M Is For Moneypenny

August 26th, 2015


Taking a page from 007, Facebook today introduced M.

Today we’re beginning to test a new service called M. M is a personal digital assistant inside of Messenger that completes tasks and finds information on your behalf. It’s powered by artificial intelligence that’s trained and supervised by people.

Unlike other AI-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more.

The most interesting part to me is the human supervision1 on top of the software.


The world of AI driven personal assistants is definitely the new Holy Grail for any software companies nowadays. So far probably the best and most successful example is Amazon’s Alexa by means of Echo. Despite everything, that system is still quite limited in functionalities and cannot make decisions on itself.


The Facebook approach instead seems to have a much broader scope in principle and looks like a real-life personal assistant. On top of that consider the amount of information that Facebook already holds on us. M probably will know you better than you mum.


  1. Cue the screams of horror from the privacy advocates. 

The Fastest Self-Driving Car In The World

October 21st, 2014

During the weekend the Audi RS 7 became the fastest self-driving car in the world by completing a lap of the Hockenheim GP in just over two minutes.

If this statement sounds crazy is because in part it is just that: crazy. Car technology has evolved so rapidly over the past few years since Google first showed off its clunky prototype. We all laughed at them, called them crazy but as it turns out they were once again on the verge of an inevitable evolution.

The Audi RS 7 has an enormous amount of technology packed inside (big surprise!) and you should head over the Audi website to learn more about it.

One of the reasons why I was particularly attracted to this news is that so far we’ve seen cars driving around in city environments, parking themselves or avoiding people walking in the middle of the road. As far as I can remember this is the first example of a self-driving racing car. Racing is an amazing sport because it doesn’t just require courage, but because it requires incredible skills to succeed. One of this being incredible precision, being able to follow the best race line to reduce time loss.

How does a self-driving car cope with that?

For orientation on the track, the technology pioneer uses specially corrected GPS signals. This GPS data is transmitted to the vehicle via WiFi according to the automotive standard and redundantly via high-frequency radio. In parallel to this, 3D cameras in the car film the track, and a computer program compares the cameras’ image information against a data set stored on board. This is what makes it possible for the technology pioneer to orient itself on the track within centimeters.

Within centimeters.

The video above clearly shows the huge achievement from Audi and paves the way for much of this technology as possible to transfer into our “civil” cars.

I just hope nobody would ever think that it might be ok to replace a competitive driver with a computer in a real-life race scenario.

The iPhone 6 Camera

October 2nd, 2014

It’s funny to think that one of the most impressive feature on the new iPhone 6/6+ is also the most “hidden”.

I’m talking about the new camera sensor, which is a significant step up compared to the previous generation. Why would I say that it’s a hidden feature? Well, try and find the camera in any of the side-view promotional pictures on and see for yourself.

As you may have heard by now, the new sensor creates a “bulge” on the back of the phone. Rather than going the Android way with very big protuberance in the back of the device, Apple simply has let the new sensor out on its own, in favor of an overall much slimmer device.

Aesthetic aside (you can easily solve this “problem” by using a case – leather ones are fantastic), the new camera represents a huge step forward, despite the same sensor resolution of the 5s at 8mpx.

We all know that size doesn’t always matter and this is a great example. Despite having the lower amount of mpx than any another top-tier-smartphone on the market, the iPhone 6 is still the best pocket camera money can buy. It’s fast, it’s precise, it’s powerful, it’s compact.

When I’m out and about I always snap pictures (mostly of food – sorry) and since the iPhone 4 I constantly rely on this device to be the perfect camera for any moment. I found myself leaving my DSLR home more often even when the overall capacities of the camera meant that you could only shot in full-auto.

Since iOS8, Apple has given developers the ability to exploit all built-in features of the camera. More and more apps are coming out with the ability to shoot in full manual: you can change ISO, set your shutter speed, exposure is faster and dynamic focus allows for almost-instant re-focus (even during video recording).

