Since Apple’s introduction of Siri, the world has become enamoured with its dulcet, sometimes playful, tones. What many people do not realise, however, is that the iPhone had a voice control system in place long before Siri made its mark. 

The Rise of Siri

The Voice Control function first appeared in iOS 3.2 on the iPhone 3GS. Of course, with Siri’s rise to dominance, many people simply discarded Voice Control and forgot it ever existed.  

However, the iPhone’s Voice Control feature has a number of uses that can help when at work or play. It is a far more robust and nuanced Voice Control system than many might remember, with Apple refining and updating it. It also worth noting that not everyone has an iPhone 4G or later. Voice command can provide great voice-controlled functionality for those with older models. 

Detailed below are some of the most useful commands and some that might have flown under the radar. 

Music Commands

Changing between songs, albums and playlists when on the move is something that most people struggle with at one time or another. 

Scrolling through tracks and albums on the move wither means potentially colliding with an inconveniently placed lamppost or stopping in the middle of the pavement, drawing sounds of annoyance from other pedestrians. 

Changing music with Voice Control is easy and quick, keeps hands free and prevents meandering in the middle of public highways and byways. 

  • Start Music – A simple “Play” or “Play Music” fires up the iPhone’s in-built music app or, alternatively, one of the many other apps for playing music on the iPhone. 
  • Choose a Specific Artist – “Play artist”, suffixed with the name of the band or solo act in question. For example, “Play artist Nirvana” and Kurt Cobain will soon be singing away. This command also works with a “Play songs by…” command. 
  • Pick a Playlist – One of the most annoying things about modern portable music players is having to go in and out of menus and surmounting the barriers between albums and playlists. This Voice Control, with a simple “Play playlist…’ brings up any playlist the listener wants. 
  • Play a Specific Album – This command is an easy to remember “Play album” command. The iPhone music player of choice will open it up and start the album from the beginning. 
  • Genius Feature – Sometimes, one of the best parts of listening to music is the unknown. This is often lost when playing from a set album or playlist. The genius feature offsets this and brings back the random element that a DJ might provide.  
  • With a Voice Control of “Genius, “Play more songs like this” or “Play more like this”, the iPhone will select similar tracks and pleasantly surprise the listener.
  • Get Track Information – It is easy to have so much music that it becomes hard to remember just what is playing. By asking “Who sings this song?” or “What’s playing?”, the iPhone will provide all the salient details and refresh the listener’s memory. 
  • Shuffle the Playlist – A simple “shuffle” will mix up everything in a particular playlist and help keep things fresh.

Calling Contacts 

Siri is not the only voice-operated assistant that helps with making calls. Voice Control can also do a sterling job at interpreting instructions and making calls. 

Call a Contact – If calling a phonebook contact, “Call” or “Dial” is the command. The caller either can use the person’s name, relationship to the caller – “Call Uncle Tony”, for example, or can also recognise a nickname. 

If the caller wants to reach someone at a specific place, they simply suffix the “Call Uncle Tony” with “Home” or “Work”, and Voice Control will direct the call to a specific number. 

Call a Number – A voice command of “Call” or “Dial”, followed by the desired digits. It is important to say each number clearly, to avoid Voice Control getting confused over unclear enunciation. 

Corrections – Because certain names sound alike and mistakes happen, any of “No”, “Nope”, “Wrong” or “Not that” will set Voice Control right. 

FaceTime – Sometimes a face-to-face call is better than just voice. To call someone using FaceTime, it is the same procedure as calling someone, except, unsurprisingly, “FaceTime” takes the place of “Dial” or “Call”. 

Other Commands

VoiceOver – Whilst not part of the Voice Command suite, this is a very useful part of the iPhone that many people do not know is there. 

Simply go to Settings, then General, scrolling down to Accessibility. From there, select VoiceOver. 

VoiceOver can provide descriptions of items on the screen, battery level, phone orientation, as well as myriad other points of interest. 

In addition, if the user selects a block of text from a book or other written source, VoiceOver will read it aloud. 

