform and was Salesforce’s first initiative into social media. They have extended that to enable enterprises to create their own Facebook-like pages where their employees can post stuff, comment and interact with other employees in a controlled and private environment. Even the layout and presentation is very similar to Facebook. They have also added the ability to invite and include external people into such conversations. This is a big deal for enterprises managing all their customer information from within Salesforce, as their employees now have a single place to discuss about their day to day operations.

  • Tweets, Facebook posts and apps within Salesforce: Not only can businesses have Facebook-like pages, they can now directly post and respond to tweets and Facebook wall-posts from within Salesforce. If a customer installs a company-provided app into their Facebook account, that shows up too. Such information about users and customer behavior is very valuable to businesses that really care about keeping their customers happy.

  • Facetime integration: Yes, you read that right. Customer support representatives can now initate Facetime calls from a Salesforce web page to a Mac, iPhone, iPad or an iPod touch and talk directly to customers having an issue. Thanks to the video chatting capabilities in mobile devices today, they can quickly see what the problem is, help them resolve it and if necessary send relevant information to them immediately by email. Appropriate use of wonderful technology*.

  • Salesforce + Toyota = Like: There was one demo featuring a Toyota Prius and how it could be social too (kind of wacky if you think about it). The demo was to control and get information from the car to an iPhone using the wireless network. The demo didnt go well, but I think there are some interesting possibilities in this space if we allow our machines and devices to report their status back to us. There were screenshots about cars reporting their battery-status, fuel ecomony, geo-location and other interesting and valuable information back to Salesforce. I see a lot of potential here.

  • touch.salesforce.com: This part of the demo was what I was most excited about. Salesforce demonstrated their newly developed application that runs on (almost) all touch-based phones and tablets including the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The app uses HTML5 to bring about a native experience to access all objects within Salesforce on a touch-screen. From my observation, I suppose the user experience will be pretty smooth on these devices**.

Guest apperances

Dreamforce was not just all product demos. In what was quite a striking difference from regular conference keynotes, Mark Bienhoff, often got down from the stage and greeted the attendees while he was delivering the keynote. I thought that was a subtle indication of how today’s companies have no choice but to treat social as an important ingredient to their success. He also took time in between the product demos, during the keynote, to interview several key people from different companies. Some of them include: Burberry’s CEO Angela Ahrendts, CTO of Coca Cola Alan Boehme, music personalities and many more. All of them spoke about how they think being-social is important and relevant for today’s businesses.

Update: Eric Schmidt at Dreamforce 2011

Going forward

This was my second Dreamforce conference in two years and it was a nice experience to be present where the next-big thing in enterprise software and computing were being discussed. As many have put it, for enterprises “Going social” is key, and “Social is here to stay”. I must also add “Watch what you say online. You never know who is watching”.


* How is it that they are able to invoke a native application from within a web browser? But it was indeed a pretty cool demo.
** I wonder why do they have to mention HTML5 when they were developing native apps. Thoughts?

Tags: Dreamforce