Developer Week in Review: Siri is the talk of the town

Voice-driven apps on the horizon, take Stanford CS courses on the house, and JavaScript flexes its muscles.

After a one-week hiatus, during which research was undertaken in waistline enhancement via the consumption of starch and protein materials, we’re back to see what’s been happening in the non-turkey-related fields.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

SiriIt’s an interesting time for the voice-enabled smartphone field. On the one hand, some industry pundits with vested interests are claiming that people don’t want to talk to their phones and don’t want them to be assistants. Perhaps they have forgotten that the original smartphones were offshoots of the PDA market, and that PDA doesn’t stand for “public display of affection” in this case.

At the other extreme, we have Microsoft stating that Apple’s Siri is just a knock-off of Windows Tellme, a claim that has been placed into question by several head-to-head comparisons of features.

Of most interest to the developer community are reports that the latest iOS beta release contains additional hooks to allow applications to integrate into Siri’s voice recognition functionality. I talked about the possibility that Apple would be expanding the use of Siri into third-party apps a few weeks ago, and the new features in the beta seem to confirm that voice is going to be made available as a feature throughout applications. This would be a real game changer, in everything from games to GPS applications on the iOS platform.

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Computer science for the masses

Two interesting pieces of news this time around on the educational front. In the higher learning arena, Stanford is expanding its free online computer science courseware with several new classes, including one on machine learning. Although you can’t earn a free degree this way, you can get computer-graded test results to go along with the recorded lectures. This material will be very useful, even to grizzly old veterans such as myself, who may have a hole or two in their theoretical underpinnings. For a bright high school student who has exhausted his or her school’s CS offerings, it could also serve as a next step.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the government seems to be moving toward having all students learn the basics of programming. I worry about this, on two fronts. First, it is unclear if the majority of students really need to learn software engineering or would benefit from it. Force-feeding coding skills into students who may not have the aptitude or proclivity to want to learn them seems unwise to me and is likely to slow down the students who might actually have a desire to learn the subject. Second, I have my doubts that a government-designed software engineering curriculum would actually be any good.

Is there anything JavaScript can’t do?

JavaScriptJavaScript is often derided by “serious” computer professionals as a poorly designed toy language unfit for “real” software engineering. Yet, those who spend time using it know that you can produce some impressive results with it.

For example, there is now a JavaScript implementation of the OpenPGP message specification, which would allow JavaScript code to send and receive encrypted messages. And if you really want to go out on a limb, you could always develop a Java Virtual Machine byte code interpreter written entirely in JavaScript (somewhere, James Gosling is crying …).

There’s no question that JavaScript has its weak points, but its near-ubiquity makes it an incredibly useful spanner to carry around in your tool belt. Developers, sneer at your own risk. Like cockroaches, JavaScript may be around well after some more traditional languages have turned to dust.

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