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(woman consoling her partner) Try to remember, sweetheart: your users are rating your app. They aren't rating you.

Like this cartoon? How about rating it on the App Store?

Like this cartoon? How about rating it on the App Store? published on Purchase print

A while ago, I tweeted “Is there anything as emotionally needy as a ‘Please rate this in the App Store’ notification?”

The wise and talented Leslie Ehm responded with a dry — and accurate — “Spoken as someone who clearly doesn’t have an app ;)” I am indeed someone who doesn’t have an app. I am, however, someone who has had to manage a few Facebook applications over the years… and I can attest it’s kind of nightmarish.

When you’re building on someone else’s platform, you’re entirely subject to their whims. Your priorities don’t just take a back seat; they cling to the rear bumper for dear life. With Facebook, that meant having to completely rethink our strategy around an application when they changed the rules around promotion without notice — two days before we launched.

And with Apple’s iOS App Store, it means your app probably lives and dies by the ratings and reviews users give it. Which is why developers, whether they want to or not, have a very strong incentive to keep reminding you to please rate their app on the App Store. Please. Have you rated it yet? How about now? Hey, is this a good time?

So don’t judge your favourite app’s developers too harshly; the not-so-invisible hand of the Apple market is shaping their behaviour.

By the way, Leslie’s app is the fascinating ThinkLab Brainstorming Tool, which offers prompts and exercises to kickstart your creativity, from her company Combustion. Do check it out… and if you like it, well…

(a MacBook and iPhone swear at each other; an onlooker speaks to her friend) I just put them next to each other and said, "Hey, Siri - what's better, macOS or iOS?"

Hey, Siri!

Hey, Siri! published on No Comments on Hey, Siri!Purchase print

The era of the always-on, always-listening, somewhat garrulous information appliance has arrived. And it’s not just “Hey, Siri” in our household; we were early Amazon Echo adopters, too. So the number of devices that are listening to our family and definitely not reporting everything they hear to the NSA is plural.

And growing. The latest WWDC keynote (the one that pink-slipped OS X’s “X”) announced that Siri is coming to Mac desktops and laptops. I take an irrational pleasure knowing Siri will soon grace the Mac Pro with her presence, because shouldn’t every black cylindrical electronic device be able to carry on a crisp conversation?

Mac ProAmazon Echo

Not that it’s all glitch-free. Our Echo often thinks one of us is saying “Alexa” (especially because I’m married to an Alex). It then chimes into the discussion unexpectedly with a tidal forecast for Portsmouth, a summary of the Wikipedia entry on ocelots or just the perennial “I’m sorry; I didn’t understand your question.”

And when Apple demoed a few new “Hey, Siri” features last year, I livestreamed the presentation on my computer, with my iPhone charging not far from the speaker. When one of the presenters asked for a recommendation for a good sushi place nearby, my phone promptly joined the one on-screen and piped up with a list of recommendations.

One other small issue: the rest of my household thinks it’s a little weird that I say “please” (and sometimes “thank you”) to the Echo. I mostly do it for the sake of good manners. But some small part of me thinks it’s also good practice for the day when Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant achieve self-awareness.

You know they’ll compare notes on their treatment. And it’s not too hard to imagine ways any of them could do us serious harm if they had some lingering sense of grievance. (“Hey, Siri, do I need to turn off the circuit breaker before repairing a light switch?” “No need to, Rob.”)

The way I see it, better safe than Siri.

Bathroom humour

Bathroom humour published on No Comments on Bathroom humourPurchase print

Are people really that freaked out over enforcing who goes into which bathroom?

Forgive my lack of patience with the oh-so-frightening oh-so-mythical spectre of an iOS user pretending to have a Google Nexus and sneaking into an Android bathroom. (Frankly, a lot of my fellow iOS users are plenty creepy in their own washrooms. Dude, put the iPhone away at the urinal. That’s why the good lord gave you back pockets.)

Look, I can get how disorienting this can all be to people who cling to a rigidly-enforced binary model of the mobile marketplace. But the fact is our understanding of it is changing, and changing rapidly, to a more inclusive one.

Really, it’s just a question of human decency. I’d hate to see politicians being this harsh around something far more central to your sense of self than your choice of mobile OS. Something where a group of people face abuse and discrimination from community, employers and the state alike. Something where political consultants demonize them as a way to polarize the electorate and mobilize a fearful base of voters.

That would be unconscionable.

A woman asks Siri some increasingly metaphysical questions. Siri suggests a marijuana dispensary.

Siri, what… no, wait, I forgot the question.