Asking the Time – For times when it is hard to get to the phone, but deadlines are making themselves known, simply call out “What time is it?”

Stopping Voice Control – A simple “Stop” or “Cancel” will turn off Voice Control. 

 

It has been almost four years since Apple introduced Siri to the world and that informative, sometimes sassy voice has become massively popular around the world.  

The dream of having and intelligent personal assistant that responds properly to user voice commands was long the dream of busy folk and science fiction movies for decades. Apple’s Siri, available on iPhone, iPad and iPod, made this a reality.  

The Battle of the Virtual Assistants 

Now Microsoft is getting in on the act with their own Cortana intelligent personal assistant for Windows phones. Long lampooned for always riding the technological coattails of Apple, Microsoft has created a voice commanded personal assistant that might just be able to go toe-to-toe with Siri.  

Here’s some key features of Siri and Cortana and just how they match up. 

Device Support

Voice activated and directed technology has been a holy grail of designers and technocrats, with many attempts falling short over the years.  

Siri, especially with constant, rolling updates proved that it was not an impossible dream. Apple always capitalises on success and rolled Siri out to three of its five main devices – the iPhone, iPad and iPod, with MacBooks and desktop Macs so far going without.  

Similarly, Cortana currently only runs on Windows smartphones, with no desktop support. Windows is working to deliver Cortana to older models of their phones by the summer season. 

Whilst controlling a phone or other device via voice is massively useful, desktop control would represent a completely new level of the game. The ability to seamlessly pull up documents, use email or VoIP and browse the internet via voice would constitute a new era of interactivity.  

Windows and Apple are both working on bringing their respective intelligent assistants to desktop and laptop, with Windows 9 and the next iteration of Mac OS X being the likely starting points.  

  • The iPod, iPhone and iPad support Siri, whilst Cortana is restricted to Windows Smartphones.
  • Both Apple and Windows hope to provide desktop and laptop support with their next major OS updates. 

The Winner: Siri wins this round just by virtue of having more device platforms to cover. Microsoft cannot currently compete with the range and marketplace entrenchment that Apple has. Things may change in the future depending on laptop and desktop computer implementation but, as it stands, Siri wins.  

Personalised Experience

As well as wanting an intelligent personal assistant, the dream of a voice-operated device is that it will learn from the user’s preferences and become a truly personalised experience.  

This is something that Microsoft is keenly aware of and has focused on with Cortana.  

Siri, whilst powerful and becoming more accurate every day, essentially provides the same experience for every user, no matter how long they have been using it for. Microsoft views this as one of the major weaknesses of Siri and aims to take advantage.  

For example, Cortana has a notebook that it uses to store personal data and create a personalised experience.  

This takes the form of Cortana’s intricate knowledge about the user’s life, from friends who have a book of theirs through to reminding the user about flight times. If the user lends a book to a friend, they can then tell Cortana to tell them about it later. The next time the user goes to call, text or email their friend, Cortana will chime in with the reminder.  

This is an extremely useful feature, providing very real assistance and is something that Siri has no answer to.  

  • Siri provides a more generic experience, which is the same across all users.  
  • Windows recognises this and designed Cortana to be a much more personalised experience. 
  • Cortana uses personal data to make timely reminders for a number of things.  

The Winner: 

Cortana wins on this score. It provides an experience directly linked to its user’s life and needs, which is, after all, what most people want in an intelligent personal assistant. Siri, with all of its character, simply does not yet provide a singular experience.  

Third Party Apps

A major part of the modern world is interconnection. The ability to link information from any number of sources – social media, taste in films and books and business networks to name a few sources, is extremely important for many people.  

It is a shame, then, that Siri currently has no access to third party apps. This is a clear restriction on its functionality which, to be a true intelligent assistant, needs access to everything that the user needs access to.  

Windows has announced that Cortana will have the ability to access other apps from third parties. In terms of usability, this gives Cortana a big advantage over Siri.  

