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All In The Interface

December 12, 2011
By Dave Hecei ( , The Post-Journal

You would think by now that computers would be easy to use. For someone that has been using computers for 20+ years, then yes, a new computer system is easy to figure out. For someone that has never used a computer or only uses one occasionally for work, then the honest answer is no, computers are complicated even Macs. I'm here to tell you that it's not your fault.

The first Mac brought the personal computer to a whole new level. When it was introduced, personal computers were operated through a series of arcane text commands. The Mac had the first commercially successful Graphical User Interface, what we now call a GUI (goo-ee). This type of computer control was picture based instead of commands.

The Macintosh OS has come a long ways since 1984, but that doesn't mean computers are easier to use or understand. We are just starting to see a change in how we interface with computers in the last few years.

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The first big change started with the iPhone. This was the beginning of Apple's iOS, or their mobile operating system. The big thing that iOS brought was Gestures. Apple then put this iOS on a new tablet, the iPad, and created one of the easiest to use computing devices yet.

Apple took the next step by moving some of the ease-of-use to their next Macintosh OS, 10.7 Lion. This latest Mac OS has both the Mac App Store application and Launch Pad, which brings the iPads App screen to the Mac. The Mac App Store makes finding, purchasing, installing, and updating the software on your Mac as simple as can be. Launch Pad allows you to select the App you want to run. Lion has also added some more gestures, which decreases mouse and keyboard use.

The biggest change is only just starting. Apple released their latest iPhone, the 4S, with a system call Siri. While voice recognition has been around for a while, Apple has taken that technology and turned it into a personal assistant.

With the iPhone 4S, you can give Siri commands or questions. To get the best results it is actually best to think of Siri as if you were talking to a real person. You can ask Siri where the nearest Italian restaurant is, or you can tell Siri to text a message to your spouse. It is amazingly accurate, even in this 'beta' release.

Of course Siri does have limitations, which is true with most voice control technology. On the iPhone 4S, which is the only device that currently has Siri, you must be connected to a 3G or WiFi network for Siri to work. The iPhone takes your voice and sends it to the cloud where Apple servers decode it into data and sends back answers or commands. If the Siri system is down, which has been happening more often than most would like, then it fails.

The big question is whether this technology can make it out of the iPhone. It is an amazing addition to the iPhone, which is the ideal device to hone this technology. Hopefully Siri, or the next generation of Siri, will eventually make it to other devices. There is no reason that Siri couldn't be added to the iPhone 4 or especially the iPad 2 right now. What would be even more interesting is if it were to make it to the Mac.

Dictation and voice commands are actually on your Mac right now and has been there even before OS X (I bet you didn't know that). The set of commands that are available are very limited, but can be used to amuse your friends and family. Dictation software has also been around for a while. Apps like Dragon Dictate ($199), allow you to speak to your Mac in a normal voice and have it transcribe your speech and even control menu commands.

Siri could add a whole new level of control to a Mac. On the iPhone, Siri can give you directions, find things, send messages, read messages, change meetings, and set reminders. Some people might find it difficult to sit at their desk and have a conversation with their Mac. The more we use and start to rely on Siri on our phones, the more our voice will become the normal computer interface.



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