Samsung’s Smart TV Voice Control Sucks. As Expected.

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I bought myself one of Samsung’s new Smart TVs the other day. I’ve been using the voice feature for a while and must say, I’m pretty disappointed. Or not so much disappointed, as I was somehow expecting the voice implementation to be way subpar. And boy it is.

I’ve been using Siri for a while now, so I know how a well-implemented voice interface can look like. (Even though I’m not 100% happy with Siri either, which I will write about later). Samsung’s promise is to control your TV simply with your voice. The obvious functions would be volume&channel control, and powering the device on and off.

Let’s start with the volume. The TV can go up to volume 100, but the voice interface only allows you to control volume levels up to 20. That’s just silly and makes it pretty much useless. Furthermore, the recognition of the numbers is pretty inaccurate. When wanting to control the volume relatively, you can say “volume up” and “volume down”, but that will change the level in increments of 1, which again is pretty silly, as that will hardly make any difference. Jumps of 5 or 10 (or configurable increments) would’ve made way more sense.

Let’s move on to channel switching. In a typical set up with a digital DVR or some other external device feeding in the TV content, the channel function obviously doesn’t work at all. You’re not using the channels of the TV, rather the channel lineup of your DVR. The channel switching function therefore is rendered completely obsolete. Even if you use the TV channel lineup, you can only say numeric channel numbers, not the channel names. Again, that is very silly.

Turning the TV on and off works reasonably well. No complaints there. (On the other hand, as you usually have to turn on your DVR as well, you have to reach out to a remote control either way, in which case you might as well hit the button on your TV control as well).

What else can you do? You can control the source for the signal (to switch between the different HDMI inputs). That’s a good idea, however, the implementation again is suboptimal. You first have to say “Hi TV” to turn on voice control. Then “source”, then wait it to be recognized, then “source 2″ or “source 3″ etc., instead of simply saying “source 2″ or “source 3″ right away. So it makes you go through two commands instead of one (or rather: 3, instead of 2). Needless to say how silly that is.

I could go on like that, but I think you get the idea. The voice feature in the end is pretty useless. And I do understand the challenges with a room microphone versus one that is close to your face, but still, don’t advertise a functioning smart TV if it is not functioning, and not very smart. (And I’m not even talking about the gesture control, which is another pretty useless feature).

I can’t wait for Apple to come out with a really smart TV. That will be the next device category that they could revolutionize completely (and will, if they try, no doubt about that). Go on, Apple, it’s your turn.

PS: I almost completely dictated this post using Siri on my iPad, sometimes whole paragraphs at once, with only a few edits necessary.
PPS: I’m not an Apple fanatic. But I am impressed with a company that turns around 3 industries in a timeframe of a few years (MP3 players, cell phones & mobile carriers, and tablet PCs). And I appreciate a company that “gets” how important usability is these days.
PPPS: I love the picture quality of the TV; overall, I would probably give this device 4/5 on Amazon. I didn’t buy it for voice&gesture control, but for bright HD, good 3D, and picture quality, which is where it excels.
PPPPS: If anyone from the Samsung product team reads this and wants to rectify any false observations, I’d be happy to adjust my post and retweet.

How much does it take to make the mobile Apple user go somewhere else?

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My company is Apple’s largest business customer in central Florida. Each new hire receives a brand new iPhone and a MacBook Pro. That’s quite impressive. Having been a Windows user all my life, it took me a while to fall in love with the idea of a new OS, but it didn’t take too long in the end. The Apple OS and the entire ecosystem is truly attractive and impressive for the frequent user. Believe it or not, I’m not much of a hacker when it comes to using my computer. I want it to work and focus on what I create or process with it; I don’t like to focus on it itself too much. So the Apple system appeals to me.

I’ve become a fan of its simplicity, of its love for the detail, and of its quality. I have tolerated Apple’s closed nature so far, but the recent moves frustrated me. Introducing their own maps is fine. Being Apple, I expected a high quality product that by itself would convince me to move away from Google. That’s how a free market works. But they didn’t give me that choice. They deprived me of the most used app on my iPhone, Google Maps. And they replaced it with a product that is sub-par. What’s more, they deprived me of the second-most used app on my iPhone (and iPad), YouTube. And they replaced it with… nothing. YouTube’s strength is its content. Like Facebook’s strength is its user base. By definition, Apple CANNOT come up with a similar product. It would’ve taken years to grow similar content. So, without asking me or any other of their users, they have taken the app away. Here I am, searching the AppStore for something that comes close…

What the heck Apple? Don’t do that to your users! You created a whole new market with your two latest products, and that’s a phenomenal achievement. But the competition is getting stronger and stronger. Don’t risk your reputation (of creating quality products) with moves like this. To be honest, you’ve always had a bad reputation for your closedness, so removing YouTube might almost be considered “in character”… Bad enough!

The non-threat of 3rd-party apps to Twitter Inc.

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It seems widely understood that Twitter’s latest announcement of their new REST API version 1.1 is a first real step towards a more locked communications universe. As their Director of Consumer Products states: “Nearly eighteen months ago, we gave developers guidance that they should not build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. And to reiterate what I wrote in my last post, that guidance continues to apply today.” Developers of client apps that display tweets and allow authoring of tweets will gradually be shut down by restricting the API that way.

My question is: why?

Twitter has become a business, backed with VC money. I understand the need to generate revenue, and at the moment we all have to believe that this will happen through advertisement. Today, ads are primarily added to the tweet stream as promoted tweets. As a daily user of Twitter myself, I have to say that I find this form of advertisement… acceptable. Other than Facebook, where the ads are taking up a lot of space on my wall (esp. on a mobile device), are annoying, and misuse my friends for promotion (something I find completely unacceptable and really bad business practice), the Twitter ad experience is unobtrusive, and often helpful. I can accept this form of revenue generation. I can quickly swipe over a promoted tweet if I’m not interested.

The fear of 3rd party client apps seems to be based on the assumption that they will find a way to block ads, or filter them out. My question, though: why doesn’t Twitter change the way those promoted tweets are inserted into the stream and exposed through their API? Why doesn’t Twitter make these tweets indistinguishable from regular tweets that show up in my stream? E.g., if they aren’t tagged any special way, and if Twitter changes the fact that only tweets of people I follow show up in my stream… or if they change their T&Cs for external clients such that they have to display promoted tweets, or else Twitter reserves the right to block requests from these clients… or, even better: why doesn’t Twitter come up themselves with the best client for Twitter, so that people naturally choose theirs and stay with it… Today, I use a 3rd party client myself, as Twitter’s own doesn’t do all I need it to do.

Twitter is entirely built upon ideas from people outside of Twitter Inc. Hashtags, mentions, retweets, and everything else that make up Twitter today have evolved out of its user base. (See the above links for some history, or this one for an overview). Threatening those who helped Twitter become what it is today seems like a bad idea to me. And I don’t see why they should feel forced to be doing that.