Cortana has the ability to use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to add friends and business associates to your ‘inner circle’. Likewise, if the user wants to download a book or TV show, Cortana can do this no problem.  

  • Siri cannot access third party apps, restricting functionality. 
  • Cortana can use third party apps like social platforms to add friends and associates to the user’s inner circle.
  • Cortana can also download books, films or TV shows from third party apps.  

The Winner: Cortana is the clear winner; its access to third parties gives it the edge because it gives the user quick, unfettered access to what they want when they want it.  

Siri is more entrenched in the marketplace than Cortana, via the sheer market dominance of Apple and the fact that it can operate on a number of platforms. This gives Siri the edge when it comes to using an established, refined product.  

Cortana is newer, but comes with creates a more personalised experience, drawing this from the user’s experiences and preferences. Seamless access to third party apps only sweetens the deal. 

Overall, it is hard to separate the two. Siri offers an established intelligent system, whilst Cortana might just overtake it in time with its better personalisation and accessibility.  

 

It was 2006 when the Mac Pro made its debut. Its bulky aluminium case and industrial-chic design was an instant hit.  

The powerful insides of the Mac Pro made it doubly popular with casual users and professionals alike. The Mac Pro had all the power and capabilities to do the business for video and graphic designers, whilst also remaining eminently usable for anyone else who wanted performance and looks.  

2014 Mac Pro

However, the Mac Pro in its boxy form was coming up to a decade in the limelight, which is a long time for any desktop computer to survive. With Mac enthusiasts everywhere calling out for a new iteration, Apple introduced the 2014 Mac Pro.  

Radically different in nearly every way from its much-loved predecessor, the 2014 Mac Pro has the looks and performance to make it an icon.  

Looks and Size

Putting the new Mac Pro alongside the previous generation, it almost seems as if the two are from completely different companies, so small is the resemblance they bear to one another.  

The 2014 Mac Pro, for example, is just 9.9 inches high and 6.6 inches in width. For scale, the old Mac Pro is about eight times larger. The scale that Apple has managed to make the Mac Pro is nothing short of absolutely remarkable. It is almost as if they have taken two or three leaps ahead of the game and pulled something out of the future – that is how compact and different the Mac Pro 2014 looks. 

The new Mac Pro weighs all of 5 kilograms, which makes it easy for anyone to pack it up and move it as they need. Definitely not something that anyone could say of the old Mac Pro, which was somewhat of a behemoth.  

This means a light and powerful personal computer that, should the user need, can travel around the world with no problems or massive baggage fees. For the user travelling for business, they have a personal computer that is lighter and far more powerful than any laptop.  

  • Revolutionary design unlike anything else, including the old Mac Pro.
  • The 2014 Mac Pro is 9.9 inches high and only 6.6 inches wide, weighing in at just 5 kilograms. 
  • Lighter, easier to transport and far more powerful than any laptop on the market.  

Connectivity and Smart Design

The 2014 Mac Pro packs a big hardware punch, which we’ll take a look at below, but the manner in which the Mac Pro offers up broad connectivity and smart design are two things that really need addressing.  

The Mac Pro has long been the tool of choice for designers in many fields. The robust hardware made it the perfect base for audio, visual and video design. The 2014 Mac Pro carries on this tradition and adds a few embellishments that will have users jumping for joy. 

Firstly, the Mac Pro packs in all the connections that anyone could ever need. For those users that require multiple devices and ports, the Mac Pro provides. 

On the rear of the Mac Pro are two Ethernet ports, four USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI 1.4 socket, audio line and line out ports and an astonishing six Thunderbolt 2 inputs.  

Apple has also come up with a simple solution to an age-old problem when it comes to their ports. Every computer user has experienced the mad scramble that comes from trying to blindly find a port to plug in a USB, or other, connection. Every port symbol on the Mac Pro 2014 has a backlight, which makes it easy and quick to identify the port the user needs.  

In addition, the backlighting of the ports come on when the user turns the Mac around and go off again afterwards. This is the kind of intricate design that puts the Mac Pro 2014 way ahead of the class. 

