The Smart Speaker Battle

Joe Cieplinski hits the nail on the head with his look at the smart speaker battle in Good vs. Better at Bad. Specifically with smart assistant technology:

But it’s not good. Not for most people. It’s barely past the point of being a parlor trick, if we’re being honest. Answering trivia questions? Turning on the lights? There’s a reason even early adopters generally resort to using these devices for a small set of simple tasks. That’s about all they can do reliably.

That's what I was alluding to in my quick HomePod reaction last weekend:

I do have an Echo Dot and while the breadth of the skill library is impressive, a vast majority of the skills have very limited use cases. It is like shopping on Amazon, you know you can get almost anything there, but you keep buying the same small number of things you actually need.

HomePod reviews read as if the smart assistant race is over or at the very least, Apple is miles behind. The reality, as Joe points out, is we're early stages -- we haven't even gotten to "good" yet. I'm not saying Apple/Siri will win, by any stretch. I'm not even concerned with Siri winning or being best, just good enough for my needs.

For many people, Siri handles enough to make the "smart" part of HomePod acceptable. Especially when the speaker part is well past the "good" cutoff. I write this as I listen to the Black Panther soundtrack through HomePod. Every listening experience reinforces this fact.

4 of 5 sick family members (and both parents) means Instacart grocery shopping. So convenient and useful for times like these!

HomePod

Two Days With the HomePod – Jack Baty

Early reviews raved about the HomePod’s sound quality, and that clinched it for me.

I am in the same boat as Jack. Pre-ordered a HomePod and two days in, I love the sound quality -- HomePod sounds great soft or loud, with any genre of music, and as an upgrade over the built-in TV speakers when using Apple TV. As far as the "smart" half of the speaker, my needs are simple beyond music: control our HomeKit lights, set timers, add things to Reminders, play podcasts, and tell me the weather forecast. From everything I've read on actual smart speaker usage, those are the only reasons most people use smart speakers.

Of course, Alexa and Google Home have a different M.O.: Google as an index of all knowledge on the web and Alexa with a wide library of skills. I do have an Echo Dot and while the breadth of the skill library is impressive, a vast majority of the skills have very limited use cases. It is like shopping on Amazon, you know you can get almost anything there, but you keep buying the same small number of things you actually need. In the end, I used the Echo Dot for all the same reasons I use HomePod and the Echo Dot speaker is not even listenable.

The biggest miss with the HomePod is access to a calendar and multi-user recognition, but I'm sure that will come sooner than later. That's the thing -- the "negatives" are all software/services related and can be fixed with some software updates. The hardware is flawless.

Not to mention privacy: I'd much rather trust a smart speaker with the privacy model of Apple and the HomePod, than Google and Amazon -- two companies looking to sell me something or sell me to advertisers... or both.

Long story short, I highly recommend HomePod if you are an Apple Music user. As of now, the HomePod only makes sense for subscribers. For the rest of you, I'd wait for those future updates and scoop one up without delay.

Only had HomePod for 5 hours but initial tests of music genres (indie, hip hop, jazz) were great, especially at louder volumes. Also watching Olympics via Apple TV and HomePod as audio - way better than the TV speakers. Can't wait to dig in more this weekend.

Instagram

Gruber comments on the WSJ article Instagram Is Turning Into Facebook, and That's Bad:

I really do enjoy using Instagram less these days, and it’s precisely for the reasons why I never signed up for Facebook. My biggest complaint is the algorithmic timeline — I truly miss the old timeline where I just saw photos from the people I follow in the order in which they were posted.

When it comes to social networks, my love for Instagram rivaled my love for early-era Twitter. Like Twitter, that love has slowly declined over that last year or so, though for different reasons. The algorithm-based feed being the #1 reason when it comes to Instagram. I followed enough people (but not too many) to make my feed lively, interesting, and real-time feeling. Now, between the algorithm, the ads, the hashtag and follower suggestions, and other elements interspersed with my (non-linear) follower's photos, it feels super disjointed and much less enjoyable.

BUT, these feelings have also re-ignited my love of blogging, which got me back to using a feed reader, and that all tied in with the launch of micro.blog -- so I can't complain too much.

Save for Later — Medium

Diana Kimball has a pretty in-depth look at bookmarking and the act of saving things for later:

The Bookmark represents what we wish for. It’s the earliest indicator of intention, and the most vulnerable; by definition, the act of saving something for later means that whatever we hope for hasn’t happened yet. Bookmarks are placeholders for the future. By thumbing through them, we can start to see what might happen next.

For me, bookmarking had a very strong allure. Saving interesting sites and links, collected and connected via tags, allowed us to create our own little web directory.

Then, when the 'save for later' reading services (Instapaper and Pocket) launched, it was also instantly appealing: a way to collect articles I wanted to read in a place that was accessible anywhere and displayed in a visually appealing way. Pure gold.

The problem for me (and many other, it turns out) is I rarely went back to the sites/apps to view my archive. I would read an article here or there, or hit up Pinboard for a link I saved, but I've committed Instapaper/Pocket bankruptcy three times now and even ditched my original Delicious account with no backup.

The simple act of saving something also creates an immense burden -- whether it's digital or an analog item. Saving creates another aspect of your life you need to manage and deal with, subconsciously or otherwise. Sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it.

One thing I have been trying to do instead is catalog small tidbits of information that shape my world view or help me learn, using Day One as my journal. Not sure if this is any different, but at least there is value in the information I save, rather than potentially decent articles I may want to read or pages I may need to visit in the future.

Personal Sites

During the last quarter of 2015, I got fed up with maintaining my WordPress install and decided to shut it down and write on Medium.com. I moved over a few of my favorite posts, which proceeded to get a decent bit of traffic (for me), so I was pleased with my decision.

The decision to stop using WordPress after so many years came down to a combination of not writing often enough and dealing with three WordPress hacks (not all the same site) in a short time. At the time, moving to a service liked Medium felt like the right move to make.
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