Siri on steroids?

Sounds like Siri and Spotlight are about to get a lot more helpful when iOS 9 is launched later this year. According to the Apple rumour-mill, iOS 9 is going to include Apple’s response to Google Now, the helpful prompts and contextual information Android phones offer based on what stye know about you. Like reminding you of travel time to your next meeting or tasks to be completed in your local vicinity.

During my brief fling with Android last year, I only managed to scratch the surface of this, as the majority of its functions seemed to apply to the US only. But every so often, a reminder or prompt would appear on screen that was really, really useful.

If Apple can offer something as intelligent and helpful for the iOS platform, then I’ll be one happy user.

Code-named (apparently) “Proactive”, the service will:

leverage Siri, Contacts, Calendar, Passbook, and third-party apps to create a viable competitor to Google Now for Android devices. Like Google Now, Proactive will automatically provide timely information based on the user’s data and device usage patterns, but will respect the user’s privacy preferences, according to sources familiar with Apple’s plans.

If this can take the information on my phone and in the cloud and play it back to me in a timely and proactive way, I can see a lot of potential for this. What would I want it to do for me? Some initial thoughts on this:

  • On the way to a meeting with a client, the phone could bring up their LinkedIn profiles to remind me of key details about them and their career.
  • Knowing I have a flight later in the day, it could warn me of any public transport issues well in advance, so I can find an alternative route.
  • If it knows what’s on my Amazon wish list, for example, it could notify me when items are on sale there or even elsewhere.

I use Kayak for the plethora of travel that’s in my personal and business schedule. The updates from Kayak about delays and disruptions are excellent and frequently arrive on-screen before the train company or airlines decides to announce anything. Right down to gate changes at the airport.

(Seriously – add your travel arrangements to Kayak. It’s free and so incredibly useful!)

The possibilities here are endless. I hope Apple can deliver something snappy and accurate and that it plays nice with the Apple Watch, which is where all my notifications arrive these days. I wonder how much the notifications will arrive on-screen and how it will use Siri to actually speak to me…

I also hope it doesn’t drain battery life too much, though the isn’t much of a problem for me with the iPhone 6 Plus, I can imagine the frustration of iPhone 5 users if this useful functionality comes at the cost of battery-drain.

Bottom line: more proactive notifications from my iOS devices would be very welcome. Let’s see what Apple deliver later this year.

Kindle-tastic

After months of deliberating, I bit the bullet over the weekend and bought myself the new Kindle Voyage from Amazon. I’d been looking at it online since it was made available in the UK, even putting in my “basket” on more than one occasion. But then noticing it had basically sold out and there was a wait until mid-January.

Sad face.

I received a few Amazon vouchers as gifts over Xmas and so, in my own nerdish way, I set myself a daily reminder in ToDoist to check availability of the Kindle and lo and behold, it was there when I went to look on Sunday.

But wait. Why the need for a new Kindle? Don’t I already have a perfectly good Kindle 3G Keyboard model? Well, yes and no. It’s my favourite ever Kindle model, but is showing its age. The battery is rubbish now and every 10 or so pages, the screen goes completely black and I need to refresh and start over.

This is ever so slightly annoying.

But I can’t complain. It was a second-hand purchase from eBay and has received intensive use. Daily, pretty much. I actually downgraded from a Kindle Paperwhite, as I couldn’t get used to the touchscreen and really missed the real buttons to navigate.

In summary, I really think I got my money’s worth from that second-hand Kindle and in no way feel let down by its performance. The 3G keyboard model is a fantastic ereader.

My new Kindle Voyage arrived yesterday while I was out for a run. Since then, I’ve hd the chance to set it up (5mins out of the box) and read a few chapters of a book. A few requisite un-boxing pics below!

So far, I can say the following:

  • It’s super-light – lighter even than the Kindle Paperwhite.
  • It’s fast and responsive
  • The navigation buttons on the sides take a little getting used to
  • The screen is extremely clear and the text is like reading a paperback

My only gripe so far isn’t about the Kindle itself, but the cases that Amazon sells for it. I’m not going to throw it into a bag unprotected, but the recommended cases are both awkward and expensive. Time to look on eBay for something else.

I look forward to plenty of reading in the coming months, especially with all the travel that’s in my calendar already. If you’re a Kindle user, I can (so far) recommend the Voyage as a significant upgrade from existing models. All except the Paperwhite – unless, like me, you missed the physical buttons.

More reflections as I use it…

New Kindle Voyage announced

Very interested to read about Amazon’s new Kindle models, especially the Kindle Voyage.

