An iPhone Without a Screen

After using Siri for a while, I wonder whether a future version could enable an iPhone with either no screen, like the iPod Shuffle:

IPod Shuffle

or a very small screen (like the iPod Nano):

IPod Nano

Benefits

Obviously, this wouldn’t be for everyone, but I think such a phone could be great for many people and offer some benefits over a traditional iPhone with a 3.5 inch screen:

  • Cheaper – according to iSuppli, the display and touchscreen combined are the costliest components in the iPhone 4S at $37. Their estimated cost of the display and touchscreen for the iPod Nano is $14.40. The camera is estimated at $17.60. Presumably, a cheaper processor could be used as well.

  • Longer Battery Life – a couple of factors could lead to a much lower battery usage profile: smaller or no display, more efficient processor and video processing chip, and less processes running. Obviously, the battery would be much smaller as well, though the phone could be larger than the iPod Nano or Shuffle, with most of the extra space being filled with battery.

  • Smaller and Lighter – the size of the traditional iPhone is mainly a factor of the size of the screen (and the size of the battery required to drive among other things, that large display). A smaller screen would allow for the same battery life with a much smaller battery.

What Can’t it Do?

This hypothetical iPhone would be missing a number of features of the current iPhone:

  • Web Browsing

  • Games (at least games with a visual interface)

  • Maps

What Can it Do?

However, this phone would not just be a typical “feature phone”. It could have the following capabilities (primarily accessed via Siri voice control):

  • phone calls

  • iPod

  • Reminders

  • Calendar

  • Clock

  • Messages

  • Weather

  • Calculator

  • Notes

  • Mail (assuming Siri gains the ability to send and read e-mails)

  • Twitter (assuming Siri gains the ability to send Tweets and potentially read tweets)

  • Compass (assuming a compass can fit into the smaller device and Siri gains the ability to access the compass. Today, Siri responds to “Am I facing North” with “I can’t really say”)

  • Address Book

  • Voice Memos (assuming Siri gains this capability)

  • Wolfram Alpha (assuming Siri gains the ability to read responses rather than just display images)

Those are just features that Apple could provide out of the box. Opening it up for third party developers could lead to further innovative features. Limitations such as the lack of a screen (or a very small screen) provide great opportunities for innovation.

When Could This Happen?

Given enough priority and focus, I think Apple could build this hardware today. There is some work to do on the software side. There would need to be a further stripping down of iOS and Siri would need more functionality.

Development of a device like this would distract Apple from iPhone, iPad and iOS development (much like iPhone and iOS development distracted Apple from OS X development). If Apple wanted to, I think they could deliver this in late 2012.

One More Thing

What if, in addition to the features listed above, Apple sold this “phone” without a mobile phone contract. Perhaps it could be sold for $149 or $199 and have either a data-only contract or a month-to-month data plan with no contract. The carriers would obviously have to agree to this, but perhaps data usage on this phone would be light (no streaming video, for example) so data plans would be profitable.

Instead of a voice plan, the phone could make calls using VOIP (think FaceTime with just the audio). This would either require integration with something like Skype (now Microsoft) or a new service provided by Apple. It could be a stepping stone for a future traditional iPhone without a voice contract.

Television – DVRs

This is the first in a series of posts on television and watching of TV shows, movies, and sports.

In episode 48 of his podcast, Build and Analyze, and on a post on his site, Marco Arment describes his TV watching habits and gives some opinions on Apple’s rumored entry into the TV market. He describes DVRs as being a “bad hack” and describes his method of watching TV shows and movies without subscribing to a television service.

Many people have a DVR (39.7% of TV households according to Nielson). In my opinion, they’re nowhere near as bad as Marco makes out.

One of the problems he mentions is missing the end of shows because of late-running sports or breaking news. This used to be a much bigger problem (perhaps back when Marco used a DVR?), but nowadays, with multiple tuners, it’s easy to setup recordings to last longer than necessary and still not miss recording the next show. I’ve been using a DVR provided by Comcast (but am switching over to FiOS early next week due to much lower cost and faster Internet… we’ll see how that works out). It’s very far from being a joy to use, but at the same time, it’s better to me than the alternatives. I’ve had this DVR for just over 3 years now. I can count on one hand the number of recordings that have cut off before the end (and in almost every one of those cases, I’ve been able to easily catch the ending through other means – On-Demand, Hulu, or network web sites). The other feature that helps out here is the ability to program your DVR remotely over the web or with a mobile app.

