Category Archives: Apple

Smart Watches?

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Wearable tech is the big thing for 2014, or so the pundits tell us. The jury is still out.

Right now the stuff that’s doing well in the market are wrist bracelets that provide a variety of health and exercise related functions. I’ve got the Nike Fuelband, a gift from a friend, I wore it for about a month and since then it’s been gathering dust. Jawbone and other companies are doing okay in this space as well.

Of course there’s Google Glass, which right now costs US$1,500 and is only available in very small quantities to an invited audience. It will become more widely available at a more reasonable price.

And there’s smart watches. The most successful company in this space so far has been Pebble. They launched a couple of years ago via Kickstarter with a $149 watch that could link to either an iOS or an Android device via Bluetooth. The screen is a backlit eInk screen and it runs several apps. This year they’ve released the new Pebble Steel at $249. It’s a fine looking watch, at least as far as smartwatches go, and I was momentarily tempted to order one.

140106C.Steel-Trio

 

The thing that stopped me is that it’s $100 more for what is now two year old technology – they updated the case and the wristband but the tech inside the case is still the same.

The most disastrous smart watch launch to date has probably been the Samsung Galaxy Gear. It only pairs with Samsung devices – but considering that Samsung phones are outselling just about everything else, the potential audience is wide enough. However version one received almost universally horrible reviews and reportedly returns were running well over 30%.

Samsung has just announced version two, and interestingly enough it will no longer be an Android device.

Samsung-Galaxy-Gear-Review-071

 

It will use something called Tizen, a new Linux open source OS backed by Samsung and Intel. (Samsung is also expected to announce its newest flagship phone, the Galaxy 5, this week.)

Of course the 800 pound gorilla in the room is still Apple, which is expected to announce their own watch at some point this year. It seems like anyone who has Photoshop is working overtime to create images of what the iWatch might look like.

apple-iwatch-features apple-iwatch-rumor iwatchCUT_2497756b

I have both an iPhone 5s and a Samsung Galaxy S4. I still prefer my iPhone by a wide margin. That’s the one I use all day long. The Samsung mostly sits in my pocket, only getting pulled out for business related use and left plugged in at home on the weekends.

So I will wait and see what Apple comes out with. The way I figure it, I don’t need all the apps I’ve already got on my phone on a smaller screen on my wrist that I probaby won’t be able to read without glasses. But the extra notification of incoming calls and texts would be useful. I keep my phone on silent most of the time and very often won’t notice it go off even though it’s in my pants pocket as I’m walking down the street.

The wrist watch is another business that has probably been disrupted by smart phones. The luxury watch business is doing fine, and probably always will. But a lot of people around the world who will never buy a Rolex are asking why they should wear something around their wrist when there’s already a clock on the phone that’s always in their pocket (or in their hands).

For now, I’m sticking with my Casio G Shock.

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New Apple Stuffs

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First off, I should mention that one month after release, it’s still very difficult to get the iPhone 5S in Hong Kong – especially if you want the gold one. I “registered my interest” with my mobile carrier back on September 17th for a gold 64 gig model and am still waiting. Just checked the Apple HK web site and it says 2-3 weeks for the black or white models, the gold one is unavailable and you can’t even place a pre-order for it.

(Why do I want one? The fingerprint sensor and better camera would be useful for me, worth the upgrade if I’m doing it contract/subsidized. I feel no desire to run over to Sin Tat and buy a grey market one.)

As for yesterday’s Apple news, in case you haven’t read it yet elsewhere, new iPads and MacBooks.

The “big” iPad is now called the iPad Air, because the size has shrunk down a bit and it weighs 1/3rd less. Inside, there’s the same A7 CPU that the iPhone 5S has. People were expecting it to also share the fingerprint thing but that didn’t happen. The pundits I read have all been going ga-ga over this and I’m at a loss to understand why. This is innovation? A little bit smaller, a little bit faster – but nothing really new to speak of. Maybe once I actually hold one in my hands I’ll have a better idea but basically I was glad that I didn’t stay up late to watch the live-blogging of the event.