  • Amazing connectivity: two Ethernet ports, four USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI 1.4 socket and six Thunderbolt 2 ports.  
  • Backlit port symbols make it easy and quick to find the right connection. 
  • Backlighting activates when the user turns the Mac Pro around, fading out once the Mac turns back around.  

The Insides

As much as the looks and connectivity of the Mac Pro 2014 impress, it is the hardware inside that steals the show.  

Apple has managed to include extremely powerful hardware, integrated in such a small space that it almost defies belief. Some might be willing to forgive slightly sub-par hardware because of the space limitations of a 2014 Mac Pro, but the fact is that Apple has put bleeding edge hardware into the Mac Pro 2014.  

The base-level Mac Pro 2014 has dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics cards, which each have an amazing 2GB of video RAM. Complementing this is a 3.7 GHz quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processor and 16GB of DDR3 Ram. All of this adds up to a seriously powerful machine, whether it comes to making complex multi-media projects, intricate design, or anything else a user can think to throw at it. Bear in mind – this is the entry-level model. 

Fitting this much hardware, performance and power into such a small space is the thing of science fiction films, not reality. Somehow, Apple has managed to do it. 

  • Despite its small stature, the 2014 Mac Pro packs in more bleeding-edge hardware than most PCs or laptops that are twice the size or bigger. 
  • Dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics cards, packing 2GB of video RAM each; 3.7GHz quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processor and 16 GB of DD3 RAM – in the lowest-priced option. 

The 2014 Mac Pro comes with a hefty price tag but equally heft looks and hardware. Seemingly jumping two generations of computing ahead at once, the 2014 Mac Pro is an amazing looking machine and does it without sacrificing any of the performance.  

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The IT needs of a business vary from firm to firm. The amount of support and dedicated staff a business requires depends on a range of factors – size, the market they operate in and budget, to name just a few. 

There is no single IT solution that fits every business, even those of a similar size in the same industry. Large multinationals, for example, will always go with in-house IT because their structure is so massive that there is no way around it. 

IT solutions for the SME

Small and medium-sized enterprises, however, have much more flexibility in this area. They might not be so large as to need a dedicated IT solution and use a contracted service to save money in key areas. We explore the pros and cons of in-house and contracted IT solutions. 

Hiring Staff: The Pros and the Cons

Pro: Control of Workflow

One of the strongest, and clear-cut, arguments for hiring IT staff on a full-time basis is that all of their efforts go towards helping the business’s IT infrastructure become stronger and more productive. 

This is an obvious point, but one well worth making.

An in-house IT support worker has no other priority other than the work and needs that the business outlines. A contractor, on the other hand, may have half-a-dozen other clients vying for their attention, with the business’s needs perhaps not at the top of their list of priorities. 

When an IT support employee works solely for the business, then it is easy to direct their talent towards important work that benefits the business in an immediate, targeted way. 

  •   In-house IT support works for the business, not for themselves. 
  •   The business can direct the workflow of permanent employees, a contractor works to their own schedule. 

Pro: Multiple Roles

For many smaller and medium-sized businesses, those initial years of operation are often lean, with money very tight. 

By hiring dedicated IT support, the business will often receive an employee that lends their expertise to a range of roles across the business. With the internet now a firmly entrenched part of nearly every business’s operations, IT means more than just installing a few versions of word on some desktop PCs. 

In the 21st century, IT support means help with mobile devices, configuring VoIP (Voice over Internet Telephony) systems; it means maintaining websites and important data on the cloud. 

IT support, especially to a smaller concern, means a very small team – perhaps a single IT technician, who covers multiple roles and oversees some of the most important functions of the business. 

  •  A single IT technician covers a wide range of roles, especially for the smaller business.
  • This means support for most aspects of the business – connectivity, data storage, telephony, from a dedicated employee. 

Con: Permanent Employees Cost More Money

As much as a permanent IT employee has a responsibility to deliver their best, this relationship works both ways. 