The iPhone has always been great is low light situations, and this version is no exception. The iPhone 6+ also has OIS (a.k.a. Optical Image Stabilisation), meaning that the sensor itself is automatically moved around by the accelerometer in order to compensate your movement , enabling sharper pictures even at longer shutter speeds. Adding everything together, makes the iPhone 6/6+ the best device to reliably shoot pictures in low light situations.

An example of an un-retouched picture in low light (using the HDR setting)

An example of an un-retouched picture in low light (using the HDR setting)

The new iPhones stepped up the game even on the video-recording side. With these new models you can now record standard video @ 30fps and 1080p, plus you have now a new option for dynamic timelapse. But the brand new jewel is the slow-mo video, now capable of going up to 240fps!

You can see an example of the slow-mo below:

In conclusion, I can safely say that Apple made once again a huge leap forward, placing the iPhone once again on top of its category.

Now the only thing that Apple has left to fix is a good photo management solution. Especially since the disappear of the Camera Roll in iOS8, it became once again a major hassle to organise all my pictures.

Apple already teased a new Photo app for the Mac (in order to replace the defunct iPhoto), plus an iCloud Photo Library (that should come with the next iOS8 update) but so far I’m definitely not impressed with them. I guess once again we’ll have to wait and see. In the mean while, I’ll be out filling my library even more.

With Paper, Facebook Gets A Facelift

February 4th, 2014

When I first heard that Paper was a creation by Mike Matas I already knew it was going to be good. The thing is that it’s really great, not just good.

First things first. What is Paper? It’s a new stand-alone app (US-only for now) from Facebook which essentially replace the traditional Facebook iOS app with a very graphical and much more visual approach. The text leaves space to pictures and buttons are replaced by swipes and gestures or rotation of the device.

With Paper, Facebook immediately became a much more interesting application especially because you can mix your timeline with other beautifully curated contents. As a matter of fact I relegated my timeline to the last slot, giving Headlines and Creators hub a more prominent role.

IMG_0581 IMG_0580

It’s very difficult to describe the experience of using Paper. Probably the best comparison that you could make would be with Flipboard. You can flick through stories by looking at cover arts and titles, from a very high point and once you find something interesting you can start diving in and go deep into the news.

I like all the set of gestures which are coming straight from the technology behind what was once PushPopPress (company founded by Matas, responsible for the Al Gore’s book Our Choice and then later bought by Facebook) and makes the entire experience of Paper more user friendly and intimate. Because your swiping away you definitely feel more connected to the story you are reading.

After just two days, Paper has already replaced the “old” Facebook app on my iPhone home screen. I wish this is not going to remain a side experiment but hopefully it will “contaminate” the main app creating a better experience for all the users.

My Holiday, All In My Pocket

January 30th, 2014

Usually every time I go on holiday I have my DSLR with me, ready to capture precious memories and why not, cool pictures ready to be shared with the world. For my recent holiday I decided to change this trend.

I just got back from a short skiing weekend where I decided to leave my big camera behind and go all-in with my iPhone.

I’ve been an iPhone user since the 3G was released and the camera has gotten better and better, but despite that I’ve always seen the iPhone not as a serious replacement for a camera. By that I mean that for me the iPhone was good for a quick Instagram share rather than for a “fine-art” composition ready for 500px.

After this weekend I think I’ve changed my mind.

I used my iPhone constantly while I was on the slopes, capturing the beauty of the mountain around me in a way I couldn’t have practically done with my Canon. I applied the same deep principle of composition and attention to details that I regularly apply and the I’ve been really please with the results.

The other thing I was worried about was related to post-processing. I’m a big fan of Lightroom and I always apply some level of color correction to all of my pictures to bring back some of the details that I may have lost when taking the picture.

On my iPad I sometimes use Snapseed, but this was the first time I used it on my iPhone. Despite having a much smaller canvas to work with the controls were still very easy to work with, giving very good results to the final picture.

Even in low light conditions, with very minimal re-touching the iPhone proved itself to be a good choice to cover my holiday.