The iPad Mini got the same A7 sensor and now boasts “retina display,” a bigger upgrade from the previous model. For my tired eyes, I prefer the larger iPad. The size and weight are not a problem for me.

The MacBook Pro got Intel’s latest Haswell processor – better battery life. So that’s the innovation there – shoving in a processor made by another company. The 13 inch retina display model also lost a bit of weight. My 15 inch retina display MBP is a couple of years old now and it’s tempting to trade that in for the latest 13 inch model. Aside from my own MBP, I managed to convince my employer to replace the crappy Dell that was sitting on my desk when I started with a 13 inch (non-retina display) MBP and I’m happier for it.

I guess the real innovation from Apple is that the latest OS upgrade, Mavericks, is free. And on the mobile side, Apple’s iWorks suite is now also free with new devices.  I’ve upgraded my work machine but won’t get to my home one till the weekend.

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It’s iPhone Madness Time Again!

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Friday was the release date for the new iPhone 5c and 5s. And while it’s simultaneously available in the mainland, that hasn’t stopped people from coming across the border to try to buy them here. Why? The SCMP says:

“But it’s better than buying one on the mainland because the quality of Apple products sold in Hong Kong is better.”

Xiao Xuan from Beijing agreed: “Hong Kong products are made to the British standard.”

Heh? Exsqueeze me?

The SCMP also says that iPhones cost $1,000 more on the mainland due to “exchange rate differences.” I would have thought it’s because foreign goods have VAT in China but not in Hong Kong. Or maybe not.

Either way, I’m on the fence about getting a new one. I haven’t decided how much the faster CPU, better camera and fingerprint sensor would mean to me. For the hell of it, I did “register my interest” with my mobile provider, and once they notify me they have stock, I’ll take a look at the subsidized plan offerings and consider it. I don’t think I’m going to shell out HK$7,188 for an unsubsidized 64 gig model.

Checking the HK Apple online store now, I see that the 5c (basically the same as the 5 but now wrapped in plastic instead of metal) is “available to ship in 1 to 3 business days.”

For the iPhone 5s, it says “available to ship – October.” That’s if you want the grey one or the black one. If you want the gold one, it says “available to ship – currently unavailable.” So pretty clearly this is the one that people are lusting for.

While I think the gold color looks quite nice, the front face of the phone remains white and most people will buy cases for their phone, covering up the gold rear and sides. So what’s the point?

Incidentally, I did upgrade my various devices to iOS 7 this week. After all the media brouhaha, I’m finding far more things I don’t like about it than things I do.

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New iPhones Coming

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And all the predictions were pretty much correct. The “budget” iPhone 5c seems to be basically the 5 (without a 64 gig option) in 5 colors – making me think of the iMac in 1998. The big news here is that in the US, with a 2 year contract, the 16 gig model is $99 and the 32 gig is $199. Hong Kong pre-orders start on September 13th, priced at $4,688 and $5,588 – no contract, unlocked. (Someone has already commented on Twitter that the snazzy cases Apple will be selling for the 5c appear to have been designed by Crocs.)

The new iPhone 5s upgrades the CPU to a 64 bit chip, adds an extra chip for more motion-aware stuff, a new camera with a larger sensor and a bunch of new features, a fingerprint scanner and claims of greatly improved battery life. Available in 3 colors. 16 gig, 32 gig, 64 gig. Orders in Hong Kong start on September 20th and the price for no contract, unlocked is $5,588, $6,388 and $7,188.

Both will be simultaneously available in China, so barring price differential (the mainland has tax on imported goods, HK doesn’t), perhaps we won’t see the same insanity at the HK Apple stores as we’ve seen in the past.

iOS 7 will be available to download free on September 20th 18th.

As for me, on the one hand I was hoping for more while on the other I was thinking, there’s really nothing else left. The “s” model is an incremental upgrade and I suppose any real innovation will wait for the iPhone 6.  I’ve never had any cause to complain about the speed on my iPhone 5 but then again, I’m not much of a gamer. The fingerprint scanner strikes me as something that would be nice to have but far from essential.

