Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Travels With Siri

March 2016

By Mike Gould

“You only use 10% of your brain.”
      Incorrect urban legend

I don’t know about my brain, but I definitely only use around 10% of the technology at my disposal. Like most people when confronted with a new and powerful tool, I quickly mastered the critical features of my iPhone (calling, receiving, merging, Angry Birds, etc.), and then proceeded to pick up the rest of them as needed.

I hear you hardened road warriors out there snickering at my noob-ness in the following story; you have probably been doing this sort of thing for years. Just consider that I spend most of my time hunkered in my bunker here at MondoDyne Whirled Headquarters. When I do venture out to do a photo shoot, Mac training, or whatever, it is via the friendly roads of Washtenaw County, where I hardly ever get lost.

The following is about my recent adventures with my new iPhone (the really, really big one), but applies to Androids equipped with similar software as well. Androids have several Siri-equivalents available to them; a quick Google search found an app called Assistant, which gets good reviews. And Androids come packed with Google Maps.

Apps for Maps
I now have this pocket-filling monster of an iPhone, the mighty and majestic 6s Plus. I upgraded my 2-year old (and thus hopelessly obsolete) iPhone 4, transferred over all of its contact info, 2000+ photos, and various apps, and was back in biz. As regular readers know, I don’t always run out and buy the latest and greatest gear – I skipped a generation and went with the 6s mainly for its large screen, rationalizing that this is the best way to show prospective clients my photo and video portfolio. And indeed it has been useful in this regard, but is even more useful in getting maximum info into my brain through my age-challenged eyeballs.

Back to that 10% solution: case in point: Maps, the Apple version of Google Maps. It took me this long to appreciate Maps, because on my previous iPhone, everything was too small to read easily while on the road. With the iPhone 6s, Boy Howdy, Maps is tops and now I have a useful tool in my pocket.

Southbound
What sparked this technological quantum leap was a recent vacation trip to South Carolina and Georgia. We drove south to Charleston, thence to Savannah, and ended up at a condo on Hilton Head Island. Me, I like to fly and avoid long stretches, sans stretching, cooped up in a car. But my wife Salli wanted to see some new country up close and personal, so we loaded up the car and drove down 23. (Cue the banjo music, for you Beverly Hillbillies fans…)

Salli went with her tried and true navigational method: she printed out directions for the various legs using MapQuest. I attached these to the clipboard I carry when traveling. I use this to hold reams of printed NYT crossword puzzles, which we use to amuse ourselves on long trips.

MapQuest got us to our first destination, a lovely B&B in Wytheville, VA. Then things got interesting. We missed a roundabout en route to Charleston and decided to switch to Maps navigation. There was a pronounced disconnect between MapQuest and Maps, largely involving roads with different names than indicated on paper vs. on the iPhone screen. MapQuest said to look for US-blah blah, Maps said, no, you want I-something, and neither designation appeared on the road signs we were seeing. We made it to Charleston OK, but saw some very out-of-the-way towns on the secondary roads we travelled.

What’s going on here? My guess is that the two programs are based on two slightly out-of -date databases. And the highway admins in the South enjoy messing with Northern drivers, but that’s just me. You do go through long stretches of roadway that don’t have road signs.

In addition to Maps, we got Siri involved, with varying degrees of success:

“Siri, take me to South Ralph street” “I’m sorry, I can’t find Soused Raft Street.”

Salli had better luck with this than I, as she has used Siri a lot more in her travels. Siri needs to get to know your voice. She did have better luck understanding me as the trip proceeded, and it was definitely a fun way to pass the time and the road markers.

Tapping In
Once we arrived at our various hotels, B&Bs and condos, I started using another feature that was new to me: tethering our phones to my iPad and Salli’s laptop. I was shocked, shocked, to discover that just because a place advertises free WiFi, it doesn’t mean it will actually be working. In two of the four places we stayed, we couldn’t connect. Barbaric, I know.

We could see the router but the router couldn’t see the Internet, or we only got one bar and things took forever to download, or we couldn’t see anything at all on WiFi. Said the nice lady at the desk: “Oh yeah, that breaks down all the time”. “Can you fix it?” “I have a message into the network guy; he’ll be over tomorrow”.

Salli, seasoned traveler that she is, suggested we hook in via our phones and that solved the problem. Mostly. What we were doing was sharing the phone’s connection to the Internet via 4G, thus by-passing the faulty WiFi we were experiencing. The only downside of this is that all this data traffic counts against your phone contract, and if you do it a lot, you will be charged for it in your next phone bill. Fortunately, AT&T was nice enough to remind us of that fact, and we didn’t exceed our quota.

You enable the above on an iPhone by turning on the provocatively named “Personal Hotspot” in settings. On the Android, go to the more prosaic Settings/Wireless & Networks/Portable WiFi hotspot.

Safe Travels!

Mike Gould doesn’t get out much, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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