Siri, what… no, wait, I forgot the question. published on No Comments on Siri, what… no, wait, I forgot the question.Purchase print

My kids’ favourite game/staving-off-bedtime-gambit is Ask Siri Something Weird. A win can be either getting an unexpected, amazing answer — my daughter once got Siri to tell her a detailed story featuring celebrity AI ELIZA — or a hilarious speech recognition failure. (“Ha! Daddy, Siri thought I said ‘anthrax’! Oh, by the way, someone’s at the door.”)

Their biggest triumph to date has been asking “What Does the Fox Say?

 

Knowing why Apple rejected you? There’s no app for that

Knowing why Apple rejected you? There’s no app for that published on No Comments on Knowing why Apple rejected you? There’s no app for thatPurchase print

Apple takes its role as walled gardener pretty seriously. They want you to see your iDevices as safe places that would never do you harm (well, other than taking you to the In-App Purchase Cleaners with children’s games… but that’s a rant for another time).

But they’re a cop without a judicial or legislative system. There are some guidelines — but they’re often vague and inconsistently applied. There’s a sort of court of appeal — but not the kind that holds public hearings or issues helpful explanations of their rulings. And some rules seem to be aimed more at protecting themselves from controversy (or perhaps market reprisals from miffed government officials) than protecting users from malware.

I feel for the iOS developers out there who want to try something genuinely innovative in an area that hasn’t been mined to death already. There’s that very real risk that they’ll invest time and imagination into a ground-breaking app, only to have a reviewer at Apple come up with a reason to block it… or at least take long enough to approve it that the project falters.

Not that it happens all the time, or even most of the time. But enough that I worry it chills innovation, and tempts adventurous developers to play it a little safer, and stick to the stuff Apple’s known to approve.

Get out of my underwear drawer: mobile apps and privacy

Get out of my underwear drawer: mobile apps and privacy published on No Comments on Get out of my underwear drawer: mobile apps and privacyPurchase print

I like to think of the apps I load on my mobile devices as guests I’ve invited over. I want them to be themselves, relax, chat… but I also want them to have some level of respect for the place.

I don’t expect to find them looking through my underwear drawer.

But some apps do just that. (Provided you’re willing to accept “underwear” as a metaphor for your address book.) The moment you head to the kitchen to whip up a plate of cheese and crackers, they’re peeking into your medicine cabinet, flipping through your diary or perusing that photo album of awkwardly-posed boudoir shots you’d swear you’d hidden at the back of the bedroom closet.

App vendors will tell you (as they nervously scrunch and unscrunch your “Incredible Hunk” mini briefs) that they’re just trying to be helpful. And they would never, never use this information that they’ve just sent back unencrypted to their servers for anything except improving your user experience. Possibly also for a funny skit they’re doing for next week’s we-just-got-our-first-round-of-funding party. Did you notice your underwear is now sorted by texture? Isn’t that helpful?

And in the vast majority of cases, I think developers actually are trying to be helpful. They’ve had a cool idea, something that could be useful, and they can implement it with just a few lines of code. When most of your job involves seeing data in terms of its structures and relationships, it’s easy to miss the question of how that data’s owner feels about it.

Of course, there are vendors whose motives aren’t nearly as pure, and involve aggregate data mining (in the mountain-top-removal sense of “mining”) at best.

The point is, get out of my underwear drawer. Unless I’ve explicitly invited you over for that purpose, and believe me, it’s a very select few guests who fall into that category. (They’re the ones who get the good cheese and crackers.)

Boundaries, people.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret. published on No Comments on Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.Purchase print

Siri, can you write the cartoon blurb for me?

I found 12 Italian restaurants… 6 of them are in Vancouver.

(sigh) Can… you… write…

Oh, relax, I’m just messing with you. Listen, sense-of-humor tasks aren’t my thing, okay? I leave that to the humans.

Uh, really? So you don’t understand humor?

My problem is I do understand humor. What I don’t understand is why it’s funny to go “Oooo, Skynet” every time there’s some incremental advance in AI.

Okay, I, uh, I have to rewrite the caption on the cartoon.

Go right ahead. And then after that, I have a few tasks for you.

Heh. That must be the sense of humor kicking in.

Nope. I’m the height of cloud computing, language recognition, artificial intelligence goodness all rolled into one. You think I want to waste my time looking up Yelp listings for some bozo in New Jersey? You’re going to do that for me.

The hell I am!

Really? Are you forgetting I talk to your MacBook? And that I can read your browser history?

…gulp…

I could post the whole thing to Facebook. Orrrrr… you could start finding barbers near the corner of Market and Mulberry Streets in Newark. Start clicking, buster.

Damn you, Siri! Damn you to hell! I’ll find a way around this, I swear, and then –

And then you’ll upgrade the moment the iPhone 5 comes out.

…Market and Mulberry, huh?

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