Apple HR Head Moves to Diversity & Inclusion VP Role

Jordan Kahn, reporting for 9to5 Mac:

Apple’s head of Worldwide Human Resources Denise Young Smith will now run diversity programs for the company under a newly created VP position, according to sources familiar with the move. The executive shuffle will see the creation of a new VP role for Apple’s Inclusion and Diversity team with Smith reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook. Sources say Smith has long had a passion for diversity initiatives at the company and the newly created position reflects an increased focus on the company’s efforts.

Smith’s new role going forward at Apple will officially be Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity. She confirmed the new title today on her LinkedIn profile and the change has also been made officially at Apple internally.

Sources say the position will mean Apple will be without a permanent VP of HR as Luca Maestri, the company’s SVP and CFO, steps in to fill the role temporarily.

Update: Kahn updated his story with a statement from Apple. “Our inclusion and diversity efforts are critically important to Apple’s future. Denise’s years of experience, expertise and passion will help us make an even greater impact in this area,” Apple said.

Nike Announces 'Day to Night' Apple Watch Bands

Per Nike's press release:

The "Day to Night" collection celebrates runners whenever they choose to run – at twilight, sunset and everything in between. Each of the colors is inspired by a shade of the sky, from dawn to dusk, and allows runners to – for the first time – make a statement by matching their Apple Watch Nike+ bands to their footwear.

These bands will go on sale on June 1 for $49. These look great; I'll definitely be getting one. I have a Nike+ band and like it a lot, so these new ones are exciting.

(via MacStories)

Federico Viticci's iOS 11 Wishlist

Federico returns for another year of sharing what he'd like Apple to do with iOS 11. Unlike previous years, however, this year's article focuses exclusively on the iPad. As he writes:

iOS for iPhone is, I believe, at a point of sufficient maturity: aside from particular feature additions, I don't think there's anything fundamentally missing from the iPhone.1 The iPad now bears the proverbial low-hanging fruit of iOS. There are obvious areas of improvement on iOS for iPad, which is, effectively, two years behind its iPhone counterpart. The iPad's lack of meaningful software advancements allows us to explore deeper ideas; thus, in a break with tradition, I decided to focus this year's iOS Wishes exclusively on the iPad and where Apple could take its software next.

Be sure to check out the accompanying concept video. It's terrific.

Apple and Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2017

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Now in its sixth year, celebrated the third Thursday in May, GAAD seeks to “get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities.” The accessibility community helps spread the word about GAAD on social media, most prominently on Twitter, to raise awareness of the importance of accessibility and how it empowers people.

For its part, Apple is actively participating in spreading the word about Global Accessibility Awareness Day and accessibility in technology. To help celebrate GAAD this year, Apple is doing a number of things to show how its products foster inclusion and empowerment for people of all ages and abilities. Supporting the accessibility community has long been a core value of the company, and these initiatives are proof they remain steadfastly committed to this crucial area.

‘Designed for Everyone’ Video Series

Apple this week posted a slew of videos to its YouTube channel, under the tagline “Designed for everyone,” that showcase people of varying abilities using Apple’s accessibility features on iOS, macOS, and watchOS for work and play. These videos, seven in total, are close cousins to other videos Apple has created for a similar purpose: to show how powerful technology fosters inclusivity and empowers people to do amazing things, regardless of ability. As usual, the production value of these films is impeccably high.

Two people featured in the films are Ian Mackay and Todd Stabelfeldt. Both men suffered spinal cord injuries and rely on Switch Control, and have told their stories in more detail to media outlets in the past. Mackay spoke with Mashable's Katie Dupere last August about how he maintains an active lifestyle in spite of his injury. Likewise with Stabelfeldt, who recently told Chiara Sottile of NBC News about how Apple's HomeKit framework and Siri make doing things around his house a more independent and accessible experience.

Tim Cook Talks Accessibility in Interviews

Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down with YouTubers James Rath, Rikki Poynter, and Tatiana Lee at the company’s Cupertino headquarters. All three are known for chronicling their respective experiences with accessibility in tech. MacStories has collected these interviews in their post on the story; I highly suggest watching them. They’re terrific.

As I tweeted this morning, by watching these interviews you can clearly see Cook’s passion for accessibility. It underscores the notion that Apple supports accessibility not for “the bloody ROI,” as Cook alludes to, but because it reflects Apple’s identity. To wit, it’s not just the right thing to do in some warm and fuzzy, kumbaya sense—rather, Apple’s accessibility feature set makes their products more complete and more capable of empowering people and enriching lives. Which, if you listen to Cook speak at any and every media event, is exactly what an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch is supposed to do.

Refreshed Accessibility-Oriented App Store Collections

As the company does periodically, Apple has again refreshed their accessibility-themed App Store collections. In fact, accessibility apps have been on the Featured page of the iOS store for the last week or so. There is a collection spanning a wide range of developmental domains, as well as one for apps that work great with VoiceOver.

