Digital Life: The phone that texts your mum and reminds you to buy milk
Apple has made a habit of coming late to the technology party. It watches as others stumble over an emerging trend and then releases a fully formed, highly polished version that becomes the definitive product.
The iPod, iPhone and iPad all sprang from that mentality. And now Apple has done it again with voice recognition in the new iPhone 4S. This will change everything, and not just in phones.
Let's be clear that voice recognition in a phone is nothing new. We've had voice dialling for donkey's years. Android has been trying to crack the problem for ages, with little success. Just last month, Windows Phone 7 made a decent stab at it. Several iPhone apps such as Vlingo get half-way there.
But Apple has gone the extra mile and trumps the lot of them with admirably accurate voice recognition (in quiet conditions) combined with clever software that can act on your instructions.
The big caveat is that you must have a good internet connection when you want to use it.
This voice assistant, known as Siri, is capable of understanding complex requests.
Here are some examples:
- "Remind me to get some milk when I finish work" -- Siri tracks your location via GPS and, when you leave the office, triggers a little reminder.
- "Wake me up at 7am tomorrow morning" -- your alarm clock is set.
- "Will I need an umbrella today?" -- Siri pulls up the weather and tells you whether rain is forecast.
- "Send my mother a message to say I'll be 20 minutes late" -- Siri texts the mobile number with news of your delay.
In the US, Siri is capable of other savvy tricks, such as directing you to the nearest ATM or the best Chinese restaurant in the area. Hopefully, such services will be added in Europe soon. In the meantime, Siri is the equal of many other queries ("what is 56 multiplied by 92?", "what time is sunset?") and can be used to simply dictate an email -- in fact, anywhere you use the keyboard, Siri can help.
Rather cynically, Apple has restricted Siri to the new iPhone 4S only, even though Irish developer Steven Troughton-Smith has proved with a bit of hacking that it will work on older models.
The rest of the iPhone 4S seems like much less of a leap. It's physically identical to its predecessor but (hallelujah!) drops calls less often. The camera is much improved but still struggles with moving subjects. The faster processor inside may become important for games but hardly seems to matter right now. Battery life is a little worse.
With the iPhone 4S, Apple has taken a great phone and made the hardware subtly better. Certainly, if you own a 3GS, it's a must-have upgrade. For iPhone 4 users, the value in trading up lies in Siri. It's not perfect but what it can do already is amazing.
It's possible you've heard of a little game launching today named Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The people behind the respected Battlefield shooter series are unquestionably well aware, having decided essentially to photocopy the bestselling CoD blueprint for the single-player story.
So that means a ton of slickly produced cinematics allied to a campaign based on US soldiers fighting insurgents in Iran. Behind all the bluster, though, is a lack-lustre experience in which you're led by the nose from one blockbuster set-piece to the next.
Thankfully, Battlefield's traditional strength in multiplayer comes to the rescue, delivering a subtly different flavour from the CoD juggernaut.
Instead of the tightly confined corridors of the story, B3's online multiplayer grounds itself in sprawling, intricate landscapes. Battlefield's signature twist on the genre means you're never far from a vehicle -- Humvee, jet, helicopter, buggy -- to transport you at high speed around the large maps.
The aircraft remain crazily difficult to fly and the team-based goals mean you're often at the mercy of the skills of other online players. Bad luck if you're matched up with a bunch of drongos.
B3 is hardly likely to divert many CoD fans from their next fix but Battlefield veterans will feel right at home.
This is more like 'WRC 1.5' than WRC 2, such is the scant progress since last year's rally sim. In the meantime, we've also enjoyed the hugely entertaining DiRT 3 tearing up the track, bringing some much-needed cheekiness to the genre.
But if a serious rally sim is what you what, at least WRC 2 offers the latest official teams and motors. The handling remains a mixed bag, with the cars appearing sometimes to float across the gravel.
There's a sense WRC has been running to stand still -- and that just isn't enough in the racing game.
Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
How sad that it's come to this, my favourite wisecracking duo reduced to a sideshow in a parody of their past glories.
For a series justifiably lauded for its innovation, All 4 One goes for broke by shoehorning four-player co-op in the familiar platforming action.
Alas, that's as far the inventiveness goes because the rest of the game sinks beneath a sea of mediocre, repetitive levels. There's little to distinguish each playable character beyond their costumes and the co-operative element is minimal.
Bits and Bytes
• Rockstar has tantalised us with a glimpse of what may well be the biggest game of 2012, Grand Theft Auto V.
The sequel to the monster-selling hit of 2008, GTAV returns to the sunnier climes of the US west coast for the latest instalment of the crime simulator. Just one minute and 24 seconds long, the GTAV trailer hints at many old favourites as well as an improved graphics engine.
• Google's search tentacles just got smarter with the result that it can now index comments you made with your Facebook login -- but only on third-party websites, not Facebook itself.
Many sites allow you use your Facebook ID to avoid the hassle of registration, but if you post a comment when signed in with this login, Google's search function will make it public for all the world to see.
That's something to ponder before you let loose with both barrels online.