Right now I’m not seeing any major reason to upgrade my iPhone 5. I suppose it might make sense for someone who has the 4s.

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Tech Tip: Freeing Up Space on Your Hard Drive

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Note that my desktop PC runs 64-bit Windows 7.  This tip may or may not be useful for people running Macs.

My C: drive is a solid state drive.  The suckers are expensive compared to traditional drives and come in much smaller sizes.  Mine is 224 gigabytes.

I’ve got things set up so that only programs go on that drive.  I’ve moved my Documents folder over to my E: drive so when I’m saving files, by default they’ll go there instead of on C.  Some programs save data to the C:/Users/xxx folder without asking, and with many you don’t have the option to choose another drive. Lazy programming, I call it.

Anyway, I noticed today that my C: drive was running out of space. I do have a lot of programs installed but even so, I didn’t think I possibly have 210 gigs worth of programs sitting there.  I searched through the drive manually (I know there are programs to help with this but I don’t have any).

What did I find?  The back-ups for all of my various iOS devices were eating up more than 80 gigabytes of the 224 gig drive.  And that was including back-ups for devices I had long since sold off.  iTunes doesn’t know you’ve sold something off and no longer need the back-up; you have to manually delete the back-up yourself.

You’ll find the folder in YourName/AppData/Roaming/Apple Computer/MobileSync. iTunes won’t let you move the back-up to another drive and the individual backup folders have “helpful” names like b0d32fecd8d1fb3c8c4efb152f1dc243a2f27798.  At least they have timestamps on them, so I figured I could safely delete the old ones.

I have 4 active iOS devices – my gf and I each have an iPhone and an iPad.  Fortunately iTunes doesn’t back up everything – that would have destroyed my hard disk.  Even so, the back-up for my 128 gig iPad (which has about 80 gigs of stuff on it at the moment) takes up 20 gigs.  On the other hand, the back-up of my gf’s 64 gig iPhone took just 600 meg.

I now have just 4 back-up folders there, one for each device, each device newly backed up in the past hour.  The total file size has gone down from over 80 gigs to 33; more than 45 gigs of space freed up.

I could “archive” these to another drive and then “restore” them if and when needed.  But then every time I go to sync, (which I do almost daily) iTunes will think there’s no backup at all and do a new one and the deleting/archive process takes a little bit of time. I’ve recovered enough space on my C: drive for now, so I’ll let them remain. I’ve got 65 gig free now – also because the last time I created a new Lightroom catalog I wasn’t paying attention and that ended up on my C drive, but that was easy enough to fix.

So anyway, if you’ve ever sold off an iPhone or iPad, find the backup folder and see how much space you can recover this way.

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Thinking About a New Phone

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My new job has brought with it a torrent of email. I’ve only been there two weeks and I’m getting between 150 and 200 per day.  Yes, most of this is via distribution lists, but I still need to look at a lot of it. In addition, I’ve set up a second Skype account for business use only.  And since the company reimburses one’s phone bill, I’ve come to the decision that I will get a second phone for business.  However, I’m not going to go out and buy a phone per se, I’ll do one of those “free with contract” deals, one of those things where they reimburse the cost of the phone back to you over the life of the contract.

Since I already have an iPhone and don’t want to have 2 identical phones, I’ll be dipping my toes back into the Android waters.  I’d had a Samsung Galaxy S2 for a short time – one reason I didn’t like it was the cheap-feeling plastic back.  And at the time I didn’t like having to juggle between multiple Android stores plus the iTunes store for my iPad.  But this time out the second phone will be primarily used for phone calls, email, Skype and documents.  I’m assuming that any games I play or media I consume can remain on my iPhone.

There are three hot Android phones right now, though only one is actually on the market as of this writing.  That’s the Sony Xperia Z.  And yeah, that’s one I can get for $0 with a Smartone contract.