John Siracusa did a great podcast on TVs and TiVo. After listening to this, you might wonder how anyone could possibly use a DVR. Yet, it hasn’t driven him to abandon his TiVo.

I do like Marco’s setup, but until I can still watch sports live, it won’t work for me. I’ll talk more on the sports topic in a future post.

MythTV

In the past, before digital cable and HDTVs were prevalent, I had a DVR system that consisted of a Linux desktop computer with a TV capture card that ran MythTV. It was not something that was easy to setup, but once I did, it was a nice solution for me. Other than my time1, the only cost was purchasing the video capture card (about $130?). This setup had a number of great features that I don’t get with my Comcast-provided DVR:

  • Commercials were auto-removed from the recordings (this worked very well, and I don’t recall ever having any part of the show accidentally removed; very rarely a bit of the commercials stayed in, but probably only 2 or 3% of the time).

  • I could watch stream live TV to my Powerbook, view a digital cable-like channel guide, and pause, rewind, and fast-forward this live feed.

  • I could also stream or download recordings to my Powerbook.

It’s sad to me that these features that I had 8 years ago are no longer available via my current setup. I finally gave up on MythTV when cable boxes (or CableCARDs, which seem like “a bag of hurt”) became required to capture video from most channels.

iPhone 4S Video of Propellers

I was on a flight from Florence, SC to Charlotte, SC yesterday. The plane was a Bombardier Dash 8, a turboprop. My seat happened to be in the row right next to the propeller. Once electronic devices were allowed to be used1, I took out my iPhone 4S and went to take a picture of the propeller. I was surprised to see the propeller seemingly moving in slow motion in the Camera app. I took two videos of the propeller, one in portrait and one in landscape.

Portrait

This portrait video accurately captures what I was seeing while trying to take a picture.

Landscape

This landscape video is slightly different. I don’t think the propeller was moving at a different speed because after taking this, I switched back to portrait and it looked like it did above. Both videos captured 30 frames per second, so I’m not sure why they look different.

Photo

Oh, and I eventually did get my photo:

Propeller

iPhone 4Gs Voice Transcription

Many people have talked about activating Siri by holding the iPhone 4S up to your ear when the screen is on. They have also talked about activating voice transcription by tapping the microphone icon on the keyboard (circled below in red):

Notes app with keyboard up and microphone highlighted

What I haven’t seen mentioned, is that if there is a keyboard up on the iPhone screen when you hold the phone up to your ear, it will actually just transcribe what you say and insert it as if you had typed it1.

Siri and Calculations

When I first tried out Siri last Friday, I tried asking for simple calculations, but always received an error in response. The errors seemed to be of the “try again later” variety rather than the “I don’t understand” variety.

Today, I tried these calculations again and Siri was able to answer them all, though not all in an entirely satisfactory way.

Addition

Simple addition of two numbers:

What is one plus one

1 + 1 = 2… Yay!

Addition of three numbers:

What is 5 + 10 + 9

You’re not just limited to two numbers.

More Complex Arithmetic

Addition and Division

What is 5 + 10 % 3

Proper order of operations are followed. Division before addition.

Square Roots

What is the square root of nine

Square roots as well!

Averages

What is the average of 10, 20 and 25

Averages! Important to note that when I originally tried this, I said “What is the average of ten twenty and twenty-five”. Siri interpreted this as “What is the average of 1020 and 25”. In order to make it work as I wanted, I needed to say “What is the average of ten comma twenty and twenty-five”

What Else is Available

The Wolfram Alpha web site supports many calculations across Mathematics and Statistics & Data Analysis computations. Siri works for some of the examples on these web pages, but not all. For example, when I asked Siri to “compute the odds for a Poker full house” (one of the examples from the Statistics page), here’s what Siri provided:

Poker full house

I guess casinos trump1 statistics.