I will still heavily rely on my DSLR, but now I’ve been reminded of the power I’ve got in my pockets.

Re-Discovering The Pleasure Of Physical Media

December 16th, 2013

While I’m writing this post, I’m listening to the latest vinyl that entered my collection: Retrospective – The very best of e.s.t..

Slowly rotating on my old school turntable, dissipating soft Jazz melodies in the air, I find myself re-evaluating the meaning of the physical media. I’m an avid music listener and to this day I still believe the Spotify is one of the best thing ever happened to mankind. By allowing you to consume as much music as you wish, Spotify will erase the meaning of the word “silence” from your vocabulary.

Despite that, if you stop for a second you’ll realise that Spotify is also very much ephemeral. As soon as you stop paying the monthly fee, or if you are not connected to the internet ((I know, there’s a free version of Spotify but the ads injection feels like a restriction to me. At the same time there’s an offline version of the service but it’s based on the assumption that you are a subscriber and you’ve remembered to enable this function)), your listening experience will be drastically limited.

On the other hand, if you own a vinyl, a CD or a cassette, it’s your possession and it will stay with you as long as you don’t sell/lose/exchange it.

One of the best advantages of having a turntable is that I can now time myself using the length of a side. Because I know my records very well ((My collection is still limited in number. Currently I own 10 vinyls, so it’s easy to remember how long they last approximately)), I can use them to time some activity. If I decide that I want to read for half an hour before going to bed, I can put a nice jazz on and once the needle goes up I know it’s time to retrieve to the bedroom.

In general I find that a physical interaction will give me a better sense of time. If I start a playlist on Spotify, I can literally spend weekends daydreaming on my sofa while I’m transported in a parallel dimension!

Then of course there’s the “fidelity” argument. I like having access to music everywhere, but it’s also true that nothing will ever beat the scratching sound of a good old record. There’s a sense of intimacy and warmth that we are irretrievably loosing in favour of the always on access to music ((Neil Young is trying to solve this issue of the digital world with a new initiative called Pono. You can learn more on Wikipedia)).

I guess it’s probably a nostalgic feeling that brings me back to my childhood when my cassettes were my proud possession. I still remember the joy of putting Michael Jackson’s Thriller in the stereo, trying to skip at the exact moment of my favourite track, always loosing the battle against the tape!

It’s surely a feeling that will disappear with future generations (if it hasn’t already disappeared), but it’s something of a great importance for me.

A direct link with my roots, a real link in an always more digital world.

Windows 8

October 26th, 2012

Today was the big day for Microsoft: Surface and Windows went live and were both released to the public. So During my lunch break I decided to go to the nearby Curry/PC World to see if I could test both.
Unfortunately the Surface wasn’t available in store. In his place there were many other PCs running Windows 8 so I gave it a try.

Since I wanted to see the difference between a touch experience and a mouse experience I headed first towards an HP all-in-one machine running Windows 8.

I have to admit that the new OS feels good. I had previous experience with Windows 8 when I tried virtualized on my Mac (the first Developer Preview). When you touch it, it’s a completely new and rewarding experience.
The HP machine was fast and the main gestures are immediately very intuitive, except the one for the multitasking bar. Swipe from the right to reveal the status bar: it has a Start button, a share option and a quick access to the main option panel. When you are inside an app if you swipe from the top it opens up a contextual menu (in IE it shows all the open tabs for example). Swipe from the bottom to reveal an input menu (again in IE it shows the address bar).

Then there’s the swipe from left. If you simply drag your finger from the left bezel into the screen you can pull the latest used app in. By doing this you can also set a secondary app so that you can have two apps running side by side at the same time. If you want to see all the open apps to switch between them you need to swipe from left-to-right and then from right-to-left without releasing your finger from the screen. Even if this last one it’s a little bit trickier, I fully mastered and remembered in a matter of minutes.

Unfortunately all the machines in store were not connected to the internet 1, so I couldn’t really test the main features like the Store, the xbox music and video store or simply the responsiveness of the browser.