The Sony is being touted as the best smart phone Sony has ever made, and it probably is. It’s main selling point seems to be that it is waterproof – use it in the shower (!) or at least don’t worry if you drop it in the toilet. It comes with all of the stuff one expects in a smart phone these days, along with a beautiful case.  It has a 5 inch screen but some of the reviews I’ve read noted that you have to look at the screen straight on, it looks a bit odd from an angle. Some reviews have also noted software bugs and some finickiness when trying to sync it with a Mac.

Then there’s Samsung’s Galaxy S4, which will be released in Hong Kong before the end of April. Will it be free with contract? Or will there be such a long line to get it that one would have to pay thousands and wait months?  I don’t know. I see that it still has the same crappy plastic back. But it possibly has the best hardware inside and also has Samsung’s nice enhancements to the basic Android interface.  One commercial has been touting a Samsung specific translation program – in the ad a woman speaks into it in English, presses a button and it speaks Chinese to her Shanghai taxi driver. When he answers her she presses again and it speaks the English translation. Does it work well? Is a translation app enough of a differentiator?  I’m not sure.

There is a third contender and that’s the HTC One, also coming out this month in Hong Kong. Before Apple released the iPhone, HTC was possibly the global leader in smart phones, with only Blackberry as serious competition. Then the iPhone came out and HTC has been a perennial also-ran.  The HTC One is their attempt to get back into the game. David Pogue, in the NY Times, says it’s the most beautiful phone he’s ever seen.  The screen resolution, at 468 ppi, is the highest available (this month anyway). The camera sensor isn’t being measured in mega-pixels, it has 4 ultra-pixels (I’m sure that’s a marketing gimmick).

However, unlike the Sony or the Samsung, there’s no memory card slot. And the one review I’ve read on it takes a little issue with HTC’s enhancements to Android.  But, as David Pogue writes, “Wow, is this phone packed. It’s ridiculously fast. Its camera, screen and speakers take first place in smartphones. And hey — did I mention how beautiful it is?”

So right now for me it’s a tie between the Samsung S4 and the HTC One – depending on the availability of both once they are released as well as my ability to get one for free (with contract). I’ll only consider the Sony if I can’t get my hands on either of those for “free” by this time next month – which is when I think the amount of emails and calls I’ll be getting will be seriously ramping up.

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Another New iPad

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I’ve been too busy to pay attention to this sort of thing recently so only just noticed that Apple has announced that their iPad With Retina Display aka the New iPad – what everyone else calls the iPad 4 – will be available with 128 gig storage capacity starting February 5th.

It’s fricking expensive too, at US$799 for the WiFi only version or US$929 for WiFi + LTE – although I suppose one might say that it’s a modest price increase of just US$100 over the 64 gig models.

The one thing I can’t understand is why Apple did this now.  We are more than likely just a few months away from the iPad 5.  Does it make sense to introduce this new-ish product out of cycle, simply because memory got small enough to cram more into the shell?  Or would it have made more sense to wait a few months and introduce the iPad 5 with the higher memory option?

I think this sort of random-ish release further diminishes Apple’s shine.

No, I won’t be buying one.   I already have a 3rd generation iPad and a 1st generation iPad Mini – I can’t decide if I should keep both or sell one off, actually I quite like both of them and use them for different purposes so extravagant as it may seem, for now I’m holding onto both of them.

I’ll wait to see what’s new with the iPad 5 but I think that the pace of innovation in this space is bound to slow down.  Faster processor?  Don’t really care at this point, both are fast enough.  Better graphics?  How much better do I need?  I don’t play the really heavy duty graphics-intensive games and what I’ve gone now is fine both for watching videos and for displaying my photos. Better camera?  Yawn. I think across 3 different iPads and 1 iPad Mini I’ve shot a total of 5 photos.  So what else can Tim Cook come up with to make Apple fan-boys like me part with my money?

Anyone out there have a guess?