The Problem

The only problem I have with Siri’s answers to these questions is that they are provided by Wolfram Alpha and therefore are not spoken aloud by Siri (or copyable). For at least the first three, I would think that they could be accomplished using the Calculator app instead of Wolfram Alpha. Alternatively, hopefully the Wolfram Alpha results will eventually have the text available for Siri to read and copy.

iPhone Love and Hate #7

I Wish My iPhone…

… let me quickly adjust settings like Personal Hotspot, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc. I’m not sure where the best place to host these settings would be. Perhaps a drawer that is brought up from the bottom of the screen, as the notification center comes in from the top.

If such a place existed, I’d love to see the brightness and orientation lock move there as well. It’s nice to have them available in the multitasking menu with a left swipe, but they’re still not accessible quickly enough there.

I Love That My iPhone…

… lets me focus the camera by tapping on the screen. It’s so much easier to use than the typical method on a point and shoot camera of holding down the shutter button halfway to focus, then shifting the view, and fully depressing the shutter button to take the picture.

Having used it, the method seems obvious, but nobody had done it before the iPhone 3Gs. Now, I can’t imagine taking a photo on my phone without it.

Siri – Sunrise and Sunset

While on the beach late last Friday afternoon, my girlfriend and I were wondering what time the sun was going to set. On a whim, I asked Siri “What time does the sun set?”

Siri’s response was to give me the time of sunset (along with the weather graphic) for Pittsburgh (my home address). I then asked “What time does the sun set on Hilton Head Island?” and got the answer I was looking for1:

Sunset hilton head

Similarly, asking for sunrise for tomorrow results in the following response (Siri gives the time for sunrise today, but shows the weekly weather with tomorrow highlighted):

Sunrise hilton head

Just goes to show that even if you haven’t heard that Siri can answer a specific question, it doesn’t hurt to ask! Worst case, I was expecting to have to repeat the query with “Search web” at the beginning, but I didn’t have to.

Verizon Phone Differences

After using iPhones on AT&T for over 4 years, I switched over to Verizon for the iPhone 4S. I’ve noticed a couple of minor differences with the default configuration of a couple of apps:

  • Stocks – The default list of ticker entries includes VZ (Verizon)
  • Safari – The default list of bookmarks includes My Verizon

Presumably, there aren’t different versions of iOS for different carriers, so perhaps those apps check the carrier when they’re first launched.

ZoomBySite and Sites With Facebook Comments

The Problem

ZoomBySite (version 1.3 and earlier), my Safari extension for automatically remembering zoom levels for web sites, has a problem with certain sites that can cause the Safari Web Content process to take use a large amount of CPU and RAM.

ActivityMonitorSafariWebContent

It also results in the web page getting ever longer with “empty” content.

The Cause

I’ve noticed the problem on TechCrunch articles (like this one) and have had reports of other sites such as NowNews and inside.com.tw.

The things these sites have in common is that they each use Facebook for comments. This explains why the issue doesn’t happen on the main TechCrunch page (that doesn’t have comments), but does occur on the individual article pages (that do contain comments).

The [Lack of a] Solution

At this point, I don’t have a solution. I have verified that the content being added to the pages is coming from Javascript code loaded for the Facebook comments, but don’t understand why the ZoomBySite extension triggers the problem.

I will keep working on it and will hopefully have a solution soon. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Welcome to Verizon

As I wrote earlier today, I bought an iPhone 4S on Verizon today (switching over from AT&T). I’ve had a couple of interfaces with Verizon so far… one on Twitter and one on the Web. One good and one a little embarrassing.

Twitter

As I was waiting for the new phone to be activated in the store, I tweeted about the purchase from my old phone:

Bye bye iPhone 3Gs… thanks for your service. Got the last black 32GB iPhone at the Verizon store in Hilton Head

Shortly after, I received a reply from @VZWSupport:

Congrats! and welcome to Verizon Wireless! Let me know if you have any questions! I’m here to help on Twitter.^AH

Likely an automated response, but a nice touch.

Web

Later, I registered on the Verizon Wireless website. Upon logging in, the bottom of the landing page had the following section:

Learn to use iPhone

The headline seems nice. They acknowledge my new purchase and offer help. The problem is that the workshops that they suggest are all Android! There are 6 other Online Workshops offered, including Motorola Xoom, Samsung Droid Charge, Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY, HTC Thunderbolt, HTC Trophy, and Applications for Small Business.