For a small business, struggling to survive those tough early years, it is hard enough to generate a living for one or two people, let alone taking on responsibility for supporting another employee. 

An in-house employee, aside from their designated wage, has rights to overtime, holidays, sick leave, amongst their other rights. For the business, an ill or holidaying IT technician means no support. If something goes wrong, this means hiring a contractor to fix the problem, which negates the point of permanent staff. 

Aside from this, the physical presence of another body in a small office means more space, more electricity and more equipment – in short, it means bigger overheads.

  • In the tough early phase of a business, in-house IT support means another person to pay.
  • An employee’s rights – sick leave, holidays, mean the business will have to find alternative IT support at some point anyway. 
  • Another person means more overheads – electricity, space and equipment. 

Contractors: The Pros and Cons

Pro: Savings

For most prudent businesses, savings is one word that is always welcome. 

Utilising a contractor over salaried staff can provide an attractive alternative because of the various ways in which they save money for the business. 

At the base level, the contractor only takes their agreed upon fee. There are no other monetary or legal obligations to them. The business does not have to worry about overtime for a job. The contractor simply delivers the project as promised and that is that. 

Overheads, in the form of electricity, workspace or equipment, are also a non-issue. This money remains with the organisation; going into other areas and helping the business grow. 

  • Contractors deliver a project for a set fee – no overtime, no other outlay for the business.
  • No long-term overheads or costs for a contractor.

Pro:  Delays are not the Business’s Problem 

When running a business, one of the hardest things to juggle is manpower. In smaller businesses, this problem becomes even more acute. 

If, for example, there is a big IT project ongoing and the business’s one IT technician calls in ill, then the business has no recourse. 

However, if contracted out, the same scenario is not the business’s problem. It is up to the contractor to find a solution and deliver on time. The relives the business of the stresses and strains of managing IT projects, instead delegating the responsibility. 

  • With in-house IT staff, projects grind to a halt when illness strikes and employees cannot make it in. 
  • When contracted out, the same project is the responsibility of the contractor. The business only needs to pay the agreed fee. 

Con: Quality Variances

One of the biggest risks of outsourcing work is that the business has no control over the quality of ongoing work. 

In an office environment, management can rejig a project if all is not going well and hopefully put things back on track. With a contractor, there is often little chance to see the work until the finished product comes back. By this point, the contractor is expecting payment. If the work is bad, then this could mean a protracted back-and-forth with the contractor.

Another potential problem is work that initially seems great – a website, for example, which derails after a short while. If a website goes down, not only does it cost money from lost sales or conversions, but also reflects badly on the business. 

  • When outsourcing, the business cannot direct or control the quality of work.
  • A contractor will still expect payment. Disagreements can become ugly and protracted.
  • Bad work – a website that goes down after a week, for example, leaves the business out of pocket, losing money and gives a bad          impression. 

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There are two things that every boss and manager are always looking to improve – the speed and quality with which they can deliver their service or product. 

Time is money

When it comes down to running a business, especially smaller or medium enterprises, every second counts. Any time a minute comes off a process here, a few seconds saved there, the business is saving money, and over time, those minutes and seconds add up. 

That is why more and more business with a Mac-based computer infrastructure are appraising and moving over to SSD (Solid-State Drive) storage. However, savings in time are not the only benefit of SSDs and, as we will see below, there are many other rewards from upgrading to SSDs. 

What is a SSD?

Before looking at why SSD upgrades are becoming popular in Mac-running businesses, it is a good idea to get a firm grip on how they work and how they differ from traditional hard drives. 

Inside a traditional hard drive, the kind found in PCs and laptops across the land, there is a spinning disk and a moving, magnetic head that writes and reads data on the disk. This is that whirring, clicking sound that accompanies every early morning PC boot up. 

Solid-state drives, rather than having moving parts like a traditional hard drive, instead utilise microchips to store their data.

A hard drive with moving parts must wait when booting up for the disk to get up to speed, literally, and, since data can fragment over a large area of the disk, this can cause very slow boot up and operating speeds. It is the common problem that anyone with an older computer has experienced – the older and fuller a hard drive becomes, the slower the computer becomes. 