 

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I Want My LTE

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One of the features of the iPhone 5 is compatibility with LTE mobile networks.  If I’m not mistaken, that gives you internet connectivity at speeds up to 20 megabits per second, as opposed to the roughly 2 mbps I’m getting now on the 3G network.

(Hong Kong famously offers home internet connection speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second for around US$25 per month, but where I live, the best I can get is 8 mbps.  I can barely get the 3G network where I live, my phone usually drops back to 2G, but the notion of going somewhere on HK island and getting LTE speed with my laptop tethered to the phone is enticing.)

There are a couple of different bandwidths for LTE networks.  My mobile provider, 3, had one up and running that was compatible with Android phones.  Then I ready in mid October that they were ready with their iPhone-compatible network.

I went into a 3 shop to ask about this and they told me it would probably be ready in December and that they’d contact me.  On October 31st, I received an SMS that I would be upgraded to LTE on November 1st and that all I’d need to do would be to restart my phone, get the new carrier settings, and I’d be good to go.

On the morning of November 1st, I received another SMS confirming the upgrade.  Given the crappy signal where I live, I waited until I was in Central to restart the phone.  And then … nothing.  No new carrier settings, no LTE option, just 3G.

I tried again on November 2nd and 3rd with the same results.  I went to 3′s web site to see if there might be any instructions.  Nope.  But they have 24 hour online live chat, so I hit the link for that.  I explained my problem to the customer service person who responded by typing, “I see. Is it okay if I type in Chinese?”  No, it’s not.  So she said that someone would contact me within 24 hours.  Nice chatting with you!

Two days later when someone called me, they put the blame on Apple.  They said they’d done everything that they need to do and that it was Apple that had to send me the new carrier settings.  That made about zero sense to me, but I had no option except to say, “Oh, okay.”

I was in Central yesterday so I stopped into the Apple store.  I explained my problem to one guy there and showed him the confirmation SMS’s from 3 that said that I should have LTE now.  Soon I had about 5 different Apple employees all gathered round, all taking turns to see if they could figure out how to get me LTE.  I saw that on their iPhones, on the settings page, where I have a slider for “Enable 3G,” they had a slider for “Enable LTE.”  Finally the expert showed up.  After rebooting my phone 4 or 5 times and typing in some secret codes (I wish I was paying better attention at that point!), the “expert” told me that 3 probably hadn’t finished their LTE network for iPhone and that I could go to a 3 shop or just wait.

I’ve managed this long without LTE and I don’t need it.  It falls into the category of “nice to have.”  Regardless, it’s frustrating that 3 says that they think I have it now and that I’m caught between Apple and 3 pointing fingers at each other.  I’m not going to spend an hour on hold with 3′s customer service hotline, so further developments will have to wait until I’m somewhere in the vicinity of a 3 shop.

Do any of my readers in Hong Kong have LTE yet?

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What’s New From Apple

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Since I can’t sleep and since I know this is the first place you turn to for Apple news, here’s a wrap-up of today’s announcements.

iPad Mini

Pretty much as expected.  A seven inch diagonal screen tablet, released in my opinion solely because others are gaining foothold against Apple with tablets this size.  Like the “full size” iPad, this is available in 6 configurations – memory of 16, 32 or 64 gig; WiFi only or WiFi plus cellular.  Pricing runs from US$329 to US$659.  For Hong Kong, pre-orders start this Friday.

I think this would have absolutely killed if it had the Retina display.

iPad 4

This was somewhat unexpected.  There had been talk about a newer version with the Lightning connector.  Apple also threw in some other tweaks, including a faster processor.

Pricing remains identical to the iPad 3, ranging from US$499 to US$829.  Contrary to rumors, the iPad 2 remains available, but just two 16 gig models, now $399 and $529.  There will be lots of reconditioned iPad 3′s available for sale.  (So, for example a 64 gig WiFi + cellular iPad 3 will run $679.)  For Hong Kong, pre-orders start this Friday.  Some reconditioned iPad 3′s are already available online for purchase.

