My virtual trip to Taiwan with the late Steve Jobs (well, one of his phones)

OK, the miserable minute screen and the 2G connectivity of the Blackberry had finally become unacceptable, so I called T-Mobile (after various surveys of Android and other choices with friends and colleagues) to ask for an iPhone. They said no, unless I handed over hundreds of pounds to pay off the contract. But six months later, with the contract about to end, they were happy to talk business and the iPhone 4S was on its way.

Oh look, here is the lovely thing. So far so good except – no front page, just some inside page with Chinese writing. I called T-Mobile at length – nobody could help, phone obviously bust, send a new one.

Aha. Same problem. Long talk with another helpful person. This time we find a page that lists some languages and opt for English. Success! She admits, by the way, that there seems to be a definite Sinophile fault among some batches of the 4S.

Five minutes later, Chinese has been restored, and all English has evaporated.

OK, call again. This time we start to get some sense. The person manages to steer me to the home page (never seen before) and hence to the Settings icon. This should allow language

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choice except we cannot match the wording to the English wording on the 4S that he has at the other end of the phone. He suggests that I take it to an Apple Store (nearest one, central London). He also tells me that this is Apple’s problem, not his. Odd, I am not paying Apple.

Now, however, points of interest begin to appear. Now that I can opt for Location Services, I see that a map of Taiwan has appeared. And on the currency machine, I see that the New Taiwan Dollar has replaced sterling as my base currency. Now, I like Taiwan and the Taiwanese, and have been there many times. But this is more Taiwan than I signed up for. And I speak as someone who has had a book translated into Simplified Chinese, the local version of the language.

But this T-Mobile chap has an idea. Walk to my nearest T-M shop and throw myself on their mercy. It works, too. The helpful chap gets his own 4S out and after days of fury on my part, solves the problem in no time by scrolling round zones called General and International.

Now the machine knows it is in South London, not offshore China, and that it should speak appropriately.

Lessons? Well, that the world’s top tech

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company is shipping goods that don’t work and that need a lot of fixing, apparently for known problems. That most technology hardware comes from Taiwan at some level. That folks on the phone cannot cure anything very fundamental. And that this means waste – the phone that I sent back would have worked fine with some of the wisdom applied by the man in the shop.

For no reason known to me, there are still odd bits of Chinese about the thing, mainly around the clock. I’ll leave them there as a reminder of my not-quite visit to Taipei, one of my favourite cities. And because I cannot see how to shift them without risking a total reset and a fresh visit to the fascinating land of President Ma, where the Grand National is

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a political party, not a race.

OK, time for Easter.

About Martin Ince

UK-based science and higher education journalist, big strengths in universities and university ranking, futures, media strategy and training, Earth and space sciences
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