SSDs, because they don’t have to pull data from a disk, do not experience such issues. A SSD does not have to physically search the disk for data like a traditional hard drive, leading to much improved speeds overall. 

  • Traditional hard drives, using a disk and magnetic arm, have to physically search for data. 
  • The more data on a hard drive, the slower it, and the entire computer, runs.
  • A SSD uses microchips to store data – no moving parts means faster booting and overall performance.

Amazing Speed 

As was said above, speed of delivery is one of the holy grails of business. The quicker a service or product can find its way to the customer, the more a business can accomplish. 

This is why more and more bosses are looking to the SSD solution for their Mac-using employees. 

A Mac running a traditional hard drive might take a minute or more to boot, with further waiting for applications to get up to speed and the computer to truly wake up. With a SSD, this boot time becomes mere seconds and most certainly outstripping the speed of any standard hard drive. This comes back to the above point about seconds and minutes adding up over time.

Even once both types of drive are up to speed and running optimally, a traditional hard drive simply cannot match the performance of a SSD. Applications, from document creation, spreadsheets, videos, accounting software – anything that a business needs to run, will run at lightning speeds with a solid-state drive. 

In addition, having multiple applications open at the same time, as is so often the need in high-paced business environments, does not present a problem to a SSD. Whereas a normal hard drive might slow to a crawl, a SSD ploughs ahead at the same speed. 

  • Boots up times with an SSD take seconds, rather than minutes.
  • Application speeds receive similar boosts, meaning office tasks are quicker and more efficient.
  • Running multiple applications is no problem for a SSD, whereas a traditional hard drive would struggle and slow down. 

Durability

A normal hard drive, with its disk and magnetic moving head, is quite vulnerable to damage. Even what seems like a minor fall for a laptop can have serious, lasting damage. 

When a hard drive is in operation and the hard drive is hard at work, the magnetic head is moving across the surface of the disk at high speeds and the whole operation is a sensitive one. Having this process disrupted by a sudden jolt or fall can cause massive hard drive damage, which, in turn, means damaged or lost files. 

A SSD, however, has no such moving parts. Because an SSD stores data on microchips, which are much less susceptible to impacts, data is safer from accidents and other bumps and bangs. In business environments, where staff might regularly travel off-site with business Macs loaded with important data, this provides a level of protection and peace of mind that a traditional hard drive cannot. 

  • A traditional hard drive, with its moving magnetic head and disk, are sensitive to bumps and bangs. 
  • If jolted whilst writing data, this could mean lost or damaged files. 
  • A SSD, using microchips for data storage, will not sustain such damage, meaning data is safe and secure. 

Copying and Storage of Files

Moving data quickly from one point to another is an important part of most businesses, whether it is accounting reports or customer details.

Everyone who has worked in an office has experienced the long wait for files to copy from a hard drive to a portable USB or similar device. Especially if dealing with large volumes of data, this can be an interminable process. When a business need to move quickly, this is not the ideal. 

A SSD drive, with its super-quick performance, copies files in the blink of an eye, making moving or distributing data a quick and easy process.  

In addition, a SSD will not take all your files with it should the worst ever happen. When a traditional hard drive comes to the end of its life, everything on it can disappear. If this is a business hard drive and those are, say, accounts on the hard drive, this represents a massive problem. 

This is not the case with a SSD, however. When a SSD crashes, which is rare, it only prevents further writing to the drive. Every piece of data remains intact and accessible to the business. For a business, this is a massively important feature.

  • Copying and duplicating files is a quick, momentary process with a SSD.
  • When a traditional hard drive crashes, data is potentially lost forever. 
  • With a SSD, the data remains in place and accessible. 
  • Boot times will reduce significantly.
  • Launching applications will occur in a near instant.
  • Saving and opening documents will not lag.
  • File copying and duplication speeds will improve.
  • Overall, your system will feel much snappier.