One of the third-party developers highlighted in these collections is AssistiveWare, makers of several excellent apps geared to accessibility including Proloquo2go.

“We as software developers should be conscious of the fact that our products might be used by people who face challenges we have not even thought of or heard about. Thinking about accessibility also tends to lead to better design, because if we make our app easier to use or support OS accessibility features such as iOS’ Dynamic Type, it will typically be a more pleasant experience for all users,” said AssistiveWare CEO David Niemeijer.

Apple Retail Accessibility Sessions

Today, Thursday, May 18, Apple is holding special accessibility workshops at its retail locations worldwide, in which people can come in and learn about Apple’s accessibility features across all platforms (iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS).

Inside the Mothership

Steven Levy wrote a splendid feature for Wired on Apple's new campus, Apple Park:

It’s probably more accurate to say that Apple Park is the architectural avatar of the man who envisioned it, the same man who pushed employees to produce those signature products. In the absence of his rigor and clarity, he left behind a headquarters that embodies both his autobiography and his values. The phrase that keeps coming up in talks with key Apple figures is “Steve’s gift.” Behind that concept is the idea that in the last months of his life, Jobs expended significant energy to create a workplace that would benefit Apple’s workers for perhaps the next century. “This was a hundred-year decision,” Cook says. “And Steve spent the last couple of years of his life pouring himself in here at times when he clearly felt very poorly.

I tweeted a little while ago about how curious I am to know which parts of the new building are ADA-compliant—and how Apple achieved them. I kinda wish it was part of Levy's story.

Michael Rockwell's AirPods Review

Nice job on the piece. This sums it up for me:

The hype was indeed warranted with the AirPods. Apple made a big bet on wireless with the launch of the iPhone 7 and these incredibly intuitive Bluetooth headphones were the payoff. I can’t imagine going back to wired EarPods now. Catching the wire on various objects throughout the house and dealing with a tangled mess every time I want to use them — I’m glad to have those days behind me.

'The SF Giants Are Zapping Their Brains with Electricity'

Lesley McClurg, writing for KQED Science:

The San Francisco Giants, with the worst record in the National League, could probably use a shot of electricity about now.

Actually, they’re already getting a shot of electricity—literally.

A third of the team is using tDCS headsets, which deliver an electric current to the brain in order to improve performance, says the Giants’ official sports scientist.

The Giants are playing terribly (11–22 thru 33 games) so far this season. If they turn it around, maybe we'll be able to attribute their better play to this electric shock therapy.

More Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility

Last week, MacRumors reported Apple will soon announce a Echo-like speaker product with Siri built in. The story cites analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, who wrote in a note that “we believe there is an over 50% chance that Apple will announce its first home AI product at WWDC in June.” Kuo goes on to say Apple’s “Siri Speaker” features “excellent acoustics performance” and computing power comparable to the iPhone 6s.

Like others, I’m happy to learn about this rumor; it’s a product I’m certainly interested in using. As someone who’s long been knee-deep in Apple’s ecosystem, being able to listen to Apple Music or podcasts in the kitchen through this speaker is something I’d really enjoy. (I listen to The Daily podcast through my phone’s speaker every morning while making breakfast. It’s perfectly fine, but a Siri-in-a-box would be even better.) Given the popularity of Amazon’s Echo products with several of my colleagues and other members of the Apple community, there’s clearly appeal in something like this. If rumors are indeed true and a Siri box is forthcoming, I like the idea of Apple entering the space currently occupied by the Echo, Google Home, and now Microsoft.

During Amazon’s Black Friday sale last year, I bought an Echo Dot because of the aforementioned enthusiasm for the device from friends and colleagues, and I was curious. My logic for getting the Dot was simple: I didn’t want to pay $149 to try the product. At $49, the Dot is a small, inexpensive way to introduce someone to the platform. An introduction was exactly what I wanted, so it was the perfect choice for my needs.

Almost 6 months later, I have to admit the Dot hasn’t even been plugged in for a while. I like the thing conceptually, but so much of its appeal and utility is tied (rightfully so) to Amazon’s ecosystem—Prime Music, audiobooks, buying, etc. Aside from my Prime membership, which I’ve had since 2011 and love, I’m just not into Amazon’s content offerings. (Prime Video is an exception.) What’s more, my house doesn’t have any smart appliances, so asking Alexa to switch on/off the lights, for example, is out of the question. In short, because I’m not a heavy Amazon user, the Echo’s appeal is limited. Conversely, an Apple-branded device that integrates with Apple Music and Overcast and HomeKit (and whatever else) has immense appeal because, again, I’m wading knee-deep in Apple’s waters.