Note that if you purchased your iPad 3 in the last 3o days, some Apple stores (no word on HK stores) will allow exchanges for the newer model.

MacBook Pro

The 13 inch laptop will now have a Retina display option.  It comes with a 2.5 GHz Core i5 chip (optional bump to 2.9 GHz Core i7), 8 gig of RAM, and a base of 128 gig (upgradeable at time of purchase only) of flash storage.  Base prices are US$1699 and US$1999. Weight is 3.57 pounds.  This is immediately available, the HK Apple store shows this as being in stock, though I expect that to change quickly.

I love my 15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.  Would I down shift to the 13 inch?  While I’d appreciate the lighter machine, having the larger screen seems more important to me at the moment.

 

 

iMac

This is the killer release for me, a real thing of beauty.  It is almost insanely thin and while it’s not “Retina display” it’s pretty close.  The 21 inch model starts at US$1,299 and the 27 inch model starts at US$1,799.  One interesting new thing inside this is what Apple is calling a hybrid fusion drive – a disk drive that’s part physical disk and part SSD, with software that “learns” what apps you use the most and moves those automatically to the SSD.

Of everything Apple released today, this one is the most tempting to me.  (However, I’m gonna stick it out with my Windows desktop PC for awhile longer, though maybe at some point swap out my 24 inch monitor for a 27 inch one.  I’m in no rush to upgrade to Windows 8.)

The 21.5 inch iMac will be available in November, the 27 inch in December.

So – any of this gear excite you?  Who is planning on buying what?

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Tim Cook Admits Apple Maps Sucks

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Apple put an open letter from Tim Cook to customers on Apple’s web site.  (I got it from Mashable.)

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple’s CEO

I’ve now had a week with my iPhone 5.

On the positive side, the ever-so-slightly-longer phone feels fine in my hands and I’m definitely noticing (in a good way) the lighter weight and thinner body.  The camera is fantastic – I think it beats the pants off the iPhone 4s camera.  (I think Panorama mode on the iPhone works better than on any “regular” camera I’ve ever owned.)  Aside from the clarity of images and the improved low light performance, it’s just faster – no more interminable shutter lag.  Everything feels faster on the iPhone 5.

On the negative side, it seems as if battery life is not as good as with the 4s.  It also seems to me that the antenna is not as good – I have no proof for this, just a feeling.  These two things might actually be connected.

I live in an area with famously miserable cell phone reception.  At my desk at home, if the phone is on the right side of the desk it drops down to 2G and I have 2 bars.  If I move the phone just 2 feet to the left side of the desk, it reads “no service.”  I’ve read that when the signal sucks, the phone uses more energy searching for a decent signal to lock onto and that would obviously increase battery usage.  Perhaps Apple will address this in a future iOS update.

I’m also getting killed with iMessage.  I’ve sat on the MTR trying to send text messages via iMessage to friends and sat there staring at the messages not going out for minutes that seem to stretch into eternity.

Maps?  Yeah.  I tried MapQuest – it works for Hong Kong but isn’t much better than Apple’s map.  So I’m using Google Maps via the web site – it’s not as quick as a native app but it works.

Speaking of apps, I came across something that’s been out for close to a year but I didn’t know about.  It’s called Hong Kong Taxi Translator.   You can search by street, place, building, shopping mall and more.  You get the name in English, Chinese and pinyin and press one more button and it prepares a larger sized “card” that you can show to taxi drivers.  You can also add the ones you frequently use to a list of favorites.

I always try to know the Cantonese names of the places I’m going to but too often the drivers have problems with my miserable accent.

Me: Hang Hau

Them: Bin doh?

Me: Hang Hau

Them: ?????

Me: Hang Hau

Them:  Oh, Hang Hau

Me: Um, yeah

So I’ve been using this for a few days and it seriously works.  It’s not 100% complete but I’ve found 90% of the places I’ve searched for are listed here and apparently they update their database from time to time and you can refresh the database even if there’s no new update for the app.  US$0.99 and well worth it.

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