I actually previously ‘downgraded’ from a Kindle Paperwhite as I missed the physical buttons and couldn’t get used to tapping the screen to turn pages.

I bought an older model Kindle 3G Keyboard on eBay and haven’t looked back!

But this new backlit version with buttons to the side of the screen could definitely tempt me back. I’ll have to see it in the flesh – it won’t be bought sight unseen – and have a play with it.

Hopefully the UK launch won’t be too far behind the US one and it will be available in time for Xmas and associated festivities.

Going old school

People who know me associate me with gadgets and the frequent updating thereof. This usually takes the form of moving to new and more advanced versions of each piece of tech as they are released, so I can take advantage of each new aspect of functionality. Tech launches somehow (sadly) make me feel like I can’t live without each new gizmo and small iteration of tech that it brings.

Except now.

I’ve owned Kindles for a few years now and have moved from one model to the next as the technology improved. My latest model was the Kindle Paperwhite, which included a backlight and a touchscreen instead of buttons. After a couple of week’s use, I’m afraid it began to gather dust.

Which is strange, as I love to read. Something was getting in between me and the page. Of course, as soon as I got the Paperwhite, I sold my old Kindle 3G (the one with the keyboard) on eBay.  And that, it seems, was my mistake.

I missed it. I missed how light it was, how I could move through pages using the perfectly-placed buttons on either side of the screen, how it felt in my hands and how clear the text appeared.

It took me a while to realise it, but I missed my Kindle 3G.

So I bought one. I tracked one down on eBay that wasn’t listed at a ridonculous price and snagged it last Sunday. It arrived yesterday morning and within minutes, all my Kindle purchases were downloaded and I was up and running.

I then spent a happy few hours tearing through a novel (the very fun and enjoyable Perfiditas by Alison Morton).

This is possibly my first experience of “downgrading” tech to use something I preferred. Have I hit that age? That age where tech developments confuse and annoy me? I don’t think so…yet.

For me, the Kindle 3G is their perfect model and the one I want to keep using. I’m even considering keeping a spare for when this one (inevitably) dies.

I like it that much.

So the Paperwhite will shortly be listed on eBay and I’m sure someone else will enjoy its backlit screen and smaller form factor. For me, I’ll stick with its more plastic and old school cousin – and get much more reading done in the process.

I think we all know that both the Apple WWDC announcements and whatever comes from Google later this month will encourage me to update other gadgets and tech. The Kindle is probably a blip on my technology acquisition trail.

Probably.

Shopping frustration…

Now – fair warning – this is going to sound like a complete First World White Whine, but… one of my Amazon “gifts to myself” (bought with some of the vouchers I received from my family) arrived in this morning in rag order.

I (no laughing at the back) bought a ukelele, as one of my 2014 goals is to teach myself to play a new instrument. Ukes are small, cheap and intrinsically hilarious. A lot like me, to be fair…

Anyway, my uke turned up this morning with a neck like crack addict. It had scratches and chips taken out of it all the way down. Far from new, it looked years old.

Not happy.

I got it via Amazon Prime, so I immediately logged on, registered my annoyance and a new one is winging its way to me right now. I have to drop the damaged one off at a collection point, but this is far easier than braving the Xmas sales in London and dealing with an overwrought sales assistant.

I did have time – about 15 mins – to tune the thing and play three chords. Fair enough, they were C, C7 and C7maj so not a stretch, but pleasing all the same.

The replacement should arrive on Monday, giving me the opportunity to practice a little before 2014 kicks off properly. So here’s to plenty of hours of practice, calluses on my finger tips and the playing of Gershwin on a ukelele. Hope that’s not to offensive to his musical memory…

The downside of paper…

2013 - 1Quite obviously, the downside of user a specific-sized paper in a paper planner (i.e. Filofax) is that you can run out of said paper.

Since returning to the A5 fold and using my A5 Original for work purposes, I’ve been tearing through my supply of A5 Filofax paper. As part of my job, I take a lot of notes.

Noticing my depleting supplies, I logged onto the Filofax online store a week ago and ordered some replacements. Being a semi-loyal Filofax customer for the past few years, I purposely opted to buy direct from Filofax – rather than save cash by buying via eBay.

A week later, and I’ve yet to receive my paper.

(I think this definitely falls into my oft-quoted category of “First World Problems”.)

