Up in the attic of our home I have a small “Apple” museum, where I still keep the MacPlus I bought in 1987, the MacII si my wife and I bought in 1992, and most importantly, the Newton MessagePad 110 I bought in 1994. For years and years, these just took up space, but this year they’ve come back to mind in interesting ways.
On the occasion of the Macintosh’s 25th anniversary, I brought the MacPlus downstairs and set it up. I had splurged when I bought it, and got the external SCSI floppy drive. The expression on my 14 year-old’s face was priceless when I turned it on, and he looked at that small screen and said “how did you ever get anything done on this thing?”. When I explained there was no hard drive, and showed him the single floppy that contained Microsoft Excel, he looked at me as if I’d told him I did my homework as a kid on the back of a shovel with a piece of charcoal (as Abe Lincoln supposedly did).
But the Newton came to mind last weekend, when we were out at a restaurant with our kids along with three of my 15 year-old daughter’s friends. Nine of us at a table in a bustling restaurant. Boredom began to take over with the boys (outnumbered), so my 14 year-old son grabbed my iPhone, and downloaded the new Google app. He discovered it contained “voice based search”, where you could speak a phrase into the phone, and Google would do the speech-to-text conversion, and provide search results.
Before long, this became quite a game. The phone was passed around the table, and hilarity ensued when someone spoke one phrase, and Google came back with another. Here are some examples I wrote down:
- “Steyr A-U-G” (this is an Airsoft BB gun) = “cast iron tub”
- “Martini, shaken not stirred” = “mikey ticketmaster”
- “And if you need advice in PawPaw Michigan, there’s only one place to go” = “the wandering sons of anarchy, episode 13, full stream”
We thought that last one, ‘The wandering sons of anarchy” would make a great name for a band. In defense of Google, the background noise in the restaurant probably didn’t help things.
But then I thought, I’d done the same thing in 1994 with my Newton. We’d sit around in restaurants and pass it around, writing stuff on the screen and seeing what it came back with. The tough part for Apple was that so were Gary Trudeau and Matt Groening. The Newton was just ridiculed in Doonesbury and The Simpsons as a result, which was good sport, but unfortunate.
From Doonesbury http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/
All the rest of what made the Newton incredibly revolutionary got swept aside, and to a large degree pronounced a premature death sentence on the product line, and the whole category until Palm, and now the iPhone.
So, where are the comics ridiculing Google’s voice search for the iPhone? A search on the following word salad “google audio search mistakes iphone” yielded a single reference to an article mocking its performance. Revealing it not surprisingly struggles with accents, and illustrates how it does with various British/scotch/welsh accents speaking the word “iPhone.” But then again, haven’t the British always been ahead of us in terms of humor?
It is notably ironic that it’s on another Apple handheld device that the limits of the human/machine interface are laid so bare.
But what has happened since 1994. Have we all gotten more accepting of technology shortcomings? Have we been just accepted being perpetual beta testers?
Or are we just intimidated/enchanted with whatever it is that Google (or Apple for that matter) present to us?
What do you think?