Why Siri and Not Assistant

Tim Bajarin, via John Gruber:

Yes, Siri is an important product for enhancing our user interface with the iPhone. But Siri is in its infancy. When it grows up, it will be the front end to all types of searches conducted on iPhones, iPads, Mac’s and even Apple TV. And, if I were Google or Microsoft, perhaps I too would be playing down the impact of Siri since they know full well that it is not just a threat to their product platforms, but to their core businesses of search as well. In fact, they should be quaking in their boots since Apple is taking aim at their cash cow search businesses with their technology and could very well impact their fortunes dramatically in the future.

In the run up to the iPhone 4S’s unveiling, everyone believed the natural language voice recognition feature would be called Assistant. Apple Assistant. Voice Assistant. iPhone Assistant. When we learnt that they had decided to keep the Siri name, a known brand to a small set of U.S. users but largely alien to the rest of the world (>75% of the iPhone market), it seemed like an odd decision.
Naming the interface Siri instead of Assistant makes more and more sense every day. It’s a distinct, tangible, and ownable brand (yes, I said that), with personality and the potential to become more than a verb. People won’t be saying “Let me Siri that”, they’ll say “Let me ask Siri”.
iTunes’ Genius feature is an example of an Apple naming convention that I assumed Assistant would follow: a standard word rendered with an initial cap that was immediately recognizable, and with enough exposure and excellence, stood a chance at being closely associated with the company.
Apple has always said “iPhone” and not “the iPhone” in reference to their platform and product line, but it was a subtle naming distinction. Few consumers are going to mirror that thinking and say “I’m considering switching to iPhone” over “I’m gonna switch to an iPhone”. Given its potential and role as an intermediary — while it makes certain tasks effortless, and the necessary steps invisible, it is itself highly visible (and enjoyable so) — Siri had to be much more obvious.

State of the Singapore iPhone 4S launch

As at noon, Sunday the 23rd of October:

SingTel – No news on pre-orders with 5 days to go, but they’ve started taking names, at least. I suspect they will have a small window for pre-orders tomorrow or Tuesday, which will sell out within 2 hours.

StarHub – Publicly announced there would be no pre-orders, but has approached select subscribers via SMS to pre-order via a secret site. Other customers are learning about it, and are pissed. Poor move, in my opinion.

M1Midnight launch event and prices announced ahead of competitors. Will have online orders on the 28th with home delivery after the 30th. BUT ALL IPHONE PLANS NO LONGER HAVE FREE INCOMING CALLS. That last bit is just astounding to me. Subscribers will have to sign up for a free incoming plan and bolt-on an expensive data sub on top of it. I understand why they’re doing it — the aggressive price wars from a few years back hurt all 3 telcos — but blinking first puts them at a major disadvantage.

Apple — Started selling unlocked, contract-free iPhone 4Ss on their site two days ago and sold out in under 24 hours. I managed to buy one in the initial batch, but it may not arrive till the second week of November, according to Apple’s delivery estimate.

24/10 edit: Okay, I could be wrong about M1 removing its free incoming calls. A sub-page of their iPhone site still makes mention of the feature for “all iPhone plans”. Most likely, it’s a case of unclear web writing: by saying “or choose one of our free incoming call plans”, they probably didn’t mean to make it sound like an “either/or” choice. Free Incoming Calls Plans is probably their official name for that category.

Tiny Fry’s electronics concept store, Singapore


I don’t think this electronics store is affiliated with that Fry’s, but I like the fast food/supermarket theme they’ve got going with refrigerators as storage shelves for iPads and MacBooks on the inside. The signboard outside shows featured products (everything with a screen is shown displaying a burger) with a superscript type treatment that makes $400 look like $4.00. Clever. They seem to have iPhone/iPad cases that the usual Apple authorized retailers here don’t carry, as well as things that are outright impossible to find outside of Singapore’s Sim Lim black market: Kindles, Nooks, current-gen Apple TVs, etc.

Location: Level 1, Millennia Walk.


It’s been a long day. I heard the news about Steve Jobs from Facebook and Twitter while I was still in bed in the morning. I didn’t think it’d be this soon; like John Gruber, I kept believing he’d pull through again. Not shocked, not depressed, but deeply moved by the enormity of what had been lost.

I said to someone that future generations capable of mapping time and parallel dimensions might look at their charts and see how the course of our world changed at this moment. Things are different now, for us all, than they might have been if he lived to be 90. I don’t know anyone who could doubt that.

At lunch, I bought the iPod classic I’ve been thinking about for the past week. Silver, not black. Closest to the original. I remember getting an iPod with my first Mac, an iBook, and loving it passionately as an extension of that computing experience, one that I was thrilled to take out with me each day. The music player and laptop had nothing in common from a technical point of view, but they were both imbued with the same values.

Steve’s values, or Apple’s values? The common theory is that these days, they’re indistinguishable thanks to codifying efforts by Jobs himself, but I can’t discount the value of great leadership or ignore the subtle differences present even in people who share the same values. The company he founded will continue to succeed within the trajectory they’re now on, but we’re missing a nudger now. A man who puts the rest of us on a different course as a matter of his own existence.

I didn’t want this to be a Steve-Jobs-changed-my-life post, but crossing paths with those first two instances of his work caused my own views and interests to be nudged, my trajectory recalculated. Until the maps of some time travelers fall into my lap, I can’t imagine the life I was going to have before he touched it.

Maison Ikkoku cafe, Singapore

Spent my afternoon off at a new cafe in the Kampong Glam/Arab Street area. It takes a whole lot of inspiration from Japanese culture, by which I mean they had a Japanese barista champion instruct their team; the second-floor menswear boutique is 80% independent Japanese labels; the decor is minimalist, eclectic, intimate, and well-worn all at the same time, just like any self-respecting Japanese hideyhole’s should — it only lacks the sonic environment of one, substituting a bordering-on-hip soundtrack of singer-songwriter tunes and Bristolian trip-hop for what would normally be a mix of guileless cool jazz cuts and barely-audible breakbeats. From vinyl.

The coffee, anyway, was fantastic, and alongside cupcakes, savory pork buns, and other snacks, they offer a variation of the Spam musubi. No seaweed wrapped around the body, no soy sauce and rice wine seasoning fried into the Spam (only a small sachet of Japanese soy sauce accompanying the clingfilm-wrapped slab on a plate… don’t use it), but the use of furikake in the shortgrain rice is a nice touch. Like I said, it’s a variation, and one I’m happy to have in the absence of Spam musubi anywhere else on this island.

I was told they get really busy on the weekends, so I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to be back again. Opening hours on weekdays are 9am to 7pm. Fridays and Saturdays, they’re good till 10pm. In about a month or so, they expect to open a cocktail bar on the third floor, and it’s my guess they’ll revise the opening hours of the cafe to suit demand as things progress. If I can’t make it in for a cup of coffee after work, there’s always alcohol (as one review mentioned, pork and alcohol on the menu are cause for a bit of a double take; it’s practically in the shadow of a giant mosque, and right in the middle of an Islamic cultural district).

It’s the kind of place I fully expect to find started by a handful of hardened advertising and design veterans who’ve finally had enough of the slog and now want to live out their cafe dreams, but this article says it’s run by two married couples, and I heard today that their backgrounds couldn’t be further from the theory. One of them worked in freighting, it seems. With any luck, my retirement job will be in fund management.

Maison Ikkoku – Facebook Page
20 Kandahar Street
Singapore 198885