As Filofax has shut its stores in London, I’m reliant on either speciality stationary shops or department stores to get Filo-supplies. That, or eBay and Amazon. Filofax are not doing themselves any favours by taking so long to dispatch something as simple – and small – as some A5 paper.

could have bought this via Amazon and had it on Monday. As it stands, I popped (hobbled, rather… I’m still on crutches) into an office supply shop in Canary Wharf this afternoon and picked up a couple of Filofax A5 pads – all the paper they had in the size I needed. I really wanted some loose-leaf paper. 

Come on Filofax – it’s 2013!

filofax-fusion-a5-black-largeOn a related note, I dug out my A5 Fusion in black, firstly to seek out some A5 paper that was still in there. But then, to wonder how I could make use of it. Despite getting an A5 Original a few months ago, I never ended up selling the Fusion. It’s definitely heavier than the Original, but it’s also sturdier.

I really need a Filofax full of paper due to my return to work in the real world next week. I have coaching sessions and a two-day coaching psychology conference in Edinburgh to attend. I will be taking a lot of notes. The Fusion is definitely superior for note-taking on the knee – when I don’t have a flat surface to lean on.

I may well take the Fusion to work next week – complete with my iPad Mini holder – and see how it goes.

Premature excitement?

So my heart was all aflutter at the thought of getting my grubby little mitts on on Kindle Matchbook.

Yet this morning, Amazon emailed me to let me know about the new Kindle Paperwhite (really not sure it’s worth my while upgrading) but there was a noticeable lack of mentions of Kindle Matchbook or indeed the integration with Goodreads.

I’m wondering if my hypothetical delay between release of these services in the US and then the rest of the world might be longer than anticipated. Are UK publishers making life difficult for Amazon? Surely £2 for an ebook version of an already purchased hardback is better than £0?

Are publishers being greedy? Is Amazon playing hardball a la Apple?

I hope these imagined shenanigans don’t significantly delay the launch of Matchbook outside of the UK.

Are you listening, Amazon?

Now that’s exciting!

KindlePaperwhiteYes, yes…Apple have finally confirmed they’re having a special event next Tuesday.

I could have told you that – for the past few years, they’ve managed to schedule these for when I’m out of range of the interwebs, usually on a plane. True to form, I’ll be on a flight home from Edinburgh when Tim Cook et al take to the stage and tell us all about the new iPhone(s).

No, that’s not what has me excited.

It’s the announcement from Amazon of their new Kindle. I know, I’ve just bought one. Typical.

And I don’t think I’m going to upgrade any time soon. It’s more what additional services are coming:

  • Integration with Goodreads, which I love using
  • Kindle Matchbook, where they offer you cheap or free ebook versions of books you’ve already bought in print.

Amazing.

It goes live in October and will have 10,000 books on day one, stretching all the way back to 1995. I have bought SO MANY books from Amazon in the last 10 years alone. Getting cheap (or free!) versions of these to enjoy all over again on my Kindle sounds like a dream come true.

So, I need to get realistic.

It will probably only launch in the US in October and come to the rest of the world later. Maybe much later. It probably won’t have all the publishers on board. And it almost certainly won’t include the academic publishers who bled me dry during my undergrad, masters and doctoral degrees.

But still. I bought the book, I should be able to get it in more than one format. It’s just like what Amazon are going for music – giving you the MP3s of the physical CDs you’ve already bought.

Such a great concept.

I never thought I’d say this, but…Hurry up October!!

A Kindle update

Don’t worry, I’m still loving my Kindle Paperwhite. Never far from my little paws. I’ve said it before – I’ve never read so much since I’ve had a Kindle. It’s small, light and always with me. The fact that I like to read multiple books simultaneously makes an ereader ideal.

Easier than hoofing around a half dozen hardbacks in a bag wherever I go!

That and my propensity for impulse purchases of books that look interesting. With just the push of a button, I have the book (or a free sample thereof) on my Kindle. Free first chapters are the equivalent of browsing in a book shop. A fantastic idea and responsible for most of my recent book purchases from Amazon.

But my recent purchase of a Paperwhite left me with two perfectly good Kindles. Rather than have one as an emergency replacement, it’s gone to a good home with someone who really wanted a Kindle.

So I’m doing my bit to spread the gospel… Amazon should really have me on a commission.

Cough. Amazon. Cough.

Now I’m just looking forward to our break in Spain later this month so I can get a week of solid reading done. There are just too many good books waiting on my Kindle and not enough hours in the day to get them read.

Cue a mix of cyber-psychology, Eastern European history and good old-fashioned sci-fi.

Well, that’s my story.