Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Siri, Google Translate Make Good Companions on Streets of Taipei

Slated to wander around Asia for the next two weeks, I thought it would be a good chance to try out some of the latest in mobile technology.

For a day on the streets of Taipei, I took along an iPhone 4S and the HTC Salsa, a touchscreen Android device with a built-in Facebook key.

The day began with a trip to Taipei 101, the megaskyscraper that towers over the city’s skyline. While waiting to go up to the top, I stopped at the upscale electronics boutique, which featured kiosks for all kinds of brands, from Acer and HTC to Canon and Nikon.

Google’s recently updated translate app — with its expanded speech-to-speech capabilities — allowed me and a companion to query a non-English-speaking salesman about the various differences between two Fuji instant cameras.

“What’s the difference between these two models?” I asked.

The phone uttered something that meant nothing to me, but was clearly understandable to the salesman. After pointing at the screen, I convinced the salesman to respond in Chinese. He said something, and the screen translated that to be “outside.” At first I was confused, but then realized that the only difference between the two models was that one had a slimmer external case.

I also had the iPhone 4S with me. The device got most of its use as my primary camera for the day, capturing everything from the colorful flower memorials at the Lungshan Temple to the sights of Studio A — a computer store specializing in Apple gear.

I also tapped the phone’s maps, and asked for an occasional weather update from Siri, the iPhone’s new voice-controlled assistant.

Missing from Siri’s repertoire, of course, is local search outside the U.S. That meant there was no asking her for help finding the nearest noodle joint, though that wasn’t too hard, anyway.

At the Shilin Night Market, there were iPhone cases everywhere, from ones that made the latest in tech look like an old-school calculator to licensed and black-market models for brands like Paul Frank and Ferrari.

There were also products that stretched the boundaries of good taste, such as a landline phone in the shape of a toilet, and the iBooty — a combination iPhone case and stand in the shape of a derriere. But the products that seemed in poorest taste were the hastily created Steve Jobs memorial iPhone cases.

Still, it was definitely fun looking around and sipping bubble tea.

After a long day, I got home and told Siri to set an alarm for 7 am, which she obligingly did.

“Thank you,” I said, feeling like it was the right thing to do, even though I was talking to a computer.

“I live to serve,” she replied.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work