Spotlight and Siri’s sibling rivalry 

When first introduced with Mac OS X Tiger, Spotlight offered fast and accurate file and metadata searching on the Mac.

Spotlight made the jump to the iPhone with iPhone OS 3, giving users a quick way to find apps, contacts, emails, events and music.

Today, things are messier. Spotlight is still mostly about search and Siri is still mostly about being a helpful digital assistant, but the lines are more blurred then ever.

Right below Spotlight’s text search are Siri’s “proactive” recommendations for apps and contacts.

Spotlight can open apps and search their content; Siri can open apps, but can’t see into them or control them. Both can search the web.

You can only talk to Siri, while Spotlight requires keyboard entry or dictation. Many have voiced hope that Apple will give users a way to text with Siri, which would further muddy the waters between the two services.

It feels like Spotlight has already become a subset of what Siri is. The only place the word “Spotlight” even appears on iOS is in the Settings app. Even on Apple’s own site, “Search” seems to be a part of Siri’s domain.

Google Now, Alexa and Cortana have all removed the boundaries between what information is local and what’s not. Apple’s not quite there with iOS 9, but I think iOS 10 could push it to the next level. Why maintain two services, with overlapping and somewhat confusing feature sets, when a single, unified experience could get the job done?

Siri’s brand can extend past what happens if you hold down the home button; it can encompass any digital assistant or search functionality that takes place in apps, at the OS level or on the open web.

Google Photos celebrates 200 million users →

Anil Sabharwal, Vice President of Google Photos:

A year ago, we introduced Google Photos with one mission: To be a home for all your photos and videos, organized and brought to life, so that you can share and save what matters.

Now 200 million of you are using Google Photos each month. We’ve delivered more than 1.6 billion animations, collages and movies, among other things. You’ve collectively freed up 13.7 petabytes of storage on your devices—it would take 424 years to swipe through that many photos! We’ve also applied 2 trillion labels, and 24 billion of those have been for … selfies.

I still keep all of my photos in Dropbox, and started backing them up to Google Photos many months ago. It’s an amazing tool; searching for photos is fast and easy, and the built-in Assistant makes it easy to relive days in the past, and organize photos into albums. While I still sync some albums to my iPhone via USB, but I love having all of my photos just a few taps away. I’m glad it seems to be successful.

Report: Next Apple TV will go up against Amazon Echo →

Jordan Novet at VentureBeat:

Apple is working on its answer to Amazon’s Echo, the voice-activated assistant packaged inside a speaker, but it may come in the form of a refreshed Apple TV, rather than a new hardware product, VentureBeat has learned.

The company will build on its enhancements to the Apple TV announced last year, which brought the Siri virtual assistant to the set-top box. A new version of the Apple TV will solve problems with the existing box and remote control, a source familiar with the matter claims.

“They want Apple TV to be just the hub of everything,” the source told VentureBeat.

While an improved Siri experience on the Apple TV would be nice, the idea that the Apple TV could evolve into an always-ready assistant misses the mark for me.

Why should a home assistant be tied to the television? I can put an Echo in my bedroom or even outside on the porch, where I don’t have TVs. Even if I had a TV in the kitchen where my Echo sits today, I wouldn’t want it on all the time just so I can ask Siri a question.

The Echo is perfectly suited to be in the kitchen, where every day tasks making interacting with a phone or watch more difficult. From what I’ve heard from other Echo users, I’m not alone in thinking that.

I just don’t buy this being a viable product strategy, and I hope Apple doesn’t either.

NASA halts BEAM expansion →

BEAM — the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module — is an expandable module that’s in testing at the International Space Station. As opposed to being built out of rigid material like other components on the Station, BEAM is designed to “inflate” once installed.

The upsides of this tech are huge. Currently, the size of any one structure in space is limited to what can be carried to orbit on the top of a rocket. In flight, BEAM was much smaller than it’s size will be once it’s fully expanded in space.

That was supposed to happen this morning, but the experimental mission was halted:

The operation took longer than expected as slightly higher pressure than expected was seen. Ground teams had to assess the situation and let the pressure settle before continuing expansion. Afterword, ground teams gave [NASA Flight Engineer Jeff Williams] the go ahead to add more air via the MPEV in “generous” one second bursts.

However, the module continued to remain unchanged with the initial bulge. Then just after 8:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 GMT), called off the rest of the expansion to assess the data. Expansion could resume as early as tomorrow morning.

Hopefully, this can move forward soon. Expandable modules offer lots of interesting opportunities for NASA and private companies, but sometimes early days of new tech include failures.

Presentable →

We’re introducing a new show today on Relay FM, hosted by Jeffrey Veen:

The Presentable Podcast focuses on how we design and build the products that are shaping our digital future. We’ll track the tools, trends, and methods being used by teams from the biggest companies and latest startups. In each episode, Jeff will bring over two decades of experience as a designer, developer, entrepreneur, and investor as he chats with guests about the how design is changing the world.

It’s really good. You should check out both the pilot and the first episode.

Liftoff #21: The Excitement Has Exploded →

Today on everyone’s favorite fortnightly space podcast:

Jason and Stephen catch up some news, talk about some weird ways stars end and are then joined by Loren Grush, science reporter at The Verge to talk about commercial crew, inflatable space hotels and more.

It was really great to talk with Loren. She does killer reporting at The Verge. My thanks to our sponsors for this episode:

  • CuriosityStream: The world’s first, ad- free non fiction streaming service. Use promo code RELAYFM to get two months free.
  • Luminos: A fantastic astronomy app, 10 years in the making! Now with an Apple Watch app for skygazing!