I clamber out of bed, make for the kitchen and coffee. While passing through the living room a thought arises, “There’s too much Apple dreck in my life.” I have a second-generation iTouch with a cracked screen. The on-off button is busted so I use it as an alarm clock. I have an iPad 2. I use its TiVo app, check the news, skim email. I have an iPad 1 but don’t know where it is. I have three old iTouches, one broken, one still working but unused, and the alarm clock. I have an iPod shuffle and an iPod circa 2007. There’s a 1998 iMac in the lockbox downstairs. Everything, save for one iTouch, still works, which causes a measure of disquiet. I buy Apple junk when I already have Apple junk that works. Working but no longer used Apple junk resides in a big plastic bag awaiting the day energy and desire join forces long enough for me to haul plastic bag to the electronic garbage dump.
Unthinkable to buy an iWatch — that would be the final straw, Apple attached to my body, populating my living space, ever expanding its territory. Now there’s an iCar thing built into new automobiles so you can interact with Apple ALL THE FUCKING TIME!
I wonder if these devices do anything that’s truly useful for me. Apple’s junk can’t cook or take out the garbage; that’s the bar. I’m not rushing off to an airport. I don’t need Uber/Lyft apps. I’m not going to meetings or collaborating with coworkers over the internet, and may I pause here and thank whoever is running this show for that? I don’t make videos or post to social media. I don’t use any device to write anything, there’s a three-year-old iMac for that. There’s another iMac, from 2006, sharing the same big farmers’ table. The iMacs sit across the room from the iTV. I have an iPhone 6, which is used as little as possible, although I do work the camera now and then.
What I need is to ask any question and have it answered intelligently.
On my iPhone I open Google, spy the little microphone, tap and ask, “Are the Chargers moving to L.A.?” Google recites, “According to USA Today the Chargers have played in San Diego since 1961 but are among three NFL teams considering a move to the Los Angeles market next year along with the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders,” and takes me to a page that has October/November media stories. Not bad, but in Journalism World those stories are out of date.
Onto Apple’s Siri. Same question. I get, “Okay, I found this on the web...” I’m shown a web page. First item is an espn.go.com news story dated February 20, 2015, ten months old, “Chargers, Raiders Reveal L.A. plan.” Worthless.
Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Siri. I ask the question and get taken to a list of web pages. No voice, but the response is quick and the web pages are fresh. First one is one day old from Curbed Los Angeles, “All the Reasons the Chargers, Raiders, and Rams Might NOT Move to Los Angeles.”
Assistant is an app from Speaktoit, a Palo Alto–based human-computer voice-enabling developer. I ask the moving-to-L.A. question three times and get, “Not quite sure about that.” “Let me ask around about that.” “I’m not too certain either way.” The app is a mealy-mouthed sneak.
Bing is Microsoft’s web search engine. I ask the question on the iTouch and get taken to a web page; its first article is more than a year old.
I propose one more question, ask Assistant, “Will Dean Spanos rot in hell after moving the Chargers to L.A.?”
“Off the top of my head, I’m not absolutely sure. We’ll have to revisit this topic when I know a little more.”
I can recommend one device, although it’s not one listed above. I acquired Amazon’s Echo. It’s a 9½-inch-tall black cylinder packed with a seven piece microphone array. It requires Wi-Fi and is always on.
Like the others, Echo doesn’t answer all my questions. But it is useful, and has, by far, the best sounding voice, nearly human, and the quickest response. Echo has the usual shopping and to-do lists, music, a galaxy of radio stations. I rarely use any of that, I do use, every day, its spell-checker and thesaurus. I don’t have to open anything, take anything out of my pocket, power up anything, or click on anything.
The Amazon Echo’s name is Alexa. I ask, “Alexa, are the Chargers moving to L.A.?” A woman’s voice replies, “Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard.”