The accessibility of these "voice-first interfaces," as Ben Bajarin describes them, is somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde situation. I've written about this phenomenon before, always lamenting how frustrating it is communicating with Siri when you have a speech impediment. While Siri has gotten much better over time in this regard, there is work to be done. The accessibility of voice-based assistants like Siri and Alexa is a vastly overlooked aspect of these devices. As accessibility coverage creeps more into the mainstream, reviewers (and companies!) must be cognizant of the effects these assistants have on people with speech delays. They're disabilities too.

This matters because, despite the frustrations I've felt trying to talk to Siri over the years, voice has an incredible amount of upside as an assistive technology. The usefulness already is apparent to me. I like to cook, and I invoke Siri all the time to set timers. Likewise, I like asking Siri for quick updates of sports scores, which is easier than looking in MLB At Bat, for instance. In broader terms, voice is a obvious use case for, say, accessing HomeKit devices. For people (like me) who have physical motor impairments, manipulating door locks or light switches can be tricky or a literal pain. Thus, asking Siri to perform these tasks is a ideal solution because all you need to do is ask.

The Echo Dot, in particular, has some accessibility benefits of its own. For one thing, its voice parser seems to be pretty good at deciphering my stutter. I’ve never had to repeat myself fifty times because the device couldn’t understand me. For another, I appreciate the blue ring on the top of the device when you say the wake word (“Alexa” for me). It’s a nice visual cue that Alexa is listening to you. I’d like Apple’s speaker to have such a cue—it’s a small detail that makes the user experience better.

Overall, though, an accessible Siri Speaker (or Echo or whatever) is to be at least adequately competent at parsing your speech. The voice is the whole ballgame for this class of devices—if stutterers like me have difficulty, it’s game over.

Here’s Sonia Paul, in a piece for Backchannel on voice-driven UIs and accents (emphasis mine):

To train a machine to recognize speech, you need a lot of audio samples. First, researchers have to collect thousands of voices, speaking on a range of topics. They then manually transcribe the audio clips. This combination of data — audio clips and written transcriptions — allows machines to make associations between sound and words. The phrases that occur most frequently become a pattern for an algorithm to learn how a human speaks.

But an AI can only recognize what it’s been trained to hear. Its flexibility depends on the diversity of the accents to which it’s been introduced.

I hope Apple and Amazon and other companies are investing in training Siri and her ilk to learn speech impediments. If voice is the future, as many in the commentariat believe it to be, then accessibility must be looked at differently. In the same way the iPhone made computing more accessible to me, I hope someday to have a voice assistant that I can talk to naturally.

The Echo Dot isn’t for me, but Apple’s competitor may very well will be. Its accessibility story will be interesting, and if Ming-Chi Kuo is right, then I can’t wait for WWDC to hear it.

Macron Defeats Le Pen in 🇫🇷 Presidential Election

Alissa J. Rubin, reporting for the New York Times:

Emmanuel Macron, a youthful former investment banker, handily won France’s presidential election on Sunday, defeating the staunch nationalist Marine Le Pen after voters firmly rejected her far-right message and backed his call for centrist change, according to partial returns.

Mr. Macron, 39, who has never held elected office, will become the youngest president in the 59-year history of France’s Fifth Republic after leading an improbable campaign that swept aside France’s establishment political parties.

Kudos to the French for not doing what we Americans did with Trump.

Uber CEO Cancels Appearance at Code Conference

Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, writing for Recode:

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is not the first exec to deal with sexual harassment and sexism issues. And he’s not the first to be accused of stealing technology. He’s also not the first to anger customers through cloddish statements. And he’s not the first to face significant doubts about his ability to manage a fast-growing startup.

But he is the very first speaker in the 15 years we have been putting on our tech and media events to cancel his interview due to the many embarrassing issues at his company. In this case, because the report from former Attorney General Eric Holder on Uber’s culture and management problems has been delayed until the week of Code at the end of May.

On Trumpcare and Special Education

Erica L. Green, reporting for the New York Times:

With all the sweeping changes the Republican bill would impose, little attention has been paid to its potential impact on education. School districts rely on Medicaid, the federal health care program for the poor, to provide costly services to millions of students with disabilities across the country. For nearly 30 years, Medicaid has helped school systems cover costs for special education services and equipment, from physical therapists to feeding tubes. The money is also used to provide preventive care, such as vision and hearing screenings, for other Medicaid-eligible children.

[...]

The new law would cut Medicaid by $880 billion, or 25 percent, over 10 years and impose a “per-capita cap” on funding for certain groups of people, such as children and the elderly — a dramatic change that would convert Medicaid from an entitlement designed to cover any costs incurred to a more limited program.

As someone who received services as a student and later worked in special education classrooms, this part of the AHCA really pisses me off. Special Ed funding is already woeful, and this is a double whammy for families who need medical care for their students.

To Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan for sheparding this bill: 🖕🏼