Again, after just a few minutes of testing, I can say that the Metro UI is really nice and very promising. Microsoft did really a great job.

Then it was time to dive into Desktop mode. A real nightmare.

Using a touchscreen device in Desktop mode it’s really bad. Other than an objective difficulty of reaching buttons and scrolling through files, I think the main problem is at a psychological level. The user always starts from the Metro UI, where all the tiles and icons are big and easily manageable. You can reach every option and the buttons are clearly identified. When you switch to the desktop mode, your finger is the pointer and it’s clearly impossible to manage this mode with a sufficient level of precision, leaving the user in a state of panic.

The Desktop mode is clearly designed for a keyboard-&-mouse use as a traditional Windows 7 and earlier machines. By mixing the two environments together you place the user in a very difficult position. On a machine like the HP I’ve tried you still get a keyboard and a mouse bundled but the Surface should be free from this hassle. By having the legacy Desktop embedded you oblige every user to stick to the old paradigm, potentially stopping part of the innovation.

Then things got even worse. I moved away from the HP machine and I went to test a Toshiba laptop. Oh my god. On that machine (just released, especially for the new OS), Windows 8 was extremely slow. The same apps took forever to launch and even when they showed up it still took a while before they became fully responsive.
The other downside of a non-touch machine is that using the Metro UI won’t feel as good as on the touch experience. Moving around with keyboard is not immediate and it was even trickier to figure out how to obtain the same results as with the four main gestures of the touch version.

Of course on that setup the Desktop environment feels much better and more natural and the system was in general more responsive.

To summarize I can say that Windows 8 in the right environment could really be a game changer and on the touch screen it’s nice to play with. I still don’t understand the reason for having the legacy Desktop. In my opinion they should have done a complete switch, maintaining the development of Windows 7 along side and reserved to business.
These are just the results of a very quick and non-scientific test, so I can’t say a final word.

Have any of you tried the new Surface or Windows 8? Let’s discuss it on Twitter or AND.

  1. They had also two Chromebooks in store but they were too without a connection. I still don’t understand why.
    To be fair, the only machines connected were all the Macs and iPads. Funny. 

Kuvva Is The Source For Beautiful Wallpapers

October 22nd, 2012

Today I’m happy, very happy. The reason, you ask? Well it appears that up there in the cloud there’s someone listening. A while ago I ranted a lot about how difficult is for me to find a great wallpaper for my devices.

If you have the same problem, I have a solution. Introducing Kuvva, a source for beautiful wallpapers.

Kuvva is available in many forms: as a desktop client, a iOS app or a web service. To use the wallpapers you have to download one of their client, because the website is just a nice way to go through their collection of pictures and not a place from where you can get a wallpaper.

The Mac app is super simple: you download it for free and you follow a quick tour/setup that will allow you to decide when you want your new pictures delivered. Yes, delivered. Because they have a large collection, the Kuvva app can run in the background to give you always a new and fresh image. You can customize the frequency and the category for the refresh and then you let the app to the magic for you.

On the iOS side of things it’s the same easy process. Once installed, the app will give you the possibility to browse the entire collection. You will find the same artwork that are available on the desktop version, but they are of course optimized for the mobile experience (it supports the iPhone 5 natively).

By having the chance to fav items it’s very easy to collect picture that you like and that you want to use on your device at a later stage. The other cool thing is that the app will give you a preview of how the selected picture will be displayed both on the lockscreen or as you home page, so you can see what you’re going to get as a final result.

Finally, pictures saved from the app to the camera roll will be stored into a new Kuvva folder so you can find them more easily, especially if your camera roll is pretty crowded.

I’ve just registered for the service but I’m already sold. I can definitely recommend it to you, if you want a great source for great images. The desktop client is free 1, while the iOS app is £1.49 here in the U.K. but it’s worth every pence!

If you try it, please let me know what you think. I’m @matteodallombra on Twitter and on ADN too.

  1. I suspect the difference in price is due to the fact that on the iOS client you can save the pictures, while on the desktop app you “just stream” them, not retaining them.